TORONTO – The chairman of the Toronto Blue Jays says the changeover from Paul Beeston to Mark Shapiro would not have impacted Alex Anthopoulos’s role as general manager. And that Anthopoulos was offered an opt-out clause after the first year of a five-year contract offer to ease concerns about the change.
Edward Rogers also said during an interview Friday that he and Rick Brace, president of Media Business Unit at team owner Rogers Communications Inc., did all they could to try and retain Anthopoulos, who turned down the extension offer and opted to part ways with the club Thursday.
“We really wanted Alex to lead the Jays into the future and tried very hard to do that, and we were sincere in our efforts and we couldn’t come to something that was of his satisfaction,” said Rogers, who also serves as deputy chairman at Rogers Communications Inc. “First and foremost, we worked extremely hard to make that happen. The second thing, just reading a lot of the press, there was a notion that in his renewal offer, somehow his job had changed. His job had not changed at all. His direct manager will change, but his breadth of scope and responsibility had not changed. We had full confidence in him.”
During a conference call Thursday, Anthopoulos repeatedly explained his decision by saying he didn’t sense “the right fit” with the new incoming order, with logic suggesting “fit” stood as a euphemism for some combination of power, control, autonomy and environment.
Under Beeston, who hands over the reins as president and CEO to Shapiro on Monday, Anthopoulos always had the final say on baseball matters, including big-money deals involving Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista, escalating things through Beeston only for financial approvals. Beeston, however, doesn't have the accomplished baseball-side acumen of Shapiro.
Asked if Anthopoulos, named Sporting News Executive of the Year on Thursday in a vote of his peers, would have had full autonomy and final say on baseball decisions, Rogers quipped: "If you meet a person that in their life has full autonomy I’d love to meet them, I’m not sure that exists."
Then, turning serious, he replied: "There are two things there. One is the premise that Paul Beeston was some sort of shrinking violet, that he wasn’t fully engaged, is for people that know Paul, quite a silly notion. And I think Mark would have been engaged differently and may have had a different approach or focused on slightly different things, like we all do with different people we work with. But I’d say both people are fully engaged presidents of the Jays, so I think that notion is false. Secondly, and the main thing is, Mark Shapiro hasn’t started yet, Mark starts on Monday, so we tried to ease (Anthopoulos’s) mind by, beyond having a contract length for a long period, also giving him an offer that if he wasn’t satisfied within one year, he could exit gracefully and be released from his contract.
"When you speculate about the future and what will happen it’s impossible, I think you’ve got to work with a person for somewhere between many weeks and many months, go through cycles and go through business events, trades, to see how people work and complement each other. Our notion was let’s try it for a year and see if that would have worked."
That wasn’t enough to sway Anthopoulos’s feelings about the "fit" and the uncertainty about what was to come with Shapiro was one of the reasons conveyed to Rogers about why he chose to turn down the extension.
"The two things I got from him is I think he really is a genuinely good human being who wanted nothing but the best for the Blue Jays, and for him and his family, he’s not a guy that’s got an angle or anything, he’s a genuine, honest person, that’s No. 1," said Rogers. "But again, when you talk about the future, I think it’s impossible to say in X months, here’s how this will work with someone, or work with a company, or not work. The second thing that I think is important, in his tenure as GM, every time he had made a request that went upstairs, it got approval. Every deal he brought forward the company has endorsed and supported him, and obviously with the season we just came off, he’d have stronger credibility with everyone. It’s a shame because I actually think Mark and Alex would have worked out well."
The delineation of roles was and remains clear, according to Rogers.
"You’ve got a guy running the team and a guy running the revenue and the stadium part and that’s what we have today, and that’s what Alex’s breadth of control is," he said. "The difference is the president has been Paul Beeston and in the future will be Mark."
Shapiro comes to the Blue Jays after 24 years with the Cleveland Indians, beginning his career in player development and working his way up to general manager in 2002 and president in 2010.
"He’s very well respected around baseball, from the commissioner’s office to the other teams, and he’s got a very long tenure in baseball," Rogers said of Shapiro. "He was with Cleveland for a long time, and we want to attract people that stay with Rogers and stay with the Blue Jays and make it their home and make it their family."
Shapiro is expected to meet with the media on Monday, and Rogers said the specifics of the club’s philosophies moving forward will be up to him. As for whether any more drastic changes may be coming, Rogers expects a period of assessment to open his tenure.
"I don’t think he’s going to move with haste, he’s going to be cautious and well thought through," he said. "We’re going to continue to invest in this team, the payroll has grown quite a bit the last number of years, we’ve invested a lot in the stadium, we’ve put in a state of the art WiFi which we believe is one of the best, if not the best in all of North America for our fans, and that investment is going to keep going as we go into the future. So I’m optimistic."
How the first off-season under Shapiro plays out will determine if fans share in that optimism following the departure of Anthopoulos, whose return seemed like a sure thing. In the end, something that seemed simple and straightforward got complicated, leading to a change Rogers never wanted.
"I was very hopeful that we would continue with Alex as the general manager with the success we had. Unfortunately our best didn’t make it so, and that’s OK, that’s the decision he took, I support that, we respect that. He’ll always be a member of the Blue Jays family, he’ll always be welcome. He’ll be ingrained in the history of the Blue Jays. And he’s a young man, at 38. These fellas seem to work well into their 70s, some of them, he’s got a long road in front of him.
"I wish him the very best, I really liked Alex personally, I think he’s a genuinely good human being, had nothing but the best intentions for the team and for our fans. It’s disappointing but we’re lucky to have a great team and we’ll attract a fantastic general manager of hopefully Alex-calibre to come in and join us."