Mark Shapiro spoke to a collection of youth baseball coaches last weekend at Rogers Centre, and though the speech was notable for the Jays president’s passionate talk about coaching and culture — stuff that fans would love to hear, I think, if they were willing to give a chance to the person speaking it — things got especially juicy during a Q&A session that followed.
You can watch the video of speech here (for some reason WordPress can’t handle MLB.com embeds). Here, though, are what I thought were the real highlights.
On Rogers, Rogers Centre, and Revenue…
This building generates the third least amount of premium revenue of all Major League Baseball franchises. Only Oakland and Tampa have less revenue than us from premium. So, we need to update the building, we need to be getting revenue from this building we’re not getting. Our ticket prices are in the bottom third of all of Major League Baseball. A lot of it’s solvable. I think the expectation should be that when we’re where we need to be as a business that we’re in the top eight to ten payrolls every single year. That I think should to be where we are — that’s what the market justifies. I tend to not focus on not being there as an excuse. You know, we were there last year, we probably won’t be there this year because we’ll stay the same and everybody else will go up five percent. I think you’ve just got to manage against that — I’ve never felt that payroll should dictate the ability to win. Payroll does dictate the ability to sustain winning. Does that make sense? But it doesn’t dictate the ability to win. We’re working, I’m working with ownership to try to educate them and help them understand. I think those expectations from the fan base, just understanding why we’re not there now — it’s FX [foreign exchange], it’s ticket pricing, it’s the revenue the building produces, which is the first or second largest — in our case first largest source of revenue. So, some of that is adjustable and correctable over time. Some of that we’re going to always have to build a system that’s the best at identifying talent, developing talent, and building a culture that outperforms objective expectations. That’s what I control, right? So I’m focused on those things.
A lot to take in here. The stuff about the building struggling to bring in “premium” revenue is a little alarming, but factor in the exchange rate — which Shapiro is clearly doing — and you understand that the Jays are always going to be in a weak spot relative to the teams they’re competing with. Still, to be above only the two worst stadium situations in the league? That’s ugly. But even uglier is what follows — the thing the Jays will only dance around but understandably won’t quite say — which is… uh… what is the third worst situation anyway? Maybe you could make the case it belongs to the White Sox, but the Jays are very clearly in that conversation.
The building is a problem, especially when viewed through this lens — one that ordinary fans don’t often think about. And it’s a problem that Shapiro told Future Blue Jays back in October that “the actual implementation of any upgrades is, ‘up to Rogers – where it fits in the hierarchy of their capital needs’.”
That he’s still talking about trying “to educate” ownership? Not great. To be fair, the “educate” comment wasn’t about the building, per se. But with the 2018 season fast approaching and the building looking pretty much the same as ever, it means that at the very earliest it will be Shapiro’s fourth season in charge of the club before we see any sort of significant change to the building — to the thing he’s telling us is the club’s largest source of revenue. Does that seem right to you, when the club president is identifying that as such a significant challenge? (Unsaid, of course, is that the Jays’ next biggest source of revenue — or at least one of them — is surely TV dollars, which are controlled by Rogers as well.)
“Adjustable and correctable over time,” he says. Well, let’s hope so. Shapiro at least sounds properly ambitious about where the club should be. But yeah… I don’t think a new stadium is walking through the door anytime soon.
On Josh Donaldson (and *gulp* Tulo)…
Extensions and contracts are about sharing risk. Risk has to do with how a player performs over the length of a contract — so if you have a player who doesn’t perform anymore, he’s no longer your best player, and you’ve got to think about what that means for your ability to build a championship team around him. So Josh clearly, listen, is one of the best offensive players in the game. Period. Without a doubt. One of the most uniquely aware of his swing players I’ve ever heard talk, one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever heard, and one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever seen. Because of that, he’s going to get paid the rates that that gentleman objects to [referring to an attendee who asked about out-of-control player salaries in the previous question] — he’s going to get paid, you know, tens and tens of millions of dollars. And because of the reality of where our payroll is, we have to be careful that. If his production dips, can we still build a team around him? I’m not going to say names but we’re faced with that challenge right now, and I think we’re going to be faced with that challenge the next three years with a very big contract. So if you have two or three of those contracts, how do you build a team that contends? No matter how good that player is, how does it feel to a fan base if you’re a bad team with one good player? So it’s always about the team, it’s never about “do you want that player?” We absolutely want that player.
“I’m not going to say names but we’re faced with that challenge right now, and I think we’re going to be faced with that challenge the next three years with a very big contract.” Troy Tulowitzki’s salary each of the next three seasons: $20 million. $20 million. $14 million.
I mean, not to make this not about Donaldson, and not to pretend that what Shapiro is saying here is revolutionary or anything, but yowza. You pretty much named the name, my man!
As for the Donaldson stuff, I’m not sure what else Shapiro can say here. But think of it like you’re him: the $23 million that will be come off the books if Donaldson walks could do a lot of good for this roster next winter — not as good as Donaldson himself, mind you, but they’ll have a ready-made replacement in Vlad Guerrero Jr. making the league minimum, which definitely helps. And the compensation pick they’d get? Though it wouldn’t be as nice as the one they got for losing Edwin Encarnación last winter (which turned into Nate Pearson) — under the new CBA the Jays are among the teams who’ll get a pick after Competitive Balance Round B, which usually means in the 75-80 range — that’s still pretty alright. Not better than having both Donaldson and Vladdy, but the Jays can hold firm on an offer and not feel like they’re taking that much of a step back. And maybe a step back is what they’ll want to do. We shall see… we shall see…
On the Upcoming Season (and the Rest of the Offseason)…
There are more ifs than I want there to be — because of age — because of the age of our position players. But if you really look at our success in 2016 — not ’15, where it was really just kind of a two month adrenaline-fuelled, incredible — the best two or three months of baseball you’ll ever see. But you look at the success we had in ’16, getting to the ALCS, and it was largely driven by our pitching staff, not by our hitters. I know we kind of are known as an offensive team, but we haven’t been that offensive team since the second half of 2015. That’s the last time we were a dominant offence. So I would say our success this year is largely predicated on our rotation being as good as it can be — which puts a lot of pressure on Aaron Sanchez coming back. If that happens I think we’ve got a chance to be a contending team.
Ahhh… maybe a decent fifth starter would help a bit though!
I would say in all likelihood that we’re focussed largely on addressing pitching right now. More starting pitching depth, and having traded Dominic Leone, who was very strong for us in the ‘pen last year, hopefully trying to bolster the bullpen as well. So I would say the bulk of our attention is focussed on that, but I’m never going to give you absolutes. The nature of these jobs are you’re always looking for an opportunity to get better, and if that opportunity exists in the outfield…
On Yelich, Vlad, and *gulp* Manny???…
Those two guys are among the best I’ve seen since Manny Ramirez, probably for me. Ross and I were talking about it — like, Manny’s the only player I can think of comparable, coming up, to what Vladdy’s doing at the age he’s doing it.
Holy awesome. Hoooooly awesome.
So doesn’t that make Vlad untouchable?
There’s always a deal. Yelich was probably as close to a deal, with $100 million in surplus value and 27 years old, with six years of control on an affordable contract — that’s about as tough a decision as you’re ever going to make, if it’s one of those guys even up for him, which it wasn’t going to be. So, there’s always a trade.
Yeah, but let’s hope not!