seemed like a no-brainer.
It was such a slam dunk that the conversation about what would happen if Alex Anthopoulos didn’t return was never even considered.
After all, this was a guy who created the team that ended the longest playoff drought in North American pro sports. This was a guy who constructed the roster that made the Blue Jays not only relevant again in Toronto, but across Canada and in Major League Baseball. This was a guy who almost single-handedly drove revenue through the roof and directly benefited the bottom line of Rogers Communications.
Even more: he is young, he is charismatic, he is energetic, he is Canadian, he is bilingual, and he is devoted. What more could you ask for?
Yet here we are, only one week removed from a bitter ALCS loss to the Royals, and before we can even catch our collective breath and fondly look back on an amazing season, it’s all gone to hell again.
Classic Toronto sports – one step forward, ten steps back.
The news is still too fresh to fully digest, and the full story has yet to emerge. It’s easy to take a brush and paint either side with a negative spin.
Living in a city he loves and a place where his kids were born, working his dream job and just being offered a brand new five-year deal, how could Anthopoulos turn it down? Is he selfish? Greedy? So egotistical that he couldn’t bear the thought of sharing even a small amount of power with Mark Shapiro?
From the other angle, how could Shapiro, and especially Rogers, allow this to happen? The freshly minted MLB Executive of the Year who just led your team to the postseason wants to leave…and you let him? How do you not do everything in your power to keep him?
Depending on your prerogative it’s fairly simple to be pulled in by one side or the other. But with everything that has surfaced so far, I don’t know how anybody can take the side of Rogers. First there was the mess from last year when they tried to replace Paul Beeston behind his back. Then there was the hiring of Shapiro, a baseball guy, to oversee Anthopoulos, a baseball guy – an obvious slight and a hint that AA requires at least a little bit of hand holding. Then comes this tidbit from this morning: Ed Rogers, the Chairman of the Toronto Blue Jays and the son of the late Ted Rogers, did not even meet Alex Anthopoulos, the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays for the past six years, until this week. That’s right – THIS WEEK!
It sounds absurd, and the only thing that makes it more absurd is that it’s true.
Alas, what’s done is done. Alex is not coming back. Shapiro is not going anywhere. Neither, sadly, is Rogers.
For better or worse, and perhaps unfairly, Mark Shapiro is now the most hated man in Toronto. He hasn’t even started his contract and people want him gone. It is very presumptuous and incredibly unfair, but it’s true. From all accounts, Shapiro is an intelligent man and a great baseball mind. He was GM of the Cleveland Indians from 2001-2010, and during that time led the small market and perennially attendance starved Indians to a 795-825 record and two playoff appearances, which in all honesty isn’t too bad for that market and in a division that featured first the Mauer and Morneau Twins, then the Cabrera and Verlander Tigers.
But here’s the thing. He also led the Indians to three 90+ loss seasons and seemed to be continually attempting to perfect the art of building for the future. Several times he was forced to sell off assets before they became too expensive to re-sign, and while the return was often good, it took years and years of waiting for it to pay off. Example 1: in 2002 he engineered the famous Bartolo Colon trade, acquiring Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips. But neither Lee nor Sizemore made an impact in Cleveland until 05/06 and Phillips never did, shipped to the Reds for a PTBNL. Example 2: in 2008 he dumped upcoming free agent-to-be CC Sabathia for a package that included Michael Brantley. Brantley has become an All-Star, but didn’t really come into his own until 2014, six years after being acquired. Example 3: in 2009 he sent Lee to the Phillies for a package led by Carlos Carrasco, who didn’t become an elite pitcher until 2014.
And that, friends, is my biggest fear about what has transpired these past few days. Alex Anthopoulos took over the Toronto Blue Jays at a time when they were behaving like a small market team with no resources. It took him six years to finally convince fans and executives that Toronto is not a small market team, but is in fact the fourth largest market in baseball. It took him six years to finally convince fans and executives that Rogers Communications is one of the, if not the, richest ownership groups in baseball. It took him six years to finally convince everybody that the Toronto Blue Jays can afford to sign superstar baseball players, that the Toronto Blue Jays can afford to gamble on transactions the same way that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers gamble on transactions. And after six years, the philosophy paid off with an AL East title and a mere two wins from a World Series appearance.
Now he’s gone, and in his place running the show is a guy renowned for making decisions in a small market, a guy renowned for getting by with limited resources and always keeping the farm stocked for next year. The only problem, of course, is that next year very rarely arrived for the Indians. By the time the prospects he stockpiled were ready to make an impact, they had one year to do so before being traded away (usually in their primes) to a team with bigger pockets. It’s no fault of Shapiro – he was simply handcuffed by his market and his ownership.
With over $12.5 billion in annual revenues, Rogers definitely does not have small pockets, but being corporate owners (don’t even get me started on that – that’s an entirely different post), they would love nothing more than to act like small market owners. A dollar saved on the Jays is a dollar earned for shareholders. Who better to bring in and run such an operation? Mark Shapiro.
So what now? What happens in the offseason? My guess is definitely no David Price, likely no Marco Estrada, and certainly no big left-handed bat that we desperately need (i.e. Chris Davis or Jason Heyward). What happens if the team is scuffling along in May or June? Does Shapiro look to the future and deal Bautista or Encarnacion or Tulowitzki or Donaldson (or all of them) for a return of blue chip prospects that may become elite players in 2021? Does he make it his #1 priority to rebuild the farm system, even at a time when five of the best players in all of baseball currently reside on the major league roster?
In a perfect world, these fears will be unfounded and Shapiro will continue to lead the team with a goal of winning the 2016 World Series.
But a perfect world doesn’t exit.
Because in a perfect world, Alex Anthopoulos would still be a Toronto Blue Jay.