By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Given the way things unfolded at the end of his illustrious career within the grand old game, replacing Paul Beeston would be a tall order for any MLB executive.
Save for a few years in which the Welland-born big wig worked for the league offices, Beeston had been with the Blue Jays since the club's inception in 1976. He was an approachable and well-spoken individual who, over time, had unquestionably become the face of a franchise admired by sports fans countrywide.
In short, he was one of us.
It was Beeston’s folk-hero status that helped evoke a wave of unrest when Rogers Communications set out to replace the Blue Jays President and CEO last January.
He was retiring, this we knew. But to say his exit was both dignified and graceful would be nothing short of a misguided attempt to put a positive spin on how everything unfolded.
But that was yesterday’s news.
When the Blue Jays magical 2015 campaign drew to a close in Kansas City, it was Mark Shapiro who would become heir to Beeston’s perch at 1 Blue Jays Way.
At the time of his arrival, some knew only of his exaggerated portrayal in the film adaption of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball”. Others understood Shapiro as an individual who helped stabilize the Indians in the once-unsteady market that was Cleveland Ohio.
Remember that other baseball flick “Major League”?
Jake Taylor: “I play for the Indians.”
Charlie Halloway: “Here in Cleveland? I didn’t know they still had a team.”
Jake Taylor: “Yup. We’ve got uniforms and everything. It’s really great!”
Using an evolved understanding of advanced analytics, Shapiro helped establish the DiamondView program while serving as he Assistant General Manager of the Tribe in the early 2000’s. From there he worked his way up to team president, played a pivotal role in securing the renovations of Progressive Field and helped guide the once hapless Indians to a win away from reaching the Fall Classic in 2007.
Having worked in a variety of different roles throughout his career, Shapiro has established himself within the pantheons of respected Major League executives, and is hardly the type of figure who should be questioned when it comes to baseball decisions.
With that said, why has the majority of Toronto’s fan base cast the two-time Sporting News Executive of the Year as a villain?
Perhaps it has something to do with the way he handled Alex Anthopoulos during his first week on the job, reportedly giving the then Blue Jays GM a verbal lashing with regards to the way Toronto’s farm system was depleted at the trade deadline in an effort to secure the services of such stars as Ben Revere, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.
Following years of crafty acquisitions, due diligence alerts and humbled beginnings, Anthopoulos, like Beeston, had become a hit with fans within his native country, and having a hired gun come in and seemingly tear up most of the goodwill that was generated by the club's first postseason appearance since 1993 failed to resonate with the Blue Jays faithful.
Days after the allegations initially surfaced, double-A opted to elect his own version of front office free agency. Turning down a lucrative contract offer in an attempt to find “a better fit” elsewhere, out went the GM responsible for crafting the first Blue Jay play off run since Joe Carter touched ‘em all.
Is it that difficult to imagine that Anthopoulos' decision to leave may have been influenced by how the Blue Jays ownership group treated Beeston during his final two seasons in office?
Regardless of the semantics, for some, a crass, overbearing and heavy-handed perception of the club's new president had been forged in the flames of their Montreal-born hero's exit.
After naming assistant general manager and overall company man Tony LaCava as the interim GM following AA’s departure, Shapiro supplemented Anthopoulos' departure by pulling from his stable of contacts in Cleveland.
Ross Atkins, a former minor league farmhand turned MLB executive, was the Blue Jays president and CEO choice to fill the vacancy indefinitely. In Atkins, Shapiro had an individual who, despite having a plethora of MLB experience under his belt, has never served in this type of capacity before.
The announcement was met with its share of skepticism as those who follow the team closely asked whether it would be Atkins or Shapiro pulling the strings as the club enters its most important season in 24 years this April.
As snow flew on January 9th, the Blue Jays flipped Ben Revere and a player to be named later to Washington in exchange for Drew Storen and cash considerations. Not only did the move deal from a position of strength with regards to the Blue Jays outfield log jam, it simultaneously addressed one of the clubs glowing concerns; Pitching.
Had Anthopoulos made the move himself, it likely would have drawn waves of excitement and grand reviews. Instead, there were individuals questioning the decision.
What’s that they say about trust? It’s not given… it’s earned.
