Atkins guarded about Blue Jays strategy in Nashville

By: Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

NASHVILLE _ As opening media winter meetings briefings go it was very guarded and a tad bland.

That’s thinking back and making a comparison to general manager debuts we have witnessed over the years.

Since 1981 at Hollywood, Fla. we saw Murray Cook and Bill Stoneman with the Montreal Expos do their initial rundowns of the proceedings, as well as Gord Ash, J.P. Ricciardi and Alex Anthopoulos with the Blue Jays.

New Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins’ review of the first two days of the 114th winter meetings at the Opryland Hotel was behind Ash and Anthopoulos, who had the advantage of moving from assistant GM to GM thereby knowing most of the media. 

We can’t find the actual video in our satchel but Stoneman’s was about as Atkins, while Cook’s was more secretive.

It was a start, however, a foundation, and Atkins is closer to taking the lead in the transition phase as he takes over for interim GM Tony LaCava, who handled Monday’s press briefing.
What kind of pitchers are Atkins looking for as he talks with representatives for free agents or other teams GMs in trade talk?

We assumed the answer would tilt in either the direction of the starting rotation or relief help.
Instead, Atkins told reporters he was looking for “pitchers that the Toronto Blue Jays like, pitchers who are durable and who can get outs.”

Hopefully for the Jays, none of the other 29 teams catch onto that durable/ability to get outs approach.

Have the Jays had more talks with agents and teams on starters or a relievers?

“I wouldn’t say it has swung either way,” said Atkins the former Cleveland Indians vice president of player personnel did indicate he and his group was making progress. 

“We made a little more progress in free agency because of how we feel about our 2016 team,” Atkins said Tuesday in his sixth-floor suite. “Every day we’re a little bit closer. We sit down in these chairs probably at 7:30 a.m. and this is the first we’ve gotten up.” 

Atkins said that the day was spent working to “making our team better and feel better about a couple of the discussions we’ve had.”

Atkins was asked if he had met with the Atlanta Braves who later shipped right-hander Shelby Duncan to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’m not going to comment on specific players we’re targeting,” he said. “What we’re working towards is depth and making sure we can get through a season. We want as much of that as we can get, and we need to be creative in doing so and don’t want to paint ourselves into a box.”

Atkins said after meetings he returns to the suite and “downloads the conversations and keeps leaders of his group informed.”

At least three times Atkins asked to “repeat the question” which is either a sign of the guy asking the question mumbling (guilty) or the guy fielding the question asking for more time.

Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a Nashville resident, met Atkins for the first time on Sunday. 
“He and I have some things in common, we’re the same age actually and have some good mutual friends and he knows our pitching coach, Mickey Callaway.”

Ah, that was one of two instances where Atkins referred to “our” in reference to the Indians rather than the Jays.

“How this team is built today could be different than how we’re built on Game 5, Game 10 or Game 15 of the season,” said Atkins, who said the Jays have not met with Edwin Encarnacion’s agent yet. Encanracion wants an extension by opening day or he won’t re-sign with the Jays in 2017.

Another day down ... another day closer to opening day.

DOMINOES FALL: Deals fell like dominoes and almost as fast Tuesday night.

The Chicago Cubs landed New York Mets free-agent Ben Zobrist, giving him a four-year, $56 million contact and re-uniting him with manager Joe Maddon from their Tampa Bay days.
The Cubs then dealt Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and second baseman Brendan Ryan.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who signed free-agent Zach Greinke earlier, added another all-star to the starting rotation, adding Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves, who are dealing in futures the way the 1995 Montreal Expos did.

Arizona sends shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, outfielder Ender Inciarte and another former first-round pick  Aaron Blair.

Earlier in the day infielder Jedd Gyorko was dealt from the San Diego Padres to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Jon Jay.