The People vs Mark Shapiro

Things in the Blue Jays world seemed to finally boil over a few days ago when it was announced that the team would only receive a player to be named later in exchange for franchise icon Josh Donaldson after he was traded to the Cleveland Indians at the waiver trade deadline. It seemed like a culmination of watching a bad team for the past two years coupled with the destruction of a beloved team by a new regime that fans can’t quite trust yet that pushed fans and media over the top.

Much of the anger has been directed toward President Mark Shapiro, who, ever since he joined the team in 2015, has received a reception from Blue Jays faithful that could be described as cold at best. If you were on the fence about him before the team traded former MVP Donaldson to his old team for pennies on the dollar, odds are you were seeing red until…well, still.

After the trade, the Blue Jays court of online public opinion was set ablaze. The majority of fans have seemingly drawn a line in the sand and clung to a side, and depending on who you speak to, Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins could either do no wrong, or they’re driving this franchise into the ground with each passing month.

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How soon can you judge a new front office regime? Has the criticism hurled Mark Shapiro’s way been fair to him thus far?

Join us, as court is now in session and Blue Jays fans will air their grievances against the president whose head they’ve been calling for.

Offence: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still not a Blue Jay

Mar 27, 2018; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) reacts after hitting a home run in the ninth inning to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals at Olympic Stadium.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, this is a topic that has caused heated debate that won’t go away until Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is called up sometime in April next year. The Blue Jays kept their number one prospect in their minor league system despite the 19-year-old running roughshod on older pitchers throughout the year.

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This move brought scrutiny for many reasons; the first one was that the product on the field in the major league left a lot to be desired. After a dismal May where the team went 9-19, the team was well out of a playoff spot while their prized possession hitting near the .400 mark in Double-A.

It seems far-fetched to insist that somebody who hasn’t seen a pitch in the Major Leagues yet should be at worst, a top-three hitter on a team, but we aren’t just talking about any prospect here. We’re looking at what could possibly be a generational talent. Guerrero slashed a gaudy .381/.437/.636 over the year in the minors despite being considerably younger than his competition. At the very least, Vlad being called up would have been a glimmer of hope and a sign of things to come.

The only reason that Vladimir Guerrero Jr spent the year riding buses and not playing in Toronto was his service time clock. Once you play your first game in the bigs, it begins a six-year window in which a team controls your rights. The incentive for the Blue Jays – and many other major league teams – is that you keep them down long enough to get an extra year of control when they’re in their prime. Yes, there’s a huge difference between what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would have made in 2018 as a rookie vs that extra year they’ll have him in 2026, but the Blue Jays want that extra year before they really have to pay him…or, you know, he leaves.

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This wasn’t a roster move, it was a business move.

What made fans angrier about all of this was Shapiro insisting that Guerrero was down there for other reasons, namely to grow to become a better defender. Shapiro couldn’t flat out say why Vlad Jr. was still in the minors and spent the year doing mental and verbal gymnastics to justify it. You’re talking about a guy that has all the power in the world, but the patience to draw more walks than strikeouts over his minor league career (146 vs 135 in 276 games). People are already drawing comparisons to Miguel Cabrera, who is carving out a Hall of Fame resume despite contributing minimal defensive value.

Verdict: This is more than just a Blue Jays problem, it’s a systemic problem that baseball has to fix soon. All the blame can’t fall on Shapiro and the rest of the front office for just following the guidelines laid out for them. That being said, the “everybody else is doing it” defense shouldn’t absolve them of criticism. We often look down on big corporations who go to great lengths to save money, and this shouldn’t be any different.

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Who knows, maybe that extra year won’t matter because the Blue Jays will buy out a few years of his control with the biggest deal in team history once he arrives. Jays fans can only hope.

Offence: Taking a team that was ALCS bound in back-to-back years and tearing it apart

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Blue Jays react after loosing to the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest reason why the oft-mentioned 2015 season was so magical was because the team largely hadn’t been close to a playoff spot in late August, let alone actually winning the division.

Before 2015, the last time they made the playoffs was the last time they won the World Series, back in 1993. There were young adult Blue Jays fans who spent their whole lives watching the team without getting to experience a postseason game.

It was no secret that the team that Alex Anthopoulos assembled back in 2015 was extremely good, but not built to last. After being bounced in six games by the Kansas City Royals, fans wondered what Shapiro would do to keep the flame alive, and he did, keeping the band together in large part for one more kick at the can in 2016.

2015 and 2016 came and went, and now fans are faced with the reality of potentially having to wait a few years before watching their team play meaningful baseball in the fall again. Even though there’s good reason to be optimistic about the future, getting that close in back to back years and not even reaching the World Series still hurts.

Since then, it’s fair to say there’s been a lot of turnover. On July 31st, Ian Hunter tweeted this. You can remove Donaldson’s name from it, and then maybe Pillar’s, Travis’, Pompey’s, and Estrada’s in a few months. Maybe more. We’d be down to a painfully low amount of players left over from a team that the whole country fell in love with.

Among the departures, two hurt the most. First was Edwin Encarnacion’s. Going into his long awaited free agent year, many thought the slugger was going to get close to a nine figure offer from a team. The guys over at MLB Trade Rumors predicted something in the ballpark of $92M over four years from the Boston Red Sox.

As we know, Encarnacion didn’t have much of a market, signing a three-year deal in Cleveland worth $60M, with a 2020 club option worth $20M. Jon Heyman reported during that winter that the Jays initially offered $80M over four years, which, yeah…

You can definitely fault Encarnacion for not taking that offer when he had the chance, but the Jays moved on quickly. They signed Kendrys Morales in early November, six weeks before Cleveland came to an agreement with the former Blue Jay.