Last Friday, the Blue Jays came to terms with six of the eight players who had filed for salary arbitration earlier this winter. Of the eight, Jesse Chavez and Josh Donaldson failed to reach an agreement with the club prior to the deadline.
One could make an argument that given the recent trade with the Nationals, the flexibility it affords the Blue Jays from a pitching standpoint and his overall numbers from 2015, Jesse Chavez’ services are worth less than the $4,000,000 he and his agent requested. With that in mind, Toronto countered with an offer of $3.6M.
Coming off of an American League Most Valuable Player season, Donaldson filed at $11.8M while the Jays offered 450K less than his asking price. To many, this was a questionable move and one that could potentially lead to unrest between the club and one of their pivotal performers ahead of spring training.
Surely Beeston, Anthopoulos or even the legendary Pat Gillick wouldn’t do such a thing, right?
A season removed from capturing the clubs first Kennesaw Mountain Landis Award (MVP) in 1987, Gillick backed manager Jimy Williams to shift George Bell to full time DH, creating a toxic environment within the Jays clubhouse when camp broke that March. Bell responded by becoming the first player in major league history to knock three home runs on opening day, and wound up starting 147 of the club's 162 games that season.
Flash forward 27 years.
After coming over from Oakland in exchange for Brett Lawrie, a highly-ranked infield prospect and a handful of promising young arms, the Blue Jays, under the Beeston/Anthopoulos regime, took Josh Donaldson to arbitration over a $1,400,000 gap between the two camps. Toronto won the hearing, paid their third sacker $4,300,000 for the season and made out like bandits after their prized acquisition hit .297, drove in a league-best 127 runs and helped pilot the team to a postseason berth.
Clearly, the arbitration hearing did little to affect Donaldson’s performance.
Although refined since its initial establishment, arbitration, like contract extension talk, remains a nasty process.
Knowing this, the clubs refusal to meet Donaldson’s demands has created yet another point of contention which fans have used against the new front office tandem.
I mean, come on. They must have made well over $450K in Josh Donaldson jersey sales alone, no?
Although the optics of Donaldson’s situation appears suspect, there is more to it than meets the eye.
At the time of Friday’s deadline, the Canadian loonie was trading at 69 cents on the dollar and falling rapidly. A quick look at the numbers will tell you that given the state of our countries currency, $450K translates into somewhere around $654K American.
Add in Chavez’ $400K ($580K American) and you wind up with a price tag of over $1,000,000 between the two players. That’s type of money could net a club another bullpen piece or afford the Blue Jays additional financial flexibility at the trade deadline later in the season.
Baring in mind that this is both Atkins and Shapiro’s both go around with the Blue Jays unique currency situation, one can almost understand why the club is being cautious with regards to its payables.
There is also the fact that Donaldson’s raise will inevitably have an effect on not only his future arbitration hearings, but also the hearing of every other hearing after him. To this effect, his value will likely raise the bar for top-tier arbitration cases moving forward.
At 30 years old, Donaldson can be viewed as a late bloomer, and given the fact that he is ticketed to earn at least one grand payday on the free agent market once his contract has run its course in Toronto, the likelihood of receiving any team-friendly deal, arbitration or otherwise, is slim to none.
Perhaps the Blue Jays did try to bargain with Donaldson during the days leading up to the arbitration deadline. Why not try and cut a deal this winter in an effort to avoid this procedure all together next January? We’ve seen this before.
Maybe they simply swung and missed.
As a file and trial team, Toronto will not be open to negotiations between now and the impending arbitration hearing.
Can Shapiro be blamed for this? The Blue Jays abided by this policy well before his arrival.
From a perception standpoint, the cards are heavily stacked against the Blue Jays President and CEO, but that doesn’t concern him.
This Massachusetts native wasn’t born in Canada. He isn’t fluent in French, didn’t turn down a lucrative financial job to work in a in a big league mailroom somewhere nor does he have a storied background within in this organization.
But that’s not his fault.
At the end of the day, Mark Shapiro values family, sustainability and fielding a successful ball club. Safe to say that these sentiments are shared by the players, executives and legions fans of this organization.
Maybe he’s a lot like us after all.