Shapiro is here to stay, so get over it

In the 2014 MLB off season, the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos were making headlines as one of the MLB’s busiest teams. They traded for eventual MVP Josh Donaldson and signed Canadian Russell Martin to the largest contract the Jays had ever given to a position player. But at the time, fans and media were irate. The Jays were coming off of a 2014 where they had missed the playoffs for the 20th straight season despite scoring the fourth most runs in the American League. Bottom line is that the Jays “needed” pitching, yet committed big money to two positions that weren’t identified as problems (although I certainly don’t miss Lawrie or Navarro). Media and fans demanded the firing of Alex and Gibby and the two of them entered the 2015 with a very short leash.

What a difference a year can make. One David Price trade and a magical playoff run later, and you will be hard pressed to find a bar in Canada that would make Alex pay for a drink. Mark Shapiro on the other hand, might be challenged to find one that will serve him.

I understand the animosity to a certain extent. I was a huge Alex Anthopoulos fan, even when his back was against the wall for most of last year. But his leaving was just as much his doing as it was Shapiro’s. I do not put any stock into the transparent statements made by Rogers media or Bell-owned media who have made strong attempts at placing blame for Alex’s departure. I personally feel that the real answer lies between “Anthopoulos refused to work with Shapiro” and “Shapiro pushed Anthopoulos out the door”. This is pure speculation, but my gut feeling is that Shapiro wants to create a culture in which the front office collaborates and bounces ideas off of each other. In such a system, after Shapiro hears everyone’s opinion, he makes the final informed decision. That isn’t to say that Alex was some sort of lone-wolf who didn’t listen to his assistants–I tend to think the opposite. But I can imagine he didn’t feel comfortable signing long-term to a job in which he has the same title, with a lesser voice.

Alex Anthopoulos

Anthopoulos had become a symbol for last year’s playoff Jays. His bold front office strategies paired with his Canadian birth certificate and an inspiring path to the big leagues made him a Canadian icon–that is once the Jays showed any remote success. Shapiro’s image was doomed as soon as Alex walked out the door. This has led to a winter of Shapiro bashing that is both aggressive and  unfounded.

Seriously though, some of the Twitter reaction from his moves  are flat out ridiculous. When it was rumoured that the Jays were strongly pursuing relief pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, Twitter users labelled Shapiro as a “dumpster diver” and “cheap” sandwiched between some crudely used profanity. Then when Petit signed with Washington, these same clowns were losing their minds. Apparently Shapiro doesn’t have it in him to get the job done. Suffice to say, it’s been a while since I have seen such an irrelevant, obscure player create so much noise.

By all accounts, Shapiro deserves much more respect than he has received. The media has labelled him as a bad fit before he has even started. Here is a link to Cathal Kelly’s opinion piece on Shapiro’s “bad fit” but I recommend skipping that and reading Andrew Stoeten’s bashing of the same piece.

It is not as though Rogers has handed the keys to a green employee getting his first kick at the can. Shapiro has been in the game since the Indians hired him as a minor league director in 1991. Since then he has worked his way up from player development director, to general manager from 2001 to 2010, and then promoted to team president all within the Cleveland organization.

What people do not seem to realize is that Shapiro has been somewhat of a pioneer in the baseball analytic world. Hell I had no idea until I started reading “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik. Sawchik’s book about the analytically-driven resurgence of the Pittsburgh Pirates opens with a brief history of analytics in baseball. He focuses on the Cleveland Indians as a model organization. When Shapiro was working in the Cleveland organization he was surrounded by other smart future executives such as Josh Byrnes, Paul DePodesta (you may know him as Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball) and current Pirates GM Neil Huntington. When Shapiro was eventually promoted to assistant GM of the Indians, he was the driving force behind the cutting edge player scouting database DiamondView created in 2000. This database was the first of its kind and predated Billy Beane and the Moneyball revolution. Shapiro would eventually become Cleveland’s general manager and win Executive of the Year by Sporting News in 2005 and 2007.

Shapiro’s hiring makes sense in many ways. First and foremost he is a bright baseball mind who is looking to beef up Toronto’s analytics department, strengthen player development and foster a collaborative environment among departments and management. Some see Tony LeCava’s non-promotion as a further slap to the face of the Anthopoulos regime. I see it as a way to retain a smart employee in LeCava, and bring in a bright young executive in Ross Atkins who could only leave Cleveland for a higher position than his assistant general manager title with the Indians.

Shapiro is also here to create a more dynamic business operations department. To be honest I can’t make heads or tales of all of the changes he wants to make on the business side. He certainly used a lot of nice sounding business buzzwords in his press conferences. All I know is a fresh voice couldn’t hurt considering former president Paul Beeston refused to use email.

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Shapiro will also be essential with the renovation plans for the Rogers Center. After the outstanding job he did with Progressive Field in Cleveland, it was clear that his experience was a huge selling point with Rogers. Personally I never had a problem with the Rogers Center until I attended a game at Progressive Field in 2014. The Indians stadium’s horizontal layout and awesome skyline view just has this intimate feel that the cavernous Rogers Center can’t compare to. Shapiro has already planned to outfit the former Sky Dome with a dirt infield for next season, which for whatever reason gives me a weird level of satisfaction.

I realize that J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez and all of the other minor league free agent misfits aren’t the sexiest moves, but Shapiro has to replenish the pitching depth that the Blue Jays lost in 2015. The David Price and Troy Tulowitzki trades may have resulted in the most thrilling baseball that I have ever watched, but losing so many MLB-ready arms such as Norris, Boyd, Castro (not to mention Graveman and Nolin in the Donaldson deal) leaves the Jays very thin in the event of an injury. When Anthopoulos went all in at the deadline, Shapiro had already been hired above his head and the writing was on the walls. Alex pulled the trigger and it was awesome. But that is over; time to move on. Price is gone and I wouldn’t be shocked if Bautista and Encarnacion walk next summer. But I believe that Shapiro’s experience building a very well-run Cleveland organization on a much lower budget, makes him essential for building a long-term contender in Toronto.

I’ve never seen fans more pessimistic about a team with so many sluggers and such tantalizing young pitchers. They still have Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin, Stroman, Encarnacion and Bautista.

The Jays will still be awesome next year, so shut up and enjoy.

 

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