You wanted answers. Now you’ve got them.
Toronto Blue Jays fans have demanded accountability following the club’s dismal two-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins. There were layers to Toronto’s shortcomings this season, and Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins did his best to address those concerns at a press conference at Rogers Centre Saturday.
Atkins was bombarded with questions from reporters. Here’s what he had to say:
The decision to pull José Berríos
After manager John Schneider yanked Berríos in the fourth inning of Game 2 — a decision that ultimately proved costly — a notion emerged that the Jays' front office had something to do with the move. Atkins dismissed that implication.
“It was obviously very clear that we had a strategy to potentially deploy it,” Atkins said. “There was no plan to concretely deploy that. John Schneider made that decision.”
Added Atkins: “I was surprised [Berríos] was coming out, but I understood the strategy, understood that it would be uncomfortable, but I thought it was a very courageous decision that had a potential outcome [in which] people would be disappointed.”
The Blue Jays GM explained that Schneider’s team, who helps make decisions such as the Berríos one, are all uniformed coaches. That means a panel of one advance scout, plus pitching coach Pete Walker, bench coach Don Mattingly, and other on-field individuals.
Blue Jays GM, Ross Atkins says it was John Schneider’s decision to pull José Berríos in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series. pic.twitter.com/aI65XlBD6L
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) October 7, 2023
In other words, Atkins and president Mark Shapiro weren’t behind the scenes pulling strings. Schneider had the option to pull Berríos or keep him in — Atkins insisted there wouldn’t be consequences either way — and he ultimately decided to turn to the bullpen.
Atkins suggested the media ask Schneider for specifics — the skipper has not yet been made available after his initial address following Game 2 — but explained the gist of the strategy.
In a three-game series, the Blue Jays preferred to swap in Yusei Kikuchi for a heavily left-handed part of Minnesota’s order.
That would force the Twins to use right-handed pinch-hitters, ultimately setting up the Blue Jays' power bullpen arms (Jordan Romano, Jordan Hicks, Erik Swanson) with better matchups late in the game.
“We allowed two runs in a playoff game,” Atkins said. “We see that, from a run prevention standpoint, as a solid outcome and a good chance to win a game.”
Schneider will return; other staffing decisions coming
Schneider will return as manager in 2024, Atkins confirmed Saturday. Beyond that, there could be changes, though Atkins said the organization is in the process of making its evaluations.
Third-base coach Luis Rivera announced his retirement after the Blue Jays’ season concluded, which leaves an opening. While Blue Jays fans have voiced their frustration with the club’s hitting strategy this season, it’s worth mentioning the tandem of Guillermo Martinez (hitting coach) and Dave Hudgens (hitting strategist) successfully game-planned better offences in 2021 and 2022.
If Martinez or Hudgens were to be let go, assistant hitting coach Hunter Mense seems destined for a promotion. The 39-year-old emerged as a guru for several of Toronto’s successful hitters and has been in the organization since 2018.
Alek Manoah’s future
The right-hander's puzzling regression created a bit of a strain between Manoah and the Blue Jays this season. After the 25-year-old posted a 5.87 ERA through 19 starts, Toronto decided to option Manoah to Triple-A, as he no longer fit into the major-league rotation.
“[Manoah] felt as though he should remain with the team,” Atkins said.
At that point, instead of reporting to the Bisons, Manoah opted to seek medical opinions on his right shoulder. The Blue Jays medical staff found no structural issues with Manoah, Atkins said, though one external doctor recommended Manoah receive an injection in his ailing shoulder. Toronto’s team doctors then went with Manoah to supervise the treatment.
Atkins said he expects Manoah to return healthy for spring training next season and compete for a spot in the starting rotation.
“He’s extremely motivated,” Atkins said. “I’m excited for him for next year.”
A weak 2024 free-agent market
Hicks, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Matt Chapman, and Whit Merrifield are all free agents. The Blue Jays have interest in bringing members of that crew back for 2024, Atkins said, but it would appear untenable — and unwise — to re-sign the whole gang.
The current free-agent crop is weak, meaning Toronto will rely on a slew of internal options. Atkins named Davis Schneider, Addison Barger, Orelvis Martinez, Alan Roden, Ernie Clement, and Nathan Lukes as legitimate contributors to the offence next season.
The club is set on starting pitching, but if the free-agent well is dry on talented hitters, Atkins mentioned the trade market as a strong opportunity.