Last night, the baseball team in Cleveland beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-2. When Cody Allen got Trey Mancini to line out to Jay Bruce to end the game, it solidified Cleveland’s 18th consecutive victory.
They’re the first team to win that many games in a row since the 2002 Oakland A’s, the team featured in Moneyball. The streak has also put Cleveland ahead of the Houston Astros for top record in the American League, and, based on the way things are going for both clubs, they could realistically catch the L.A. Dodgers for top record in baseball before the playoffs start.
What does this have to do with the Blue Jays? A lot, oddly enough. Why? Because this is the team that Mark Shapiro built.
Shapiro joined the Blue Jays in 2015 right as the team was on the verge of ending its epic 22-year playoff drought. This put a sour taste in people’s mouths because it meant that Alex Anthopolous, the homegrown guy who started in the mailroom of the Montreal Expos front office with a degree in Anthropology, was likely on his way out.
Anthopolous put together a beautiful juggernaut of a team that absolutely clobbered teams on a night-to-night basis. Despite the fact they didn’t win the World Series, you can easily argue it’s the best team in Blue Jays history. And for somebody like myself who was born in 1993 and suffered through two decades of nothingness, Anthopolous’ team — invigorated by ballsy acquisitions at the deadline like Tulo and David Price and offseason splashes Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson that changed the team’s culture — will always hold a special place in my heart. I imagine others in the young generation of Blue Jays fans will feel the same way.
But because we love Anthopolous so much for what he did to resurrect baseball in Toronto, many seem to have immediately directed animosity and skepticism towards the new guy from Cleveland. Shapiro joined the Cleveland organization in 1991, worked his way up the player development side of management, and, by 2001, he was the team’s general manager. He was in that role until 2010, where he was promoted to president — the role he’s in currently with the Blue Jays.
What that baseball team is doing in Cleveland should get us excited for the future of the Blue Jays under Shapiro’s leadership.
Cleveland’s Top 20 Players by WAR in 2017 via FanGraphs:
Corey Kluber (6.1) – Acquired in a three-team trade in 2010 for Jake Westbrook.
Jose Ramirez (5.0) – Signed as an amateur free agent in 2009.
Francisco Lindor (4.6) – Selected in first round of the 2011 draft.
Carlos Carrasco (4.5) – Acquired in a trade from the Phillies in 2009 for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco.
Trevor Bauer (3.0) – Acquired in a three-team trade in 2012 from the Diamondbacks for Lars Anderson, Tony Sipp, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jason Donald. Cleveland also got Bryan Shaw and Drew Stubbs.
Carlos Santana (2.8) – Acquired in a trade from the Dodgers in 2008 for Casey Blake.
Edwin Encarnacion (2.2) – Signed as a free agent in 2016.
Andrew Miller (2.0) – Acquired in a trade with the Yankees in 2016 for Clint Fraizer, Justus Sheffield, and Ben Heller.
Danny Salazar (1.8) – Signed as an amateur free agent in 2006.
Mike Clevinger (1.8) – Acquired in a trade from the Angels in 2014 for Vinnie Pestano.
Josh Tomlin (1.7) – Selected in the 19th round of the 2006 draft.
Lonnie Chisenhall (1.7) – Selected in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Cody Allen (1.6) – Selected in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft.
Michael Brantley (1.5) – Acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 for CC Sabathia.
Bradley Zimmer (1.5) – Selected in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Bryan Shaw (1.3) – Acquired in the aforementioned Bauer trade with the Diamondbacks.
Yan Gomes (1.3) – Acquired in a trade from the Blue Jays in 2012 for Esmil Rogers.
Austin Jackson (1.2) – Signed as a free agent in 2017.
Joe Smith (0.8) – Acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays in 2017 for Thomas Pannone and Samad Taylor.
Jay Bruce (0.6) – Acquired in a trade with the Mets in 2017 for Ryan Rider.
This team is very good. Last season, we saw that first hand when Cleveland dismantled the Blue Jays in the American League Championship series. After dropping the World Series to the Cubs in seven games, Cleveland went into 2017 as a favourite by many to win it all. And, right now, it looks like they might.
Of the top 20 Cleveland players, five were drafted, two were signed as amateur free agents, and eight were acquired in trades by the Shapiro regime. Only Andrew Miller, Edwin Encarnacion, Austin Jackson, and deadline acquisitions Joe Smith and Jay Bruce aren’t Shapiro additions, and Miller was acquired for a handful of prospects drafted by Shapiro.
In an article on FanGraphs Monday, Jeff Sullivan deduced that Cleveland might have the best starting rotation ever. That’s, uh, pretty lofty. But this group, the one that’s allowed more than three runs just three times in the past 18 games over this wild streak, is damn dominant. And, again, all six starters — Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer, Tomlin, and Clevinger — some way or another, are Shapiro additions.
The thing that jumps out at me with his Cleveland team is the depth and efficiency in developing players. Shapiro dealt away good players like Casey Blake and Jake Westbrook and superstars like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and the organization has a lot to show for it. Even when key players like Michael Brantley go down with injury or someone like Danny Salazar struggles, there’s a Lonnie Chisenhall or Mike Clevinger there to step in and fill the role.
I’m not saying that everything will work perfectly out and that because Cleveland is good Shapiro’s success will translate directly to Toronto. Nothing is that simple. I’m also not saying that Cleveland’s success is entirely a manifestation of Shapiro’s work. Obviously there were other talented people involved in everything this team has accomplished.
But looking at this group that was largely put together under Shapiro, Blue Jays fans should be excited about the team’s future, especially the improvement on the player development side of things which has played such a key role on this historically-good Cleveland team.