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Blue Jays – Shapiro Report Card

The Blue Jays have been led by President, Mark Shapiro for a while now and we’ve got a report card of his tenure in Toronto


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It’s hard to believe, but it’s already approaching the 7th anniversary of Mark Shapiro joining the Blue Jays organization. Although the narrative from fans has changed drastically in this time, it is funny how fast we’ve gone from ‘new Jays exec’ to ‘7 years later’. My adult fandom years have now been two Blue Jay eras of similar time length – Shapiro and Anthopoulos.  I personally find significance in this, as it’s wild how fast the two eras have become a similar length!  With this in mind, I’m curious how the Shapiro-run decisions and events have aged in hindsight.

 

Now, an important distinction – for the sake of this article I’m referring to this as the Shapiro era. However, this is a simple label for evaluating the collective actions and efforts of the Front Office group at the time – which was comprised of Shapiro, Ross Atkins, Ben Cherington, Tony Lacava, Andrew Tinnish, Joe Sheehan, etc.

 

Playoff Appearances: C+

Shapiro – 2* playoff appearances, compared to AA’s 1. Listen, numbers don’t always reflect an accurate representation, and as a result there are some asterisks. The first asterisk, AA obviously was only present for 1 playoff run, but the structure of the team he left behind was a large result of the 2016 playoff run. The second, Shapiro  was a benefactor of the inherited 2016 team, and also a 2020 shortened season/ expanded playoff circumstance. But still, the results are what they are, and 2 playoff appearances are better than none (looking at you Mariners)!

 

Largest Contracts in Team History: A+

To be clear, I know this is more in the realm of the GM and other front office members. However in this category, I’m obviously evaluating the job of the collective front office – as it acted under Shapiro’s direction and leadership.

 

What’s not to love in this category? In the Shapiro era, we’ve seen the team’s Free Agent status change from ‘overpaying to have players just consider Toronto’ – to now ‘leaving money on the table’ in signing with the Jays (in the case of Gausman and Berrios – confirmed and potential money left on the table). Starting with Ryu, then Springer, then Berrios, then Gausman – all were ranging from the $80 to $150 million price point.  Even without knowing which will be the next ‘big signing’ – this category gets full marks.

 

I’ll go out of my way to say, it’s hard to deduct points from Anthopoulos looking back– we aren’t privy to how the market was different at that time, or the differing ownership mandates. There was the rumour that the Jays were not allowed to go past 5 years in contract term – whether that was a road block in realistic targets is unknown. AA still made some respectably sized moves – in Bautista ($64 M) and Martin ($82 M) – but was never able to pass the $100 M threshold.

 

Increasing MiLB Player’s Salary: C

This is a hot button topic – billion dollar industry paying incredibly low rates of pay to minor league players. Prior to the 2019 season, the Blue Jays independently issued a 50% raise to their players with minor league contracts – the only team known to have paid their players more than the previous minimum at the time.

 

Without getting political – overall do minor league players earn too little? Obviously. Could more be done by any team to help these players? You bet.  However, did the Jays at least take a voluntary first step in improving something they had control over? Absolutely, and at least to a small degree, this is worth remembering.

 

New Player Development Complex: B+

Much has been covered about this complex – it seems to have been one of the main priorities of Shapiro throughout his tenure with the team. It has taken some time – as such multifaceted projects do (a Pandemic didn’t help opening either).

 

Initial impressions are good. It’s clear from first-hand accounts that the team’s facilities have improved – from having one of the most outdated facilities to one of the most cutting edge. How this has helped the team quantifiably is too early to tell – with its limited capacity in the pandemic, and intangibles that are too hard for the lay fan to judge (FA signings it may influence, injuries it may help in recovery, etc.). However, it is still an accomplishment that can only bring about positive net results, and was graded as such.

 

Farm System: A

As we’ve grown to see with powerhouse teams like the Dodgers and Rays, a productive and successful player development system is the lifeblood of a team. There are various measures of success in this category, but to gauge it I chose to historically look at MLB farm system rankings.

