News broke this week that Rogers and the Blue Jays have decided that the most feasible path forward for the Rogers Centre is to renovate the stadium for a quarter of a billion dollars rather than attempt to build a replacement.
This latest development means that in just six years since first coming to Toronto in the Fall of 2015, Mark Shapiro, the President of the Blue Jays, has done (or is in the process of doing) everything that could have possibly been expected of him when he signed his original contract. Both on and off the field, Shapiro has taken a team that was aging in its roster, baseball & business operations, and facilities, and has revitalized them all to ensure that the team as a whole has a bright future. I think it’s important to look at each individual aspect and examine how well everything has turned out, because for all the flak he got when he took over the job, Shapiro has firmly cemented himself as the best all-around executive the Blue Jays have ever had.
Much has been written about the current Blue Jays team, and if you’re reading this, you know that the club is as well positioned as any in baseball to win a World Series title over the next 5 years. When Shapiro inherited the club, they were at a similar point when it came to the amount of talent on the team, but far different when it came to the makeup of that talent. They were able to run it back after a wildly successful 2015 and go to the ALCS again in 2016, but all that aging talent eventually broke in 2017 and the team entered a rebuild.
Among the other teams that entered the rebuilding process at the same time, the Blue Jays have without a doubt come out the other end faster and better equipped to have a sustained run of success. One needs to not look further than the Baltimore Orioles, the team the Blue Jays beat in the 2016 Wild Card game, for how great this turnaround has been. Baltimore started their period of losing at the same time as the Blue Jays, but they have yet to have anything close to a winning season and the foundations of a successful big league team aren’t even around in the minors that would make a fan dream of a potentially successful future. Contrast that with the Blue Jays, who made the playoffs in the 2020 pandemic season, and were a 99 win team according to pythagorean record in 2021. The current and future status of these two teams is an incredible testament to Shapiro and his handpicked GM Ross Atkins’ ability to successfully turn a team into a contender.
Baseball & Business Operations
When Shapiro took over from Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston at the end of the 2015 season, fans were not the only ones shaken by the surprising change. Some members of the baseball operations department that had worked under Anthopoulos loved how he approached baseball operations decisions and were weary of any changes, especially old school baseball lifers who appreciated Anthopoulos’ scouting background when it came to pulling the trigger on moves. However, those who stayed on with Shapiro quickly learned that what he and Atkins valued most was a cohesiveness in their staff and blending of all the information they were able to get their hands on in order to make the best decisions – be it analytics, scouting, or player development. It was a far cry from when an outside biomechanics group performed testing on some Blue Jays players in the early 2010’s and the team opted not to do anything with the data. Now, the idea that the Blue Jays baseball ops department would turn away any data points to help them make more informed decisions is ludicrous and goes against every public facing statement Shapiro or Atkins has ever said on the matter.
On the business side of things, Shapiro has revolutionized the Blue Jays’ approach to ticketing and fan interaction, meaning that although the cost of going to a game has risen, the team is no longer leaving dollars on the table that they could have been earning previously. In the fast approaching post-pandemic world where the Rogers Centre will be filled to the brim with Blue Jays fans watching a playoff calibre team day in and day out, Shapiro has enabled the club to get the most financially out of that situation and reinvest those earnings back into the club. With the ever confusing Blue Jays ownership group, it has been refreshing to see that Shapiro has been able to convince Ed Rogers and the powers that be at Rogers that spending money on this team is the best decision they can make business wise when so many other clubs have done just the opposite.
Although the larger Rogers Centre renovation has yet to be started (or completed), the news surrounding it this week means we can safely assume it’ll be something we see over the next few years. However, Shapiro has still been instrumental in convincing the owners to make incremental improvements to the stadium over the past few years, and the experience of watching a game at the Rogers Centre right now is a lot more fan friendly than it was 5 short years ago.
Shapiro’s greatest accomplishment to date though is not the facility in Toronto, rather in Dunedin. Both the minor league training facility and the stadium where the spring training games were actually played were easily the worst in the league when he joined the team, a fact that was rather obvious to any outside observer. From the cafeteria that looked like it belonged in a kindergarten to the workout gym that was reminiscent of the one at the NCAA Division III undergrad I attended, upgrades were clearly needed, and Shapiro oversaw a process that has resulted in the Blue Jays now having the clear best facilities in baseball. That advantage has not only led to increased player development and performance, but it is a huge selling point that makes the Blue Jays an increasingly attractive destination for free agents and amateur draftees looking to join a team for the future.
Obviously if the Blue Jays don’t have a sustained period of success or the stadium renovations fall flat, none of this will matter, as the average fan does not care about workplace culture or the lunch room that players eat their meals in. But when looking at the bigger picture, it is clear that what Shapiro has accomplished in his time with Toronto has been nothing short of a startling success. He might be a huge nerd obsessed with his motivational whiteboard, but it’s that drive to improve everyday that has led him to be so successful. When he ultimately leaves the club, it’s hard to imagine him doing it because he has been fired. With the way things have turned out so far, it’s probably only bigger and better things for Shapiro, and we should be thankful he’s at the helm of the club we support.