The new chief executive officer of Rogers Communications Inc., visited the Toronto Blue Jays last month as part of his company-wide review, and team president Paul Beeston doesn’t expect the change atop the company’s management to affect the current or future plans of his ball club.
Guy Laurence took over from the retiring Nadir Mohamed—who signed off on the significant payroll jump necessary to pull off the blockbuster deals with the Marlins and Mets two off-seasons ago—back in December. The former head of Vodafone UK has said he expects to present the results of his review to the Rogers board in May before making his strategies public.
How the Blue Jays will play into that strategy is uncertain, but Beeston believes the principles guiding his team’s operations will be “seamlessly moving from one (CEO) to another.”
“(Laurence) was very supportive,” Beeston says in an interview. “He comes in knowing that Rogers owns the team 100 percent, he asked very good questions in a very collegial manner, and I thought he got a huge learning curve on the game itself. We were all impressed and all encouraged.”
As for which areas of the Blue Jays business Laurence inquired about, all Beeston would say is, “That’s none of your business.”
While Mohamed brought continuity to the CEO’s role after succeeding the late Ted Rogers, Laurence is expected to take a different approach with the various Rogers platforms. The Globe and Mail described him in a recent profile as “an unconventional executive who upturned traditional work cultures with madcap management tactics.”
Whether such an approach trickles down to the Blue Jays is another question mark, although it’s worth noting Laurence’s predecessors largely gave the team room to operate as it saw fit within its allotted budget. Mohamed provided special approvals for the deals with the Marlins and Mets that pushed the club’s payroll from roughly $80 million in 2012 to $120 million in 2013, under the understanding internal growth alone would take the commitment up to $135 million for 2014.
Given the lack of external additions made by the Blue Jays during the off-season, some have wondered if GM Alex Anthopoulos’s had his hands tied financially amid the transition from Mohamed to Laurence. Beeston insists that’s not the case, and supporting that assertion is the fact that the Blue Jays were near a $14-million, one-year deal with Ervin Santana before he signed with the Atlanta Braves.
“We knew what we were doing when we made those trades two years ago, we knew where we were going,” says Beeston. “We had the support of Rogers, we still have the support of Rogers, we had the support of Nadir, we have the support of Guy. At the same point in time, we are running a business and it’s not unlimited what you can spend. But there’s been no suggestion of any type of cutback, there’s no suggestion of anything other than support and of everything being positive.”
Anthopoulos echoes that sentiment, reiterating that the lack of activity during the off-season was borne more out of what was available on the free agent and trade markets, rather than a lack of resources to get deals done.
“Our payroll is up, our payroll is higher than it’s ever been,” he says. “We could have taken a number of free agents and outbid the other team and had them, we just didn’t agree with those deals from our perspective. We’re not being critical of those deals…Those didn’t make sense for us.
“If we don’t agree with the dollars and years, then we’re probably not going to get a deal done. That’s what it comes down to for us.”
Still, the lack of reinforcements for a starting rotation that was the second worst in baseball last year leaves the Blue Jays in a precarious position heading into the new season.
With some $135 million on the books, the team must produce in order to justify such a lofty payroll, and barring major changes the club will be even more expensive in 2015, when $94 million is already committed to just eight players. Decisions will need to be made on pending free agents Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera and Casey Janssen, while the Blue Jays also hold contract options on Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Adam Lind, Sergio Santos, Dustin McGowan and Josh Thole.
After last season’s 74-88 mess, what happens on the field in 2014 will play a key role in determining who stays and who goes. Under such circumstances, it’s easy to understand the apprehension within the fan base.
“I think they’re waiting for us to walk the talk,” says Beeston. “We said last year that it was a build on a hopefully sustainable basis – we certainly didn’t deliver last year. We’re obviously doing better than we were doing in 2012 from a ticket-sales point of view, but we’re not doing as well as we did last year. “Some people have given us a second chance this year. Some people want to see how we perform and then they’ll be back. I don’t see it as anything other than it’s in our court to give them reason to come out to the ballpark.”
Beeston says some fans have told him that he should never have bought into the deals with the Marlins and Mets, while others feel the core deserves a mulligan for an injury-plagued 2013 campaign. And the skepticism he’s encountered from fans is rooted in last year’s misery, rather than the lack of roster turnover.
“We made big changes last year, and we didn’t win, did we? So to make big changes again this year, there’s no guarantee of winning,” says Beeston. “To me, we have a team that’s exciting to watch. We’re going to score runs, we’ve got power, we’ve got speed, we’ve got defence, we’ve got a deep bullpen and I believe in the starting pitching. But it’s one thing for Paul Beeston to say that, the other thing is for us go out there and show that it’s all there.
“You may say it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I believe it.”