MLB: Rating the front offices of the AL East

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman talks on the phone prior to a Grapefruit League spring training game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on March 12, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Many professional and college sports are canceling or postponing their games due to the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman talks on the phone prior to a Grapefruit League spring training game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on March 12, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Many professional and college sports are canceling or postponing their games due to the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Toronto Blue Jays

Mark Shapiro, president and CEO; Ross Atkins, executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager

+1.9 games

The Jays’ famously talented young core made sufficient strides in 2020 that it was only necessary for Atkins to tweak that core on the edges in order to produce a MLB playoff team under the expanded rules in force this season.

Still, seeing their chance at a post-season run, Atkins’ front office went after it hard. The team made a hefty 32 personnel decisions affecting the short-term future since the end of the 2019 season, netting a 1.9 game improvement to the club’s talent base as measured by Wins Above Average.

The team’s third place finish in the AL East and position as an eighth seed in the playoff lineup was its reward.

Far and away the most impactful of those moves was the decision last winter to commit $80 million over the next four seasons to the signing of free agent pitcher  Hyun-Jin Ryu. Arriving as the leader of an otherwise young rotation, Ryu was 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA in a dozen starts, generating a 2.4 WAA all by himself.

Everything else Shapiro-Atkins paled in impact by comparison with that one move.

In fact, the next most impactful personnel moves with respect to Toronto’s success in 2020 were negative ones.  The Jays signed free agent infielder Joe Panik in January, but he hit only .225 and produced a -0.7 WAA. They also signed free agent pitcher Shun Yamagushi out of Japan. Yamaguchi was 2-4 with an 8.06 ERA in seven appearances, translating to a -0.8 WAA. Pitcher Chase Anderson subtracted another -0.8 WAA from the team’s performance.

At least the signing of fellow free agent pitcher Rafael Dolis, 2-2, 1.50, +0.8 WAA in five appearances, and the trade that brought in Taijuan Walker, 2-1, 1.37, +0.7 WAA in six starts, offset some of the negative impact of those other moves.

The annual short-term performance rating of Shapiro-Atkins front office since Atkins was appointed GM prior to the 2016 season:

Season   Games

2016:     +10.0*

2017:     +  1.4

2018:     –   7.6

2019:     –   5.7

2020:     +  1.9

*This was a greater improvement than the margin by which the Blue Jays qualified for post-season play.