Published October 12, 2023

Blue Jays president Shapiro says general manager Atkins will return next season

By Gregory Strong in Toronto

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro expressed support for general manager Ross Atkins on Thursday and acknowledged the need for improved communication and transparency with the team's players.

Shapiro held his end-of-season media availability about a week after Toronto was swept in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in four years. 

"When we fall short of expectations, that responsibility and that accountability clearly lies with me," Shapiro said. "We've got work to do. That work is already underway. It's going to be a painstaking process to dissect everything from this past season, learn from it and to lay out a strategy for the next off-season.

"The ultimate goal (is) the same. We are committed to bringing a world championship back to Canada. We're going to get better next year and move forward."

Shapiro started the 30-minute session with an opening statement, noting a recurring thought in recent days has been "how much we let down the fans."

"It's not acceptable for us to have fallen short of expectations," he said.

The Blue Jays were brimming with optimism in spring training last February after off-season moves shored up team defence and the starting rotation. 

However, the team's offence never seemed to find its groove. With clutch hitting at a premium, the Blue Jays hovered around the playoff cutline for most of the year.

Toronto didn't nail down a playoff spot until the penultimate day of the regular season. The bats were quiet in the post-season and it led to another quick two-game exit.

"We need to do a better job scoring runs," Shapiro said. "We need to be better on the basepaths. 

"There needs to be a higher level of transparency and communication with our players and our game-planning process and preparation."

A hot talking point since Toronto's elimination was the decision to pull Jose Berrios after three-plus innings in Game 2 even though the right-hander was in strong form. Many players later said they were surprised by the move.

Atkins said at his availability last weekend that it was manager John Schneider's call. Shapiro said he was aware of the game plan but didn't know when the skipper might make his move.

"I knew the purpose behind it and I was aware of it," Shapiro said. "I knew that the goal was to bring (Yusei) Kikuchi in to turn over the lineup to get some of their left-handed hitters for better matchups later in the game, which actually worked. 

"But I didn't know when it would happen. So I found out at the same moment in time, when John walked to the mound."

Toronto managed just one run over the two-game loss to the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays were also swept by the Seattle Mariners last year and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020.

Atkins, who has held the GM title for almost eight years, will return in 2024, Shapiro confirmed.

"When evaluating, you're not evaluating on a series or even a season," Shapiro said. "In Ross's case, the body of work — to me — is undeniable."

Atkins helped guide the Blue Jays to the AL Championship Series in 2016 before beginning a rebuilding process that lasted through the 2019 campaign.

The Blue Jays returned to the playoffs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

"That's a quick turnaround for a major-league team," Shapiro said. "Again, the success, three out of four years in the playoffs is good. We need to get better.

"I'm not satisfied with where we are and Ross isn't satisfied with where we are. We need to get better."

Shapiro said he's had preliminary conversations with team ownership about payroll for next season, but expects it to be in the same area. The team was a hit at the box office, surpassing the three-million mark in home attendance.  

A top priority for 2024 will again be to secure the East Division title and a potential first-round bye. Toronto's 89-73 mark this year was good for the sixth seed in the AL as the final wild-card entry.  

"This season was a grind," Shapiro said. "It was not ever easy. It was extremely frustrating and it was challenging. I'm not sure why. We still won 89 games.

"I've been in the game 32 years and I can't remember a season that felt like it was more of an effort."

Toronto has lost its last seven post-season games dating back to the 2016 ALCS. 

The Blue Jays last won the World Series in 1993.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2023. 

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