3 questions worth asking during Mark Shapiro’s media availability

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, centre, poses with general manager Ross Atkins, left, and team president Mark Shapiro. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Regardless of where the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in the standings, they have a game to prepare for nearly every night. Someone on Charlie Montoyo’s staff must ask the daily questions that keep the team functioning.

Can Buddy Boshers go multiple innings tonight? Has Brandon Drury been getting enough at-bats? What about using Derek Law as an opener? These are the kinds of questions that preoccupy major-league coaching staffs. The work’s not glamorous, especially during a potential 100-loss season, but it’s necessary.

Hovering above those day-to-day issues are big-picture questions about the direction of the entire franchise. With that in mind, Mark Shapiro, the Blue Jays’ president and CEO, will meet with the media Thursday afternoon for a quarterly update on the team’s pursuits on and off the field.

In advance of that conversation, here are some of the more intriguing big-picture questions facing the team…

Aside from the expanded netting coming in 2020, what’s next at Rogers Centre?
It was encouraging to see the Blue Jays announce plans to expand the protective netting down the base lines at Rogers Centre and Dunedin Stadium earlier this week. There are more foul balls than ever now, and the risk of injured spectators just isn’t worth marginally better sightlines. This decision makes sense for both the team and its fans.

Yet we don’t know how far the club will extend the netting or why the installation has to wait until 2020. Perhaps Shapiro will provide some clarity.

On an even larger scale, what about the possibility of renovations at Rogers Centre? Early in the 2018 season, Shapiro spoke openly about the need for change.

“It’s dungeon-ous in different places and dark,” he said at the time. “We have to open things up. We have to connect, we have to create different gathering spaces, we have to create a different set of experiences.”

But in the year-plus since then, there’s been little large-scale change aside from some roof maintenance and the addition of the Ticketmaster Lounge, a luxury seating area behind home plate. What further changes are the Blue Jays contemplating? If there’s momentum on this front, it’s unknown.

Granted, these aren’t simple decisions. A large-scale renovation would cost hundreds of millions and require the approval of Rogers Communications Inc., which owns the Blue Jays. Still, Shapiro can at least speak to the possibility of change at MLB’s seventh-oldest stadium.

How does Shapiro assess the work of Charlie Montoyo and Ross Atkins?
At this point, Shapiro has seen Montoyo manage a full spring training and nearly 120 regular-season games. How does he assess the work of the rookie manager? And what, specifically, do the Blue Jays look at while evaluating their managers and coaches in a losing season?

Then there’s Atkins, now in his fourth season as Blue Jays GM. The Blue Jays extended Atkins earlier this season, endorsing his work so far–but only to a point. The club never announced an extension for Atkins or publicly addressed his performance. On Thursday, we could get some perspective from the man who hired him.

After consecutive off-seasons of modest free agent additions, are we approaching the point that the Blue Jays start spending more aggressively?
Piece by piece, the Blue Jays dismantled the edition of the team that reached the ALCS in 2015-16. They’re younger now, and far less expensive. Aside from their commitments to Troy Tulowitzki ($14 million), Randal Grichuk ($13 million) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. ($2.93 million), the Blue Jays have no guaranteed salaries on the books for 2019.

In theory, that creates all kinds of flexibility. In practice, the Blue Jays have been cautious in free agency, never spending more than $36 million (J.A. Happ, 2015) on any free agent since Shapiro took over as president.

So with payroll available and pitching a clear organizational need, is this the off-season the Blue Jays start spending more aggressively? And if not now, when? The Blue Jays play in a large market with a nation of fans behind them. Is it possible they’ll lower the payroll below $100 million for the first time since 2012?

Chances are, Shapiro will say the Blue Jays are open to spending aggressively on the right free agent. He gains nothing by ruling out such pursuits, but we won’t know for sure until next spring rolls around.

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