In the fourth part of a six-part series, Rob Longley breaks down what lies ahead for the Blue Jays after a disappointing 2023
Long before the blame for the spectacular exit to the playoffs was scattered to various landing spots around the Blue Jays, it was a season pockmarked with mixed messages from the team.
Unlike so many in-game situations when they had runners in scoring position, the off-field hits just kept on coming.
Where to start with an organization that at times seemed to be so protective of the truth that it bordered on paranoia?
Working backwards from how the decision was handled to remove Jose Berrios from the ill-fated Game 2 of the wildcard series against the Twins, to the enduring mystery of the Alek Manoah struggles, to the elusive and distasteful bungling of the Anthony Bass affair, the examples of miscommunication piled up.
To varying degrees, each of those situations created feelings of frustration in the clubhouse, especially when escalated to the point of distraction to the on-field tasks at hand.
The team’s ongoing grapple with transparency reached a head at Ross Atkins’ spectacular post-season press availability, when the general manager was defensive in describing what went down in the Twin Cities. Rather than contrition, a heated Atkins opted for re-distributing the blame during his Thanksgiving weekend summit at the Rogers Centre, an act that didn’t play well.
Clearly still wounded from the critical reaction to his team’s abbreviated stab at post-season baseball, Atkins was antagonistic at suggestions the team was over-managed by the front office and dismissed the notion that meddling from his staff led to Berrios getting yanked after three-plus innings of superb starting pitching.
It may have been the last such disruptive act of the 2023 season, but it was far from the only incident where the messaging from the front office ranged from elusive to convoluted.
In the open wound of the immediate post game defeat, players weren’t shy about questioning the call ultimately made by manager John Schneider, but clearly suggested they believed its genesis was in the baseball operations department.
The mixed signals that emerged in the days that followed was in keeping with a series of public relations commotions to arise during a 2023 season that at times was more frustrating than fruitful.
The club’s handling of the Manoah mess was confounding at best, and, at worst disruptive to his teammates grinding through a season. A Cy Young Award finalist and all star the previous season, something was clearly off with Manoah from his opening day start in St. Louis, a startlingly poor effort.
Manoah’s first demotion was relatively straight forward, an assignment to the Florida Complex League in June that the pitcher may not have liked, but was a move designed to determine the root of his struggles and get him back on track.
To help spell an arm-weary four-man rotation (which exposed the Jays lack of starting depth) Manoah was recalled just prior to the all-star break. But after six more appearances with no clear evidence of a return to his top form, the big right hander was sent to Buffalo for a second demotion.
Or so we were told. Trouble was, Manoah didn’t report immediately and in fact never threw a pitch for the triple-A Bisons before his season was shut down.
Fair enough, but the messaging put Schneider in an uncomfortable position when he was routinely asked about Manoah during his daily sessions with the media. At times, it felt like Schneider was sheepishly left to take the heat for the front office as the light-on-details drama played out.
It’s instructive to note here that as a rule Schneider is up front and insightful in his dealings with the media, a twice-daily part of his job description that had to be tedious some days. It can’t always be an easy task given that he serves and protects both the front office and the players, but Schneider handles it with considerable aplomb.
The Bass debacle, meanwhile, was bizarre from the outset and made worse when the team bungled the handling of the mess. The reliever was a colossal distraction following his ill-conceived endorsement of anti-LGBTQ sentiment on social media.
After two weeks of drama, the team finally parted ways with Bass – calling it a “baseball decision”, mind you – a day before their traditional Pride week celebration. Though many on the team didn’t appreciate Bass’s attention-seeking activity on social media, they weren’t impressed in how the situation was handled by the front office.
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“Can we just get on with baseball?” was the reaction of one team member. “All we want to do is focus on baseball and the ability to do that has been compromised. It’s a major distraction.”
There was more than one of those annoyances in 2023 for a Jays team that struggled to reach potential and didn’t need the nuisance of uncomfortable situations being mishandled to the point of diversion.