In his days as Maple Leafs general manager, it used to drive Brian Burke crazy when fans and media would pile on the front office and coach when things would go awry.
What about the players, Burke would grouse?
Well, sometimes one shoe fits all and, in the case of the Blue Jays, the savagery aimed at general manager Ross Atkins and team president Mark Shapiro is as pointed as it has ever been.
That narrative goes with the territory, of course, and most of it is justified. But when the inmates start driving the commentary, the criticisms start to bend towards crisis.
That’s precisely what happened at Target Field in the aftermath of one of the worst playoff exits by a Toronto professional sports team — which is saying something.
Multiple players made their displeasure clear in the post-game wake that, in baseball, serves as locker cleanup.
The disappointment was punctuated by thinly veiled criticism of a front office that has become increasingly difficult to embrace.
“We got beat up two years in a row in the playoffs,” Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette told reporters in Minneapolis, choosing his words carefully but clearly intent on making a point. “I think there is a lot or reflection needed … from players, but from the organization from the top down. Everybody needs to reflect to see what we can do better.”
I think we know where Bichette was going here with “everybody.”
There was plenty more of that discourse to go around. Whit Merrifield said he “hated” the call to end a brilliant outing by starter Jose Berrios in the fourth inning, only to see it blow up in the Jays face as his bizarrely selected successor, Yusei Kikuchi, allowed a pair of runs.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. said he was surprised, though he was in no position to be casting stones.
Manager John Schneider was forced to represent the organization in a post-game press conference and defend the analytical call, something he did only half-heartedly.
And on it went.
Heat-of-the-moment stuff, to be sure, and let it be known that to varying degrees each of those players were part of a team that scored just one run in 18 innings of playoff baseball.
Also, it has to be acknowledged that analytics aren’t a flat-out curse. Information is an important tool — how it is employed is the issue.
So as we abruptly begin an off-season that no doubt will be punctuated with more promises of big things ahead, let’s reflect on the genius strategy concocted after last year’s version of the two-game playoff sweep.
In his wisdom, Atkins decided sacrificing offence to bolster the pitching staff would be the golden strategy to live up to the team’s hollow ‘Next Level’ hashtag.
How did that doomed bit of genius work out? It failed spectacularly for a team that never had a true cleanup hitter, could not perform adequately with runners in scoring position and was embarrassingly inept in the post-season.
By any measure — even getting into the playoffs with 89 wins — these have not been a banner 12 months for Atkins, whose leadership has been questioned inside his own dugout and beyond.
His handling of the Anthony Bass affair was both bizarre, elusive and did not go unnoticed by his team. The resulting distraction created distrust from more than one corner in the clubhouse — as more than one individual shared with us.
Atkins’ evasiveness in being up front about what was going on with Alek Manoah was symptomatic of the paranoia that marks the leadership style of this front office. The inability to deliver even the most routine of updates is mind-boggling.
The Jays front office is getting a reputation, one cemented on a large stage on Wednesday night, and you can bet the baseball world took notice.
How it will be seen by future free agents remains to be seen and money ultimately talks, even if it often requires a premium to get players to come north of the border. The Jays are far from the only front office to be enslaved be analytics, but there won’t be a starting pitcher in the major leagues not feeling for Berrios today.
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Zooming out, we’re now left to ponder what Edward Rogers — the deep-pocketed enabler of all things Blue Jays through his role as Rogers CEO — does about it.
Does Rogers (the man, not the company) feel duped at buying into the front-office pitch and shelling out a franchise-record payroll?
Is he at all worried about how a surely jilted fan base will react to the latest on-field meekness? With the biggest phase of stadium renovations able to start any day now, the sustained pitch to sell tickets at in inflated price will become nauseating. And this from a fan base that contributed to attendance topping three million this season for the first time since 2017.
You can fool some of the people some of the time, but …
The anger is fresh but the reality is clear: A flawed roster put together by a flawed front office contributed to another feeble first-round exit.
The players know it. The fans know it. And now what is the front office — and perhaps the man who signs the cheques to enable it — going to do about it?