Shapiro, Atkins address Blue Jays season ticket holders
2,100 people attended the 'Leadoff' formerly known as the 'State of the Franchise'
New Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is eager to get his first season in Toronto started.
His young daughters are eager just to get to the city.
Atkins, who was hired as the team's GM in early December to replace Alex Anthopoulos, was one of the two new faces Thursday at the Blue Jays' annual event for season ticket holders — formerly known as the State of the Franchise but rebranded as the Leadoff this year.
He and new Jays president Mark Shapiro, who replaced the retired Paul Beeston this off-season, sat on stage on the bare Rogers Centre concrete that will soon be transformed into a baseball diamond, fielding questions from fans and expressing their excitement to be a part of the Blue Jays organization.
"When I told my daughters we were moving to Toronto, Jane said 'OK cool, that sounds good,' and Rita said 'does that mean I'm going to have to change schools?"' Atkins told the 2,100 fans in attendance. "Then my wife woke up to my nine-year-old, Jane, googling the CN Tower to see what Toronto was all about.
"So they're excited and I couldn't be more excited about it."
It was the first major public appearance in Toronto for Atkins, who spent 15 years working under Shapiro in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Initial fan reaction to the hiring of both Shapiro and Atkins seemed tepid at best, especially following Anthopoulos' abrupt departure after leading Toronto to its first AL East championship and post-season appearance since 1993.
Both newcomers were met with applause when introduced Thursday evening by Blue Jays play-by-play man Buck Martinez, and Shapiro made it clear he's not comparing himself or his staff to those of previous years.
"Those types of things, I don't spend any time thinking about," Shapiro told reporters before going out on stage. "I'm only thinking about how to make the Blue Jays a better team."
"The only message I have for fans is you can't work any harder or care any more than I'm going to do," he added. "I care deeply about giving them a reason to celebrate."
One step in getting fans on his side as spring training approaches will be cementing a formidable starting rotation following the departure of free-agent left-hander David Price.
Since taking over as president in October, Shapiro has re-signed right-hander Marco Estrada, signed free-agent southpaw J.A. Happ and added depth to the starting five with right-hander Jesse Chavez.
"I feel good about the rotation's ability to compete with the club around it," Shapiro said. "Do I think we stand to get better? Yes, I want to get better. But I think in light of alternatives out there we have a rotation that's going to battle and compete and give us a chance to win games."
Toronto also picked up reliever Drew Storen in a January trade with the Washington Nationals, a move that offers flexibility for a possible return of Aaron Sanchez to the rotation.
Sanchez, who gained 25 pounds of muscle while working out with teammate Marcus Stroman this off-season, told reporters last month that he's hoping for a starter's role. Where he winds up come Opening Day, Atkins says, will depend on a number of factors.
"We've spent a lot of time thinking about it and talking about it and we really need to include him in the process and get into how it's going to manifest — not only for him but for the team," Atkins said. "There will be a lot of variables on how we ultimately make that decision and he'll be a part of it."
Manager John Gibbons says Sanchez's fate will depend on the needs of the team.
"I think everybody would love to see [Sanchez start]," Gibbons said in his media scrum. "We'll take him down to spring training, stretch him out and as spring goes on we'll decide what's best or the team. That's what it's going to come down to."
Gibbons, who had worked under Anthopoulos since the 2013 season, first met Shapiro at spring training in Arizona during Gibbons' tenure with the Kansas City Royals.
He called the transition from the old regime to the new one "easy," and expects fans to warm up to Shapiro.
"Over time there shouldn't be a reason not to like him," Gibbons said. "He's here to win just like anybody else."