With the Blue Jays wrapping up a disappointing campaign, there have been a few tense stories involving the organization in recent days. The end of Josh Donaldson’s tenure (link), the potential end of John Gibbons’s tenure (link), and the club’s decision not to promote super-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have all grabbed headlines. Even president/CEO Mark Shapiro has been in the rumor mill to an extent. All things considered, it made for an interesting media session for Shapiro today.
Here are some highlights from that Q&A, as covered by Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca:
- Regarding Guerrero, as Davidi recently reported, the MLB Player’s Association shared some less-than-friendly thoughts on the matter. “The decision to not to [sic] bring him up is a business decision, not a baseball decision,” a spokesman told Davidi. “It’s bad for the Blue Jays, it’s bad for fans, it’s bad for players and it’s bad for the industry.” Shapiro, of course, had suggested otherwise in attempting to justify the club’s decision to send Guerrero to the Arizona Fall League. Now, Shapiro says in reference to a possible grievance action, he “welcome[s] that scrutiny.”
- Shapiro pushed back on questions about his future by expressing an ongoing desire to continue in his position. That’s not to say that there are any guarantees as to how things will shake out over the coming offseason, but the veteran exec says he is “as, if not more, excited to be here” than at the outset of his tenure. “This is where I want to be, this is where I am, this is what I’m focused on, and really don’t need to think of anything else,” said Shapiro, who rejected some reporting suggesting problems between him and ownership.
- Looking ahead more broadly, Shapiro seemingly acknowledged the factors that will likely lead to a payroll reduction without specifically agreeing that a slash was in mind. He said the club is “not going to be playing on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado” but will still “be active in free agency, where we have gaps and holes.” Though Shapiro says the goal is “to field a competitive team,” he also made clear that younger players will be given a chance to learn on the job. That’s “a double-edged sword,” he said, explaining: “playing young players leads to volatility. Volatility can be a great thing because there’s huge upside for those players, but it can also be a disappointing thing because there will be some young players that break your heart. The only way to find out about who a player is at the major-league level is to commit to that opportunity and to commit to those players. We’re embarking on that process now.”
- As with the Guerrero situation, whether or not one believes the rationale, the effect is clear. In both cases, the Jays will evidently be taking steps that indicate a greater focus on the future. With respect to Guerrero, that means preserving as much future control as possible. With respect to payroll, both in terms of allocating MLB opportunities and setting salary levels, the club is obviously willing to accept greater near-term uncertainty at the major-league level. While that may be disappointing to some fans, it’s also arguably a defensible approach from the perspective of optimizing resources over the long haul, particularly given the ascendance of the two traditional divisional powers in the AL East. While the Blue Jays have just under $55MM committed to 2019 payroll (before arb raises), well shy of the team’s $160MM Opening Day salaries in each of the past two seasons, it’s also not clear that the roster is set up for a true drive for contention even with significant investments. That outlook could change quite a bit based upon how things develop with the team’s prospects and younger MLB assets, but whether and how will depend upon the 2019 campaign.