SARASOTA, Fla. – On the surface, the addition of James Click to the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office is rather simple.
When the GM of the defending World Series champions becomes available, there’s little to lose by adding him as a team executive. In some ways, it’s that straightforward.
In recent years, the Tampa Bay Rays (Jon Daniels), New York Yankees (Brian Sabean), Los Angeles Dodgers (Alex Anthopoulos), Milwaukee Brewers (Matt Klentak) and Texas Rangers (Dayton Moore) have been among the many teams to hire former baseball ops leaders in senior roles. There’s even precedent for the move within the Toronto front office, as Ben Cherington worked for the Blue Jays before returning to the GM ranks with Pittsburgh.
At the same time, not all former GMs offer the same skillsets or have the same ambitions – far from it. Because of those differences, these job descriptions can vary considerably. Where Click fits is an interesting internal question for the Blue Jays, of course, but other executives around baseball are equally fascinated by the path ahead for the 45-year-old, who was celebrating a World Series win mere months ago with the Houston Astros.
Click arrived at the Blue Jays’ player development complex in Dunedin, Fla. on Wednesday for his first official day in his new role. As VP of baseball strategy, he’ll work with GM Ross Atkins on “strategic planning, decision making, and evaluation.” The team added that “he will work across both professional and amateur levels to identify best practices, develop plans, and implement strategies.”
So, what does that look like day to day? To this point, Click hasn’t been made available to the media, but his role appears to be an entirely new one.
While Cherington impacted various aspects of baseball operations in Toronto, contributing to free-agent strategy, for instance, his in-season focus was primarily on player development. In New York, the 66-year-old Sabean’s described as a senior adviser. Between GM stints in Toronto and Atlanta, Anthopoulos worked closely on day-to-day baseball operations with the Dodgers.
By the sounds of it, Click’s role will be different. A longtime Rays executive, he broke into the game with database and coding skills. But while it’s accurate to describe him as an analytics person, the conversation doesn’t end there. He hired 11 scouts two off-seasons ago – a move that reflects a desire for organizational balance.
“At the end of the day, the scout being in the ballpark, being in the house, being able to get a feel for the person and not just the data on the field, is something that we place a lot of value on,” he told Baseball America last year. “In my assessment, when I came in, I think the staff had gotten a little too lean.”
It’s unlikely Click’s impact in Toronto will be so obvious any time soon. It’ll take time to review the Blue Jays’ internal models, get to know their people and understand the organization’s culture and communication. Over time, he’ll likely meet with department heads to learn more and report back to Atkins. Much of that work’s expected to take place remotely, at least for his first year.
If all of that sounds vague, maybe an example will help. Any organization adding Click – and there were others, of course – would want his insight on their internal Research and Development work. The R&D systems that drive a team’s proprietary stats, draft models and biomechanical research are incredibly important. With another perspective, there will be chances to sharpen those tools and improve everything from scouting to trades to recovery.
That’s one area where Click’s expertise could help nudge the Blue Jays forward, but in contrast to Cherington he’s not expected to get too far into the weeds in any one department at first. Nor is he expected to become an alternate to Atkins in operating the big-league team or simply sit back until another opening emerges.
The impact may not be easy to see – especially on day one – but the potential for change is broad and the downside certainly seems limited.