Toronto Blue Jays new general manager Ross Atkins answesr questions during a press conference in Toronto on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
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December 04, 2015

TORONTO (AP) Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro was the Cleveland Indians' minor league director when he first met Ross Atkins about 20 years ago.

Shapiro was quite impressed by the young pitcher, who took a keen interest in what was happening on and off the field. Atkins moved into the Indians' player development department in 2000 and both he and Shapiro would rise up the ranks of the team's front office.

On Friday, they were reunited as Shapiro proudly introduced Atkins - his longtime colleague and good friend - as the seventh general manager in Blue Jays history.

''Ross is the best person to not just be general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, he's the best person to lead this organization and build the organization,'' Shapiro said.

Tony LaCava, who was also considered for the job and filled in as interim GM after the departure of Alex Anthopoulos, will return to his previous role as assistant general manager. He was also made the senior vice president of baseball operations when the Blue Jays announced the Atkins hiring on Thursday night.

LaCava will lead the front office through the upcoming winter meetings and the offseason while Atkins settles into his new job and gets a feel for the inner workings of the organization.

''I am really appreciative of this opportunity,'' Atkins said at a news conference at Rogers Centre. ''I understand that it's a big one.''

It's the first GM job for the 42-year-old native of Greensboro, North Carolina, who spent three years as the Indians' director of Latin American operations before running the franchise's farm system from 2007-14. He inherits a Blue Jays team that's coming off a 93-69 season, made the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and reached the AL Championship Series.

''I see this team as a very, very good one that people will fear,'' Atkins said. ''They're going to be competitive.''

Toronto's offensive core remains strong and most of the position players will be back in 2016. There are holes in the bullpen and the starting rotation, however, with ace David Price leaving as a free agent and Mark Buehrle likely set for retirement or joining a team closer to home.

''I think we'll look to fortify the depth of pitching,'' Atkins said. ''And I think in addition to that there are some complementary pieces that we'll need to think about improving upon. But this is, as it stands today, a very good team.''

Shapiro, who replaced Paul Beeston after his retirement in late October, interviewed four candidates last month before narrowing it down to Atkins and LaCava. The two finalists went through another round of meetings over the last week before Shapiro made the call.

''In the end, the toughest decisions are usually the best ones to have to make,'' he said. ''I was left with the decision between two right choices. There was no bad decision, there was no bad choice.

''It was an extremely tough one for me just because there were two guys that could do a great job filling the role,'' he said.

The Indians finished third in the AL Central last season while the Blue Jays won the East, dispatched the Texas Rangers in a five-game divisional series and then fell to the Royals. A few days after Toronto was eliminated, the popular Anthopoulos - the 2015 executive of the year - stunned many baseball observers by turning down an extension amid reports of a difference in vision with the new president.

Shapiro said he was disappointed and surprised that Anthopoulos declined the offer, and he turned to LaCava to handle GM duties over the last five weeks.

LaCava responded by bringing back reliable right-hander Marco Estrada and signing left-hander J.A. Happ. In addition, first baseman Justin Smoak avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal and backup catcher Josh Thole got an $800,000 one-year deal on Friday.

The Atkins news conference came on the same day the Boston Red Sox introduced Price after he signed a seven-year deal worth $217 million. Shapiro said the Blue Jays weren't aggressive on the Price front.

''It's never a question of do you want David Price? I mean that's silly. Of course, yes, we want David Price,'' he said. ''It's a question of how do you build a championship team within the parameters you're given. It's as simple as that. We have all the resources necessary to build a championship team but they're not unlimited. It's a business like any other business.''

Shapiro would not offer specifics on overall payroll, but confirmed the team is not at its limit and noted his front office is open to being ''very creative.''

''We have the ability to examine a lot of scenarios as we head to Nashville (for the winter meetings) and as we go through the offseason and we'll see what comes,'' he said. ''We're going to look to get better. That's going to be the key.''

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