TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' offseason of uncertainty finally came to an end on Friday morning as the club officially introduced Ross Atkins as its new executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager.
The hiring of Atkins was the culmination of a month-long search that started when president Mark Shapiro was informed at the end of the season that former GM Alex Anthopoulos would not be signing a contract extension to remain with the organization.
Four candidates were identified early in the process, and ultimately the search came down to two finalists: Atkins and longtime Toronto assistant general manager Tony LaCava. According to Shapiro, there was no wrong choice, but in the end it was Atkins who came out on top.
"The things that have impressed me are his ability to connect with people, his intense competitiveness, his interpersonal skills at an elite level and he's developed as a leader, an effective leader," Shapiro said of Atkins, who previously interviewed for GM openings with the Phillies and Angels. "Obviously an incredible baseball acumen and feel for players and feel for the game."
Atkins arrives in Toronto after spending the last 15 years with the Indians' organization. He previously was the Indians' director of Latin American operations from 2004-06, and he ran the club's farm system from '07-14. Most recently, Atkins was Cleveland's president of player personnel.
The wealth of experience in player development is something Shapiro was clearly looking for in the hire. Since taking over as president on Nov. 1, Shapiro has talked at great length of wanting to improve the club's overall depth and build an organization that can sustain its success by setting up a foundation of top prospects.
Those are long-term goals, but more importantly for the here and now, this is an organization that is looking to defend its American League East title. Toronto has the option of bringing back its entire core of position players next season, and with several key players set to hit free agency at the end of the year, the window of opportunity to win doesn't appear to be very large.
Atkins will have to balance the future of the organization with the present. The Blue Jays need to add depth in the starting rotation and bullpen, while also acquiring a backup catcher and utility infielder. The foundation is in place, but the complementary pieces have yet to be added.
"This is a really exciting team," Atkins said. "I know firsthand pitching coaches that absolutely feared playing this team and lost sleep over thinking about the lineup, because how in the world are we going to attack the Toronto Blue Jays? And that team is intact.
"The job that they've done to fortify the pitching is impressive, and I think it's going to be a really fun thing to be a part of. ... I'm proud, I'm honored and I'm humbled to be coming into this city and this country to help lead this organization to have a sustainable winner."
Shapiro admitted Friday morning that LaCava was understandably discouraged by his decision, but that he was more than willing to remain with the organization. LaCava, who served as the interim GM for the last month, recently received a multiyear contract extension and was promoted to senior vice president of business operations.
When LaCava was informed of the news on Thursday morning, Shapiro said there was about 15 minutes of disappointment, but the conversation quickly turned to the future. Shapiro, LaCava and Atkins later went out for lunch and according to the incoming GM, their working relationship will be crucial to the team's success, especially in the coming weeks.
Ideally, everyone in a new job gets at least a few days to adjust to a new role, but Atkins doesn't have that luxury. Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings are set to begin Monday in Nashville, Tenn., and with such a quick turnaround, Atkins said he'll be leaning more on LaCava during the early going as opposed to the other way around.
"I think I would almost say that I'm going to ask Tony to ask help from me, and have him lead it," Atkins said. "'How can I support you?' Fortunately, I've been thinking about these things for another team. I've been viewing this team, the Toronto Blue Jays as well.
"I have a good understanding of the market and I feel like I'll be able to complement the staff, ask questions, ask them different ways to think about things, but in the end, Tony will have the lead and I'll look to support him over the rest of this offseason."