THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — In turning to Paul Beeston as their interim chief executive officer Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays bought themselves some time to find a permanent replacement for Paul Godfrey while adding a stable hand to help guide them through this off-season.
The question now is what will team owner Rogers Communications Inc., do with that time and how much of an opportunity will Beeston to get to impose his sharp baseball acumen on the club before he goes?
So while the return of the team’s first ever employee and one of the most respected executives in the sport is good news for Blue Jays fans, this is an organization that still remains in flux at the upper management level.
Until Beeston finds someone to take over as CEO and president, a role Godfrey maintains until the end of the year, the team will move forward without someone to impose a long-term vision, with no one aside from GM J.P. Ricciardi and the baseball operations staff establishing a clear path toward the future.
"This is one of the reasons we wanted to have Paul Beeston in place, you can’t afford in this business to take a hiatus for several months or half a year," said Tony Viner, who is responsible for the Blue Jays as president and CEO of Rogers Media Inc.
"As much as possible, we wanted to ensure a smooth transition. I’ll be working closely with Paul Beeston, as I did with Paul Godfrey, on developing a new three-year plan. That generally goes to our board in the middle of December or thereabouts. Paul Godfrey has done a significant amount of background work on it."
Those three-year plans, of course, are far from gospel. Back in 2005, team owner Ted Rogers announced a salary commitment of US$210 million over the next three seasons and then bumped payroll up again after the 2006 season.
Spending on players is now in the $100 million range and is expected to stay there, or perhaps increase slightly. "It’s a reasonable one," said Viner, who later added, "Beeston’s already lobbying for more money."
On the surface that sounds like great news for fans, but without a president and CEO establishing direction for now and in years to come, is it really?
The Blue Jays finished fourth in the American League East last season at 86-76, recovering under manager Cito Gaston after a 35-39 start that got John Gibbons fired.
Ricciardi is 577-576 in seven seasons on the job, with none of his teams ever seriously challenging for a post-season berth.
Viner had little to say when asked to assess Ricciardi’s performance — "The great thing is I don’t have to assess it," he said, "that’s been Paul Godfrey’s responsibility and will be Paul Beeston’s going forward" — so it’s unclear if the club’s ownership is pleased with the roster’s current state.
The new president and CEO may think things are hunky dory and urge Ricciardi to push onwards. Or the new boss may not and want to switch directions.
Either way, the stop-gap nature of things leaves the Blue Jays with a very unsettled feel heading into the winter.
"This is how business works, there’s a new three-year plan every year," said Viner. "I’m serious about it. So every year we look at the plan in three-year segments, certainly now we’ll have an opportunity to look ahead and see where we’re going to go."
This much is clear: Beeston has no designs on taking the position permanently and doesn’t expect to be in the job when spring training rolls around in February.
"Make no mistake about it, I’m not looking to work full-time, I’m not and have no intention of doing it," he said. "But I’m going to be in some respects in control of the timetable, because the sooner we get somebody the sooner I’ll be back unemployed, which I quite enjoyed."
.The club’s first employee back in 1976, Beeston has been busy with various philanthropic endeavours in recent years although he’s always kept an office at the Rogers Centre and has been a regular at Blue Jays games, keeping his baseball knowledge current.
He plans to meet with Ricciardi and the baseball operations staff to discuss plans for the off-season and will offer them his input before OKing any moves.
"His experience and his knowledge is something we definitely welcome and we’ll be tapping into his expertise a lot," said Ricciardi. "He’s an icon in the game."
Ricciardi’s first order of business is retaining A.J. Burnett, who is expected to opt out of the two years left on his contract after the World Series.
Burnett is expected to command at least $15 million a season on the open market and Beeston plans on making a strong pitch to keep him from leaving.
"It’s a matter of selling," said Beeston. "We’ve sold other players on coming to Toronto before that had no intention of coming here."
Roger Clemens is the ultimate example of that and there’s no doubt Beeston brings a new dimension to the Blue Jays front office.
He helped build the team from its inception in 1977 en route to a pair of World Series championships.
He became vice-president of business operations in 1977, executive vice-president of business in 1984 and president and chief operating officer in 1989. He was promoted to chief executive officer in 1991 and held that position until 1997, when he quit to become chief operating officer of Major League Baseball, leaving in 2002.
Viner said the club’s ideal candidate for president and CEO would have both a business background and direct baseball experience, while Beeston said he would search for people both available and under contract to other organizations.
A baseball background would be an asset, he added, but he would preclude no potential candidate.
"At the point in time where you know what the game is about, when you know people in the game, the politics of the game, the decisions that have to be made, the ability to build a team, to build a franchise, the ability to carry on, I think that would be beneficial," Beeston said. "But is it essential? I’m not certain it’s essential."
The possibility of splitting the president and CEO’s job is also there, although that’s not the team’s preferred option.
"Anything is possible," said Viner. "It’s not currently in our plan, we’d like to look at a single CEO but it wouldn’t be a surprise to have multiple people replace Paul Godfrey."