 

I chose to look at MLB.com, of the many rankings available to choose from. MLB’s pre-season rankings from 2018-2021 had the Jays at 9th, 5th, 16th, and 7th respectively. This is a significant positive,  that after only running 2 drafts and Int’ll signing periods in 2016 & 2017, this front office had a top 10 farm system in 3 of 4 consecutive years. Personally, I’d consider the 2020 (16th) an outlier, as a system which graduated Bo, Vladdy, and Cavan was destined to drop (temporarily).

 

Now, although good rankings are a success, they don’t necessarily tangibly help the MLB team. What has influenced the team, are moves that have resulted. Having prospect capital for a massive Jose Berrios trade, graduating studs to the MLB team like Bo, Vladdy, Manoah,  Lourdes, etc. – while still having young and promising prospects knocking on the door.

 

My last point is more of interest to me, than a definitive convincing argument, but it involves looking at the 1st round picks of this regime. Of the 5 draft years from 2016-2020, I feel the team has hit at an effective ratio of 3/5. That being Jordan Groshans is still a top 100 prospect (in some rankings), hopefully being a contributor on-field or in a significant trade. Alek Manoah dazzled us in 2021, and is a key part of our rotation. Also, Austin Martin was a key part in the aforementioned Berrios deal. The success and influence these prospects have had/ can have on the team is pretty tangible – and that’s a success worth noting.

 

The only test remaining is if this system can continue to churn out waves of talent – as hoped.  For that, it’s a wait and see, but for now, this category gets an excellent grade.

 

Trade and Free Agent Acquisitions: A

Now great farm system rankings, and high tier Free Agent signings are great – but if they don’t turn into on field production, that’s a problem. For this grade, I’m evaluating key Trades and Free Agent acquisitions by looking at yearly average bWAR production of the player. For this segment, anyone averaging >2bWAR per season is a success in my books.

 

Again, I realize this falls more under the duties of the GM and his department, but for the sake of this exercise I’m evaluating an action by a collective Front Office – under Shapiro’s leadership.

 

Teoscar Hernandez (1.8 bWAR average) gives a mixed signal of whether he was a success at first glance (news flash, he’s obviously good).  As a player, he’s found success with his raw tools more recently in the past couple seasons. If you narrow down the results to 2019-2021, that average jumps north of 2 (around 2.2 bWAR) – a success.

 

Although he seemed to run out of gas near the end of ’21, Hyun Jin Ryu (2.4 bWAR per season) has performed to his contract.

 

George Springer and Jose Berrios are a bit too soon to gauge, with both playing less than a full season with the team – due to injury and timing of acquisition. However, 2.4 bWAR & 1.4 bWAR in a short sample window is very encouraging.

 

For the sake of merit, I suppose Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien should be mentioned. Not that finding diamonds in the rough to that degree is sustainable, but how can one grade Free Agent signings without bringing up 2 of the top single-year-contracts we’ve ever seen (6.7 & 7.3 bWAR).

 

Now, there are some targets that didn’t succeed. Kendrys Morales, our backup to Edwin following 2016, averaged 0.4 bWAR while wearing a Toronto jersey. Randal Grichuk’s story isn’t finished yet, but so far he’s averaged 1.1 bWAR. Yangervis Solarte coming in at -0.3 bWAR isn’t a success story either. Nobody is perfect, but to me the good outweighs the bad.

 

Final Grade: A

In Summary, I personally couldn’t be happier with this regime to date – both with what they’ve accomplished and what they aim to do. This grade is an average of all the segments evaluated, but I feel I’m on the verge of a final decision in the coming years – only then will a definitive grade be possible. At that time (perhaps another 7 years from now) we’ll look back -and if we become a perennial playoff contenders and even hoist a championship – this letter grade could become an A++ quite easily.

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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Pete McCombie

Pete is an avid baseball fan - primarily focusing on the Toronto Blue Jays. Once a timid fan in his adolescence, a 54 home run season won his heart over. He could be heard screaming triumphantly one October evening after an infamous bat flip. Approximately 12 months later, he reacted similarly to the Donaldson Dash. He eagerly awaits the next chapter of October jubilation for his team.