Safe all around, but it's time for Blue Jays braintrust to turn promise into productivity

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In the second part of six-part series, Rob Longley breaks down what lies ahead for the Blue Jays after a disappointing 2023

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Safe in the dugout, safe in the baseball operations department and safe in the presidential suite. Safe all around.

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Is anyone in the Blue Jays organization on the clock?

For now — and at least one more season — the answer is no as the Rogers Communications overlords have opted for status quo heading into 2024. And, despite the reaction to the notable underachievement in 2023, there is some sense to letting the current management group finish what they started.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some changes to be made in the team’s messaging and communication of its decision-making process — both from the baseball operations department to game staff and from coaches to players.

Until spring training arrives — pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report somewhere around Feb. 12 — the questions and second-guessing will linger.

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Top of the list is the question of how a team fond of amplifying its commitment to process, accountability and collaboration mixed its messages so dramatically.

In a week of high drama, the fallout to the Jose Berrios post-season disaster got ugly. It was miniseries material as manager John Schneider gently shifted the onus to the baseball operations department, GM Ross Atkins shifted it back to Schneider (before saying that his manager would return) while team president Mark Shapiro worked at smoothing the waters by deeming everyone else was to blame.

You couldn’t make any of it up.

But when the in-house dysfunction goes public, it’s clear there is work to do. Players notice and get frustrated and the fallout takes time to dissipate and dominates the chatter despite an off-season with plenty on the work order.

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The first voice in the blame game was Schneider — often the one left to articulate the front office’s messes. Clearly crushed in the aftermath of the 2-0 loss to the Twins to end the season, Schneider was subtle and sensible in describing the Berrios affair.

“You can sit here and second-guess me, second-guess the organization, second-second-guess anybody,” Schneider said in Minneapolis within an hour off his team’s elimination. “I get that.”

Heat of the moment, sure, yet eyebrow-raising stuff nonetheless. The mayhem, it turns out, was just getting started.

Rather than fly home following the game, the Jays remained in Minnesota and those that returned to Toronto didn’t do so until Thursday, Oct. 6. After a day to absorb the wrath being rained down on the front office, a still-hot Atkins was trotted out to face the media on the Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend.

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And then all hell broke loose.

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Combative and defensive, the GM didn’t hold back in deflecting the blame away from the tall foreheads in his department to the uniformed commandos in the clubhouse and dugout.

Among the gems delivered from the Jays press conference room in the bowels of the Rogers Centre:

“I have 100% confidence that it’s not front-office pressure,” Atkins said, when asked if Schneider felt heat to make the in-game call on Berrios.

On wiping his hands of the implementation and execution of game plans:

“Those meetings are John Schneider’s meetings,” Atkins said of the process that led to the early Berrios hook. “The group is the staff that’s on the field. It’s not the front office. I do not attend those meetings and I certainly do not make those decisions.”

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Suddenly, a communications strategy designed to have the gloomy season obituary buried beneath the turkey and stuffing of the Canadian long weekend, instead became a tawdry show destined to drive the off-season narrative.

As Thanksgiving feasts go, it was a mouthful for an agitated fan base and a still-unnerved group of players to digest.

Team personnel we spoke with were incredulous at Atkins’ public stance. Reaction ranged from the belief that such thoughts should be dealt with internally rather than from a podium watched eagerly by a fan base waiting for blood to incredulity from some players that the GM would so brazenly hang his manager out to dry.

Remember that on the night it happened, players reportedly had their manager’s back, making it known that the decision to remove Berrios wasn’t entirely driven by the skipper’s instincts.

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Meanwhile, in his public debrief, Atkins had an opportunity to soothe the angst surrounding his team rather than inflame it.

And the crazy thing? His clear dodging of blame for the Berrios affair all but muted his purely salient point that a team was never going to win a playoff series scoring just two runs.

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There always will be a disconnect between a front office and a clubhouse/locker room in any sport, but when the gap widens to a chasm, it can become an issue. That said, how the team responds in the months between the conclusion of the World Series and the start of spring training will be telling.

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While there will no doubt be some minor changes on the coaching staff — likely on the hitting side, plus the replacement of retiring third base coach Luis Rivera — the main decision-makers remain in place.

This is how it should be for a team that still has a strong core in place and a manager with upside who continues to learn on the job.

But at the same time, there is work to done as outlined by Shapiro in his mop-up press conference five days after the Atkins debacle.

“We need to be more open,” Shapiro said. “We need to be more transparent about who the people are that are in the room and the information that is provided to our staff and John before each game.

“We need to get better.”

Damage control by the president and CEO? Of course. But perhaps foreboding for a regime — one staked with a franchise-record payroll, remember — overdue on delivering meaningful results beyond the first week of October.

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