In comparing two different styles of running the Toronto Blue Jays, it is possible to conclude that both are right
The Toronto Blue Jays fan base seems to be in a state of chaos right now. The team left the Winter Meetings having pulled off a total of zero deals and many are calling it a disappointment, while others understand that the offseason doesn’t have to be a sprint. The Blue Jays have been involved in many a rumour, mind you, which has not done much to satisfy those who are raging. In fact, being “in” on deals only ends in the disappointment of never actually finishing said deals.
This frustration has led to even more ire thrown in the direction of Toronto’s front office. What is interesting is that GM, Ross Atkins, is not the primary target. Oh, he’s getting his share of knocks, but it pale’s in comparison to the rage directed at club President, Mark Shapiro. At this point, he is being blamed and criticized for everything. If you believe media, both social and otherwise, this current front office is only serving to ruin the tremendous good that former GM, Alex Anthopoulos, created. Much like Atkins is somewhat forgotten in all of this, so too was Paul Beeston previously. We all know that no one person is responsible for anything an organization does, but lately, that doesn’t matter. It is AA vs Shapiro. These two very different approaches to building a winner create a division of sorts.
You’re either on one side, or the other, it would appear. I’ve been writing about the Blue Jays for years now and my understanding of the organization, it’s changing philosophies and actions has evolved. It is far from complete, but I feel I have a good grasp of things. This winter has triggered some real meta-cognition and had me thinking about my thinking. As it turns out, I don’t fall on one side or the other. The truth is: I’m a little bit Mark Shapiro and a little bit AA; a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.
Rock & Roll!
Scholars could spend some time examining the way Alex Anthopoulos ran the Blue Jays. He very much represented a rock and roll approach to his job. He used existing rules to make small trades that netted him compensation picks while the league could only watch on. He wasn’t breaking rules, but he was certainly bending them to his benefit. And while he was doing so, we could only sit and watch his rather savvy operations. He wasn’t building a playoff team (yet), but he was impressive nonetheless.
What he was doing was stockpiling talent in ways that allowed him to build up the farm system. From his first deal that had him trading franchise icon, the late Roy Halladay, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to swing deals to obtain prospect capital. Obtaining talent and flipping them for other pieces he had his eye on was his way. Remember when he picked up Edwin Jackson only because St Louis wanted him and AA wanted Colby Rasmus from them? Remember how extensive the Doc trade tree got with branches like Brett Wallace and Anthony Gose? Talent was a commodity and not necessarily one to be used on your own field.
Stockpiling talent enabled AA to really show his long hair and leather. After collecting enough talent to make him comfortable, he went on a shopping spree in the winter of 2012, AA pulled off what he hoped would be franchise altering deals. First he went shopping in Miami for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio. It seems Miami goes through these cycles of salary dumping and AA took advantage of one of them. He would then call the Mets and trade for the reigning NL Cy Young winner in R.A. Dickey and his caddy Josh Thole. This deal cost a rather heavy price in Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud, but AA didn’t care. He was “going for it”.
In order to go for it, you need to take chances. That winter was an example of that. But, it wouldn’t be the last. In the winter of 2014, AA was persistant enough to obtain Josh Donaldson from the Oakland A’s for Brett Lawrie and some fairly valuable pitching prospects. In the summer of 2015, when his club was right around .500 and close enough to make some noise in the AL East, Anthopoulos again used his prospect capital to significantly alter his roster. David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe and Cliff Pennington were all brought in to make a playoff run. AA parted ways with prized talent like Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman to pull this off. Again, this all in, use your prospect capital to chase those flags that forever fly was a very bold string of events from AA.
This time it paid off. Reaching the postseason in 2015 after a 22 year drought made it all worth it, as our Roy Widrig explains HERE. This was the one time the rock and roll approach paid off for Anthopoulos. And, it is all anyone cares about now. It is strong proof that all fans care about is winning. They don’t care about what was given up. Roy’s piece outlines what was lost and I will guarantee that no one would regret the losses, certainly not enough to wish them undone. That is because when you have the chance to trade what could be one day for what is now, you do it. The potential ceiling of a minor league prospect isn’t realized for years, if at all. But, if you can trade that for bringing said ceiling into the fold now and pushing your team forward, you throw caution to the wind and chase those banners. This is the part of AA that has me in agreement. To quote Joan Jett: I love Rock & Roll!
The problem with rock and roll is that it is risky. It may work now and then, but it will also fail. And, the cost to do it makes the risk (and failure) that much less tolerable. That is why Mark Shapiro has been critical of how AA did things. There is a long term cost to playing rock and roll. Shapiro and company have been paying that cost since they took over. They’ve been trying to restock cupboards that were left bare by the Rock and Roll Summer of ’15.
Essentially, it boils down to a difference in philosophy for these two. Shapiro believes in building a strong pipeline of talent for the big league club. Drafting well, developing well and all of that are very clearly at the top of his list of priorities. And, it makes perfect sense. If you can create waves of talent rushing the shores of Lake Ontario every couple of years, it makes the construction of a competitive roster that much easier. A team doesn’t need to spend a fortune in free agency when they have special talent already in the roster. Having waves of talent also mean that you don’t have to pay the hefty cost of trading for other team’s talent. In short, it is a much cheaper way to build a team.
The problem with this approach is that it is under appreciated in a rabid fan base. Country may be better in many ways, but it isn’t as flashy and it isn’t as immediate; it’s drawn out and boring. That is especially true if you are starting in the situation in which Shapiro found himself when he came to Toronto. In his mind, rightly or wrongly, he was starting from scratch. The talent that he had was far from immediately impactful. It was there, but it was too far away.
The problem with taking over from rock and roll is that cleaning up requires time. Beer bottles are everywhere, empty pizza boxes are piled high enough to sub in as furniture. Shapiro and company have had to look at how to make the best of what they have at the moment. That leads to trying to find add on deals that compliment the roster they have, thus continuing the rock and roll party from which you’re trying to clean in order to make guests happy. Trying to continue the party while cleaning is a difficult job. You always look like a buzz kill, even if you’re the most sensible person in the room. Nobody likes that person, even if we know they’re right.
The sensible, logical, methodical manner in which this new front office has been going about business has put a good number of people off because they just want to rock and roll all night and party every day. They don’t care about the hangover they’ll suffer two or three years from now when the prospect cupboards are bare, or that Blue Jays could be dealing with the bloated contracts that rock and roll can sometimes lead to. But, country, is good for the soul and long term happiness.; it’s more sustainable.
This winter has pit rock and roll and country against each other, but it has reminded me that I am a little bit of both. For this front office, the issue lies in the fact that Anthopoulos’ rock and roll approach led to winning. It doesn’t matter that it failed previously. It paid off recently and people are still talking about the party. Now Shapiro’s country approach has to come in and try to maintain the party while doing so in denim and cowboy boots. It hasn’t paid off yet. Who knows, when it does pay off, maybe things will look different. Maybe fans will feel differently. Maybe they will see the merits of Mark Shapiro’s vision. Maybe. That doesn’t mean jumping on any type of bandwagon. Simply, it means embracing both sides of yourself: rock and roll and country.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.