Shapiro Speaks!: Unpacking his comments on the stadium, the payroll, and the covenant

Mark Shapiro
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Shapiro spoke to reporters on Tuesday, ostensibly to give a nice handjob to the club’s fans as attendance at Rogers Centre for this season crossed the 3,000,000 mark — the first time the Jays have broken that barrier since 1993 — but also to talk big picture stuff about the future of the stadium, the payroll, and the “covenant” between the team and the fans.

Shi Davidi has a good rundown of what Shapiro said over at Sportsnet, as does John Lott at Vice Sports, but let’s get a little deeper into some of what we were told.

i. On the stadium…

Thirty more years! That was the quote that really jumped out at me, because it’s a pretty fucking daunting timeline for a building that will never be a charming old baseball cathedral, and that’s already older than parks that are about to be demolished in Atlanta and Texas. But, of course, the Rogers Centre isn’t going anywhere, so they might as well make it a little more habitable than it currently is.

There are numerous ways the facility can be upgraded, if the club is willing to think big about it — and at least by his words on Tuesday, Shapiro is.

The one area that might be disappointing for fans is the fact that the club’s much-talked-about investigation into the possibility of putting in a real grass field remains inconclusive — at least as far as anybody is willing to say publicly. Shapiro says that real grass remains “on the table” but when prodded says that “we need to study it more to understand the precise implications of cost and building design.”

Earlier this summer I spoke to someone who isn’t involved in the project, but whose input onn this subject I trust, and he suggested that part of the problem is a couple of big water mains that run under the stadium, and serve tens of thousands of people in the condos in the area. This is hardly my area of expertise, but the implication was that it would either extremely costly to reroute those mains, or would require cutting service for an untenable length of time.

I honestly don’t know if that’s even true or if there isn’t a simpler solution, but it fits with the vagaries we’re still being fed on this issue, I think, because the reality would seem to be that putting grass in the building *is* doable, but cost is going to be the determining factor.

Which I think was always the case.

This same source speculated that the team would do what it can to keep Rogers Centre livable for as long as possible, with an eye to moving back to the Exhibition Grounds — hence my looking around at that part of town on Google Earth earlier — in maybe ten or 15 years.

It seems crazy, and I have no confidence that such an idea has even been made a thought, let alone in any sort of planning stage. But doing renovations in the next couple years, with the thought of getting 15 more out of the Rogers Centre, certainly seems more reasonable than actually believing that they can do something that will last for longer than the building has currently been in operation.

That said, like I say, there are plenty of things that can be done to improve things and make the Rogers Centre as good as possible for however long it lasts. Making sure all seats actually face the mound would be a good goddamn start. So would putting some money into the 500 Level, which feels like it has barely seen a dime of previous renovation expenditures. And Shapiro seems to think that opening the concourses (how, I have no fucking idea) and allowing fans to better see the game from there would be a positive. Sure! Sure, too, his thoughts on creating more spaces like the Flight Deck.

We’re still early in the process, and it’s a process we all have known was coming regardless, but still, it feels like things are starting to take shape.

Shapiro talks about a “six-month process” to really come up with a plan, which means that we’re looking at a year, at the earliest, before big changes really start happening.

In the meantime, the building is plenty fun when it’s full to the gills with fans, and he had some thoughts on that type of future, too…

ii. On payroll…

Here, I think, is the money quote from Shi’s piece about budgeting for 2017:

‘That off-season planning process is not a simple process. It’s a multi-pronged process that initially just involves internal meetings, meetings with player development, amateur and pro scouts, meeting with our major-league staff and then meeting with our front office to lay out a plan. And that plan, to me, would have a set of alternative payrolls and the implications involved with the types of teams those payrolls would support. Then it’s going and making a presentation to the ownership group here on what the implications are of different payroll levels, the projected revenue and collectively coming up with where we end up.”

So they devise paths to success at varying payroll levels, with varying levels of risk and potential reward, and let ownership make the cost/benefit analysis when it comes to what they actually will allow the club to spend. One assumes.

It’s not a whole lot different than what we’re used to, I suppose. That means a budget — which every team has, we mustn’t forget — and a process with a whole lot of moving parts. Only this time — as I discussed a little in yesterday’s piece about Flex Packs — Rogers has some bigger-than-usual incentives to give the front office as much financial muscle and flexibility as possible.

Fans will understandably bristle at the notion of an alternative payroll universe in which Rogers doesn’t see the value of spending $20-million more in payroll to produce, but even then it sure doesn’t feel like any of this talk is leaving room for anything but a team that is positioning itself to be very competitive next season.

It’s true, that’s all it is: talk. But it’s big talk. The kind of talk Shapiro will have a hard time wriggling away from down the line. He does not have the cachet in this market of his predecessor, who was able to say whatever nonsense he possibly could in order to deflect the day’s criticism and still be thought a saint.

Shapiro’s not there yet, but he seems to see the dynamic in similarly religious terms. “When you pull back and take a moment to reflect, the numbers are staggering,” he says of the club’s attendance this year — and, perhaps, of the cash flowing into club coffers after their latest money-grabs. “The support is overwhelming. Again, I would just reinforce that to me, it just fuels the desire and the need to continue to fulfil our end of the covenant.”

It’s one thing to be slippery with one’s words, it’s another to break a covenant. Shapiro is raising the stakes here, I think. I also think that’s probably a very good thing for fans. But only time will tell.