Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt recently sat down in Dunedin with Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston to talk legacies, fan support and building a winner.
Brunt: Are there any similarities between now and the building of the Blue Jays’ first contending team in the 1980s?
Beeston: You need good people. We put in Alex Anthopoulos. Alex hired the right people, much like Pat [Gillick] did. His philosophy is a little different, but otherwise he’s much like Pat. He’s entirely focused on what we want to do, which is win. It’s not just a matter of putting a competitive team on the field. It’s putting a system in place that is going to allow us to win on a regular and annual basis.
I think he’s done an unbelievable job. All of a sudden it’s happened. We went from the 29th best to the third best organization in baseball. It’s through all of those draft picks he stockpiled.
He’s been lucky too, because he’s got a good owner in Rogers. As much as they were maligned for not giving money for Yu Darvish or not giving money for Prince Fielder, the fact of the matter is: where we’ve needed a lot of money in the farm system and scouting, they’ve never held back. We’ve spent more money in the farm system and in development than any team in baseball over the last three years.
So actually it feels better than the first time, because I feel like we’ve got a group of young guys, athletic guys, determined guys who get along well, but we’ve also got a farm system that’s going to push those guys. The farm system is deep. It starts right at the bottom and it goes right up to triple-A.
We invested a lot of money in Latin America. Those players won’t project until 2015. But we still have that nucleus that we have now, if Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson can do what they’ve done in the past and play up to their athletic ability. Alex has put together a hell of a team. He’s turned this team around in two years. It’s a completely different team.
Brunt: About that off-season criticism, and the heightened fan expectations…
Beeston: We have to be a little bit more transparent than we were. Alex and I probably have a minor difference of opinion on what we should do. Alex doesn’t tell anybody anything. He believes that’s a competitive disadvantage, playing things out through the press, and I tend to agree with him. That said, with the Darvish situation-and that was the real killer-they said [Alex] went over to Japan to look at him and then all of a sudden we were supposed to sign Darvish.
It doesn’t make any sense that just because he saw him, we were going to sign him. We let that thing build over a period of five days and then we got hammered. We should have said we’re not in, or we are in. We just kind of went rope-a-dope. I think we could have handled that a little differently, and I think we will in the future. And then the Prince Fielder thing happened.
Brunt: But at least they care.
Beeston: We could see it last year, we could see it in our ratings, we could kind of see it in our turnstile. The bad thing about it was that we got a lot of bad press. The good thing about it was that the negative feelings were there. It wasn’t that we were irrelevant.
It wasn’t that we didn’t resonate. People were actually following the Blue Jays and caring. There was a positive side effect to all of this negativity. They’re following us. They want us to be there. They know how close we’re getting.
Maybe we should go a little quicker, but we just simply couldn’t do it and stay with the plan, which is to build something for the long term, not the short term. The onus is on us to deliver.
Brunt: Which brings us to Alex’s comment about “payroll parameters” from ownership, which seemed to suggest that the team wouldn’t be able to spend until the seats at the Rogers Centre filled up.
Beeston I think Rogers will give us the resources to do it. The fans can count on Rogers spending the money, because we’ve had the discussion with ownership. But at the same time, we’re running a business here. It’s not saying the fans have got to come out and then we’ll spend money. That was misinterpreted.
The fact is, we’ve got to win to make the fans come out, and then we spend the money. But we have to give them the reason to come out. That got lost in Alex’s comment that day. It was that we win, you come out, we’ll spend the money-it won’t be money we put in our pocket; it will be money reinvested in the team.
That’s the difference between us and the Tampa Bay Rays. They’re looking to bring their salaries down. We’re looking to take our salaries up, because we know we have the resources to do it from an ownership point of view and a fan point of view. I have absolute total conviction that that’s going to happen.
Brunt: So look into your crystal ball…
Beeston: I was always accused of being one of those guys who saw the glass half full, wearing rose-coloured glasses. And I’m still that way. But now maybe I ought to temper it, because you know now there are a lot of people who are going to start thinking they’re the ’27 Yankees. We ain’t the ’27 Yankees… yet. But you know what? If we don’t have injuries and the pitching comes along the way we think it will come, we’re going to play well; I think we can have a hell of a year this year.
Can we be playing after the end of the regular season? I’d like to think so. I don’t think it’s daydreaming. I don’t think it would be a miracle. I think we’ve got a very good team with a lot of good players. And that’s what the aim is-to be playing in October.
We’ve still got a high hill to climb and we’re in a tough division. But I’d rather be in that division than any other division in baseball. With the Yankees and Red Sox and Rays, every game means something. It’s going to be fantastic. Then you’ve got Texas and California and Detroit. You’re going to play your six games against them.
There aren’t any easy spots. But we don’t think we’re an easy mark for other teams either.