The other instance is the messy departure with Josh Donaldson. The return was fair for a month’s worth of an injured player, but at the same time, very underwhelming for a franchise great. I’m not necessarily bothered by the return, it’s just that it felt so forced. The team had the option of giving him a qualifying offer in the neighbourhood of $18M, and given how his year went, there would have been a good chance that he accepted, netting you a prospect in July better than Julian Merryweather had an elite player returned to his old form.

Another gripe that fans have had was how this season went. A team was assembled that could have realistically been in the wildcard race, but due to things outside of the Blue Jays control, such as injuries, poor play, and their star closer getting arrested. Something that wasn’t a surprise, though, was the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees were going to be extremely good, and there was no avoiding their course of destruction.

If they were more conservative and decided to do a complete 180 after last season, there’s no doubt that Donaldson and Roberto Osuna would have commanded much more than they went for this season, and the farm system would be even better. But hindsight is a hell of a thing, and I think that not risking your future while trying to stay competitive, especially with the fickle nature of the game *COUGH* Oakland *COUGH* is commendable.

Verdict: Let me try to get creative here: I’d liken all of this to a football team being on the opposing team’s 40-yard line and punting on 4th and 3. Coach Shapiro knows that he has the tools to go for it, but there are other factors – namely playing the powerhouse Red Sox and Yankees near a combined 40 times per year – that makes the decision that much more difficult. So he hears the boos rain down on him as the kicking team trots out and hopes that his defense – the number 3 ranked farm system in the league according to Baseball America – puts him in a good spot shortly.

It’s definitely unfair (and sort of delusional) to Anthopoulos to say that Shapiro had to clean up a mess, but he had to try to build things his own way coming off of those two seasons. There was work to be done and he needed to slowly reset and put his own stamp on the team.

Offence: Resembling an elected official instead of MLB franchise’s president

Apr 14, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays team president and CEO Mark Shapiro talks with the media during batting practice before a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no getting around this. Mark Shapiro is so calculated, calm, and collected that he kind of comes off as a politician. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but when the team isn’t doing so well, it might seem like it.

If he were my doctor and provided some vital information, I would sit there and process it before wondering what his end game was.

This fanbase has often been bothered by is the doublespeak coming from both Shapiro and Atkins. We remember the comments before the Osuna trade that hinted that he’d be welcome back after serving his suspension, but then Jon Morosi later reported that was not the case. It reminds me of a comment about Chief Wahoo that was made a few days ago.

Man, only if the president of the team a few years ago could have enacted change, huh?

After it’s all said in done, something Shapiro will be remembered by, other than winning and losing on the field of course, are ballpark renovations. This almost seems like an election promise at this point, but I’m sure we’re going to be hearing about them more in the coming months. In his defense, I’m not sure if the task of building the team has pushed that to the backburner or if Rogers has.

Verdict: I mean, the old guy had lots of moments where he sounded like a politician, and don’t get me started about the moments where he’d do a full interview without giving the listener any new information at all. The difference between Anthopoulos and Shapiro is that one is Canadian and reminds you of your uncle while the other feels like he’s canvassing the neighbourhood and at your house to get your word that you’ll vote.

Alright, now it’s your turn. How do you think the president and CEO has fared thus far in his Blue Jays career? Let us know in the comments.

  • The Humungus

    Time for Taeks:

    Offence: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still not a Blue Jay

    No, he’s not. It sucks. But it’s the nature of the game under the current CBA, and by 2021, when he goes to arb for the first time, we’ll likely have all forgotten about the fact that they didn’t bring him up to play games in a season where Russell Martin was the starting 3B in September games for a fourth place team 30 some-odd games out in the division.

    Offence: Taking a team that was ALCS bound in back-to-back years and tearing it apart

    Yup, sure did tear apart an old ass team with a bottom-tier farm system. If this is an offense, then people don’t understand how little those teams were built to be sustainable. Fuck, the previous GM traded for the third worst contract in baseball, but it did help the team win and win they did.

    Offence: Resembling an elected official instead of MLB franchise’s president

    Well, my MPP is 21 years old, and our Premier is a stupid fat manbaby slob, so, I’m actually ok with this.

  • Nice Guy Eddie

    Why does Toronto have to pay Troy Tulowitzki $20 million a year to not play baseball for the last 3.5 years of his career? Why did Texas have to pay out Fielder $72 million to similarly not play baseball for the last three years of his contract, after paying him another $30 million to sit on the DL for over a year? Because the Uniform Player Contract negotiated in the CBA requires it. It doesn’t matter if it’s “fair”. It doesn’t matter if many think it absolutely insane. It matters that this is the CBA that has been bargained.

    The CBA contains no provision requiring teams to call up a player when the blogosphere wants the player called up for its immediate amusement. Nor would such a provision be enforceable in any reasonable way. Is an arbitrator to hear arguments about when a player should be called up? No sport has, or should have, such a provision in its collective agreement.

    Shapiro is commenting wisely when asked about Guerrero. The club has already paid him almost $4 million as a bonus, and is under no obligation, legal or moral, to waste his service time for the immediate gratification of the internet. The Club’s responsibility is to do what is best for the Club. They’ve apparently decided, rightly in my view, to rush a 19 year old to free agency by age 25 isn’t in its interest, though for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who gives it some rational thought they’re not going to provoke a fight with the MLBPA about it. And please save me the claim that the Club can just unilaterally decide to pay him more to keep him after his service time. Ask the Nationals about that one.

    I think the article would be better titled “People who don’t know much about the CBA and how professional sports works vs. Mark Shapiro”.