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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Shapiro talks about Spring Training broadcasts, Blue Jays home games, and more!

Mark Shapiro appeared on The Bob McCown Podcast on Wednesday and spoke about a handful of interesting things, including the ongoing broadcast drama of Blue Jays Spring Training games and where the team will be playing its home games come the regular season.

On the Spring Training broadcasts, or lack thereof…

A big storyline so far this year is the fact that Blue Jays baseball is back and nobody is able to watch it. Even more abnormal, we aren’t able to hear most of the Grapefruit games on the radio because Sportsnet has axed that part of its production.

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As we learned last week, Sportsnet will only be producing three Grapefruit games this spring and they’ll all come in late-March. Otherwise, we’re relying on Toronto’s opponents to have either a television or radio stream to be able to consume these games. And then, come regular season time, the Blue Jays will have a TV broadcast featuring Dan Shulman, Buck Martinez, and Pat Tabler simulcast on the radio, leaving Ben Wagner somewhere in limbo.

When asked about the broadcast situation, Shapiro remained fairly tight-lipped, and ultimately reiterated what he said a couple of weeks ago about how the Blue Jays and Sportsnet are independent entities and the latter’s broadcast decisions aren’t something the former can control…

I’d like to think that they’re facing tough business decisions like everybody, and that’s just a sign of one year, and we’ll see what it brings next year.

I’m sure that [Sportsnet’s] business people, I’m sure they’ll see how it goes, and they’ll get feedback from their market.

There’s obviously been a lot of backlash about the lack of Blue Jays broadcasts this spring and justifiably so given the fact these mid-afternoon time slots are currently filled with a whole lot of nothing and there’s genuine hype around watching this team right now. Not being able to watch George Springer suit up in a Blue Jays uniform for the first time and missing out on seeing Alek Manoah and Simeon Woods Richardson mow down the Yankees’ A-Squad is incredibly frustrating, there’s no doubt.

But, as Shapiro says here, all we can really do is hope that the games that are put on TV this spring do big numbers in terms of viewership so that Sportsnet’ decision-makers figure out that it’s a worthwhile investment to make in the future.

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On where the Blue Jays will play home games…

As we know, the Canada-U.S. border is closed and there’s no timeline as to when the team will be back in Toronto playing games at the Rogers Centre. The team has committed to playing its first two home-stands of the 2021 season in Dunedin, which will take them to at least early-May.

This is fine for the spring months, but, given the hot, muggy, awful heat of Florida’s summer, playing outside in Dunedin come June, July, and August really isn’t going to be doable for the Blue Jays. Shapiro says that the team has considered other options but it appears that they’ll be going back to Buffalo once the weather pushes them out of Florida…

If I had to guess, our season kind of lies in some combination of Dunedin, Buffalo, and Toronto. If I had to guess, we’ll be (in Dunedin) probably April and May, depending on how it goes, if it’s a disaster here, if it’s a nightmare here, we’ll try to get to Buffalo sooner.

But we are in the process now of trying to make more lasting permanent renovations to Buffalo that will facilitate that being a better Triple-A facility moving forward, and certainly a suitable facility for more than 60 games. By the end of our time there last year, regardless of how great a job our staff did in making it a good place to play, it was starting to be clear it was temporary. So we need to be a little more permanent.

As Minor Leaguer pointed out on Twitter a little while back, the Bisons and Rochester Red Wings don’t have any overlapping home games this season. I imagine the play here is that the Bisons will share Rochester’s stadium with the Red Wings and the Blue Jays will again take over Sahlen Field as their home.

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Whether the team gets back to Toronto is really anybody’s guess, but Shapiro did mention that he’s optimistic that the United States ramping up its vaccination efforts could result in the border opening up at some point during the summer, though the team won’t be back before July, as Toronto Mayor John Tory has restricted live entertainment until at least July 1.

The dream of a Canada Day home opener at The Dome might be far-fetched, but it’s possible.

On the the pitching staff, the trade deadline, and next winter’s free agency…

The team went hard this off-season, adding George Springer, Kirby Yates, and Marcus Semien, leaning into the nice breakout season they put together in 2020, but the re-signing of Robbie Ray and the trade for Steven Matz undoubtedly leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to Toronto’s rotation.

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Shapiro noted that while the team’s showing last year warranted the front office making a couple of substantial additions, this is still an ongoing process…

I expect us to be active at the trade deadline, I expect us to be active in next off-season’s free agent market.

To feel like we need to go into one off-season and answer every issue, and address every need, no. I mean, first of all, we need to play more to make sure we really truly know where our greatest areas of need are. And then the final point would be our greatest area of depth in our farm system, and we’ve said this all along, is in our starting pitching. And the starting pitching just is behind our position players.

That’s why we got (Hyun Jin) Ryu, signed Robbie Ray back, and I think we’ll probably still look to add to starting pitching. But when you think about (Nate) Pearson, (Alek) Manoah, (Adam) Kloffenstein, we’ve got a group of your pitchers that we feel excited about, and a few guys that don’t have as big names, that we feel also have a chance to really make an impact and help.

Unsurprisingly, this would probably mean that we won’t see the team go out and add Jake Odorizzi before the start of the season and the group they have now is what they’ll roll with. Ryu is really the only sure thing in the rotation, and, given his injury history, there are even some question marks there, but Toronto is banking on a couple of their veterans (Steven Matz, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling) bouncing back and/or some of their young arms in the upper-minors (Anthony Kay, Tom Hatch, T.J. Zeuch) breaking out.

I think that latter group is the important one here. The Blue Jays have a handful of young pitchers who may or may not become big-league starters long-term and they want to give them an opportunity to break into the rotation. If this doesn’t work out, an in-season addition, such as last year’s trade for Taijuan Walker, would be the play. But the goal here, it seems, is to give opportunities to the players who are already here.

And, as Shapiro says, there’s also next winter. The Blue Jays didn’t just go all-in this winter for the 2021 season. It’s an ongoing process and it seems pretty likely they’ll make a free-agent splash for the third consecutive off-season.

This winter’s pitching market left quite a bit to be desired but next winter’s group features a handful of quality, veteran names like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Zack Grenkie. If the organization’s young arms can’t establish themselves at the big-league level, I would imagine we see a quality pitcher or two added next off-season, but internal progress from that aforementioned group will play a role in how the Blue Jays spend money in free agency.