TORONTO – Mark Shapiro declined to directly comment on recent reports linking him to the New York Mets, but the Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO insisted that he’s committed to his current post and isn’t at odds with executives at club owner Rogers Communications Inc.
“I feel as, if not more, excited to be here than the day I chose to come here about three years ago, for all the same reasons, namely at the top of the list, the city and the country and what that’s meant to me personally and my family being here. It’s been an exceptional place to be,” Shapiro said during a 40-minute discussion with writers covering the team Friday, his first extended public comments with local media in months. “And then for the potential of the franchise. If anything, living it the past 2½ years, I feel even more bullish on what an incredible opportunity there is here to build something over multiple years that captures an entire nation and achieves levels that you dream about when you think of these types of jobs.
“This is where I want to be, this is where I am, this is what I’m focused on, and really don’t need to think of anything else.”
So you’re sticking around, he was asked.
“This is where I want to be.”
On Tuesday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that multiple executives named Shapiro as a candidate for the Mets’ general manager vacancy, suggesting enough tension exists between him and his direct reports to possibly facilitate an early exit from a contract that runs through 2020.
In August, Bob McCown of Sportsnet 590 The Fan suggested the same thing, saying on air that “there is a level of uncertainty about the relationship with senior executives that he deals with at Rogers and that he answers to at Rogers.” He didn’t specify why, but added, “usually where there’s smoke there is fire … and there’s smoke.”
Shapiro deflected any suggestion of trouble, saying “I don’t know where those reports come from.”
“I’ve received nothing but strong support,” he said. “I probably have a level of operational day-to-day trust and empowerment that if not unparalleled is among the best in Major League Baseball. I feel a strong sense of support and alignment with the people I report to.”
Some other key highlights:
• Shapiro wouldn’t say whether the Blue Jays payroll will be cut, as expected, for next year, but the combination of declining revenues and a younger roster seem to make that a certainty and appears to be factored into the club’s planning.
“We haven’t set the payroll next year. I’m confident that where the payroll is at will have zero ability to execute our off-season plan,” he said. “I’m not sure if that’s clear or not, but from everything I just said and where we are, we’re not going to be playing on Bryce Harper on Manny Machado. We still will be active in free agency, where we have gaps and holes, we’re going to want to field a competitive team, put the best team and the best people around our young players as humanly possible. But there’s an opportunity cost, too. In order for those players to transition, in order for those players to develop, in order for us to get a clear understanding of who we have and what they represent for our future, we have to play them. Playing young players is a double-edged sword, playing young players leads to volatility. Volatility can be a great thing because there’s huge upside for those players, but it can also be a disappointing thing because there will be some young players that break your heart. The only way to find out about who a player is at the major-league level is to commit to that opportunity and to commit to those players. We’re embarking on that process now.”
• Criticism by the players association to Sportsnet of the club’s refusal to bring up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., was dismissed by Shapiro, who said, “I’m not sure of the player-development background of the person that commented from the union.” Of the possibility that the union could file a grievance next spring should Guerrero be held down to manipulate his service time, Shapiro replied: “I welcome that scrutiny.”
• On sending Guerrero to the Arizona Fall League instead of a September call-up: “I feel strongly that the best path for Vladdy’s development is the path that we’ve laid out. In the case of a player like him, where this is no debate that he’s on an accelerated timeframe … he’s going to get up here at a very young age, maybe next April, we’re open to that, and we want him to have as strong of a foundation as humanly possible to be a complete player and future leader of the Toronto Blue Jays. When we look at alternatives that were potentials that laid out for September, we felt the path that he’s on to go to Arizona was the best possible thing for him. And that’s it. Nothing else.”
• On the possibility this may damage the club’s relationship with Guerrero: “I trust the culture that we’re building, I trust the people that we have in place and just believe that this will be a good place to play, continue to be a good place to play and environment to be in. I believe in the people that we have here and the culture that we’re building.”
• Shapiro wouldn’t speak in hypotheticals as to whether Roberto Osuna could have successfully returned to pitch for the Blue Jays, and wouldn’t say specifically if the assault charge against the closer factored into his trade to the Houston Astros: “I would say it was one variable, and there are always a multitude of variables that go into every decision, and the current situation or status of a player personally, professionally, legally, everything, is certainly a variable. That’s it. I’m not going to say anything more on Osuna.”