Beeston’s future with Jays uncertain beyond 2014

Paul Beeston.(CP/Nathan Denette)

CHICAGO – The future of Alex Anthopoulos as general manager is once again a hot-button talking point, but the matter that’s more immediately pressing and has far wider implications for the Toronto Blue Jays is the fate of president and CEO Paul Beeston.

Though he’s loathe to discuss it generally and declined comment Sunday, Beeston’s contract is believed to expire soon after the season ends, and given his role as the conduit between the team and owner Rogers Communications Inc., the uncertainty over his long-term status bears watching.

Perhaps hinting at his departure is the shrinking of his inner circle, as in recent months long-time executive assistant Sue Cannell (who hasn’t been replaced), and Howard Starkman, for decades his right-hand man and confidante, both retired. A key backer of his at the ownership level, Phil Lind, Rogers’ executive vice-president, regulatory and vice-chairman, is due to retire at the end of 2014.

Combined with Guy Laurence taking over as Rogers CEO from Nadir Mohamed, whom Beeston also had close ties to, last December, and the guard’s been changing all around him.

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A couple of influential and well-connected members of the Toronto sports scene suggested the politicking among interested candidates to succeed Beeston as Blue Jays president has already begun. And intriguingly, Beeston is said to have lined up with the Tom Werner camp during the recent election to succeed Bud Selig as commissioner, and there’s some speculation he would have ended up back at Major League Baseball had Werner beaten out Rob Manfred.

At this point what all that means remains the stuff of conjecture, as Beeston – a franchise icon who helped build the Blue Jays into one of baseball’s most successful organizations during the 1980s and early ‘90s – refuses to publicly discuss his situation.

Beeston replaced Paul Godfrey as team president on an interim basis following the 2008 season and was charged with hiring his successor. The search lasted a year, and soon after hiring Anthopoulos to replace the fired J.P. Ricciardi on the penultimate day of the 2009 season, Beeston signed a three-year deal to remain on as president, and later received a two-year extension that’s believed to run through Oct. 31.

The Blue Jays would be unlikely to make any major front office personnel moves without some resolution to the president position, as ownership decides on the president, and the president decides on the GM, and the GM decides on the manager.

To that end, Sunday’s report by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun stating that Anthopoulos would remain in his role in 2015 with John Gibbons likely to return as well provided an interesting talking point, but wasn’t wholly surprising.

In reply to an email question about Anthopoulos’ status, Keith Pelley, the president of Rogers Media who oversees the Blue Jays, said: “Our focus right now is on the current season and making the playoffs and not on what will or will not transpire in the off-season.”

Heading into the off-season with neither a president nor a general manager, however, would paralyze the franchise, and Anthopoulos still has a year remaining on the five-year contract extension he received following the 2010 season.

One possible scenario if Beeston doesn’t return is for the new president to assess Anthopoulos first-hand in 2015 before deciding whether or not to extend him again. That would follow a similar pattern to what happened with Ricciardi when Beeston took over from Godfrey.

As for the future of Gibbons, he’s signed through next year and has an option for 2016 that becomes guaranteed if he remains in the job past Dec. 31. Given the way his contract is structured, another option is added automatically once the previous one becomes guaranteed, meaning his deal won’t expire until he is fired.

That part, at least, is straightforward.

Everything else points to uncertainty, and an interesting question is whether Beeston’s contract status played into the club’s quiet off-season and trade deadline in some way.

Whatever the case on that front, and no matter how the 2014 season plays out, the Blue Jays are entering a pivotal period of decision-making up and down the organization.

On the field, they have about $93 million committed to eight players for 2015, and must decide whether to push forward and augment that core, or begin the path toward some kind of roster reset. Off it, they need to settle on a president to help orient the entire operation toward whichever direction it takes.

Until all that is settled, the future of Anthopoulos is a subplot in a much bigger story.

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