Atkins reflects on unusual 2020 season for Blue Jays team that surprisingly made playoffs
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity in Toronto on Wednesday, January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, October 2, 2020 7:01PM EDT
There's plenty to like about the future of the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that surpassed expectations in 2020 and returned to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
However, the road ahead is somewhat unclear due to factors largely out of their control.
Major League Baseball managed to complete a season shortened due to COVID-19. But how the pandemic developments might affect the off-season, the sport's economics and the 2021 campaign remain unknown.
As Canada's lone MLB team, the Blue Jays have additional hurdles. The club had to relocate to Buffalo's Sahlen Field this year and there's no word when the border will reopen.
With so much uncertainty ahead, Ross Atkins plans to focus on things he can control.
“The best way for us to recover and to be ready for when fans are coming back into the stadium and really maximize that is to continue to build a winning team,” he said. “So investing in players, investing in infrastructure is the best way in our view to do that, so that's how we're approaching it.”
Speaking on an end-of-season media conference call Friday afternoon, Atkins did not reveal details on the team's budget but stressed his focus will be on complementing the team's young nucleus of players.
“We're thinking about how we can continue to build on this team and to build on this core,” he said. “The quickest way to recovery is winning. The quickest way to getting our business back to a very good financial spot is winning.
“Our ownership knows that, (president) Mark (Shapiro) has had multiple interactions and they're ongoing and continuing. We're aligned on that front.”
The Blue Jays finished the truncated season with a 32-28 record, a significant improvement from a 67-95 mark a year earlier.
Toronto earned the eighth seed in the expanded post-season structure but was swept by the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays in two games earlier this week.
That experience of a September stretch drive and brief playoff appearance will no doubt serve as a positive building block for the Blue Jays' future.
“I feel like we're in a very good position and I'm very excited about the progress that (was) made this year,” Atkins said.
It was the first full-time season for many young players on the roster.
Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., all made strides of varying degrees. Slugger Teoscar Hernandez had a breakout campaign, Rowdy Tellez made some real progress and Nate Pearson could be a star in the making.
Despite being roughed up in Game 2, ace Hyun-Jin Ryu delivered stability and quality performances all season after signing a four-year deal worth US$80 million last winter.
A three-year rebuild finally over, players seemed confident throughout the summer and a real camaraderie appeared to develop.
There are certainly areas of attention throughout the roster that will need to be addressed over the coming months.
But the Blue Jays appear to be an exciting team on the rise. Whether that's enough to lure free agents north of the border - or at least to wherever the team calls home in 2021 - remains to be seen.
“We're going to look to complement this team,” Atkins said. “There's no reason to believe that we can't continue to make the team much better. What that looks like in terms of financial impact, it's too hard to say exactly what that will be.
“But to reiterate, the best way for us to recover is to win and that's where our focus will be.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020.