TORONTO – As the first post-season of the century for the Toronto Blue Jays gives way the customary end of year navel-gazing, the single most important question before the franchise is what does Mark Shapiro think of all this.
There can be no meaningful analysis of what comes next for the American League East champions until the incoming president and CEO shares his assessment of where the organization is at, and where it’s headed.
First and foremost on that front is the fate of general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose contract expires Oct. 31. Extending him long before the club’s first playoff trip since 1993 should have been a slam dunk considering what the Blue Jays accomplished in 2015, ensuring that the usual planning for the off-season wasn’t truncated by the post-season run and continued seamlessly.
It’s possible a deal will be announced soon and that talks were simply shifted to the back burner for an all-hands-on-deck approach to the playoffs. Still, it’s always curious when something that seems like a no-brainer doesn’t happen.
What if the delay is because the two men – products of very different baseball backgrounds with no pre-existing relationship – have differing visions for what comes next?
Change is coming to the business side of the Blue Jays under Shapiro, and given his success with the Cleveland Indians as a general manager, it’s logical to assume he’s got some strong ideas on how baseball operations should be run, too.
Either way, things aren’t going to run the way they did under Paul Beeston, and that’s to be expected.
Shapiro is in charge now, and only once Shapiro settles the status of Anthopoulos can the other issues facing the Blue Jays be examined within the proper framework.
To be sure, there are many questions for the 93-69 club, from what happens to free agent starters David Price and Marco Estrada, to how the contract year situations of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are handled.
Much of that hinges on Shapiro’s philosophies on long-term contracts, and his background with the Cleveland Indians doesn’t necessarily offer a blueprint for what he’ll do in Toronto given the financial differences between markets.
The largest contract ever handed out by the Tribe was a $57-million, four-year pact with Travis Hafner in November 2007, when Shapiro was GM. Was the financial restraint simply the product of the economic realities in Cleveland, or is it more part of a philosophical bent that will apply in Toronto as well?
Beeston’s policy of capping contract length at five years has long been a bone of contention among fans – not to mention the agents of elite players who usually get that sort of term. Shapiro’s outlook on the matter is unclear, and will determine whether the Blue Jays make a legitimate play for Price or not.
The rotation is the prime concern, with Marcus Stroman the only starter sure to be in the 2016 rotation. Mark Buehrle, who may retire, is also eligible for free agency, R.A. Dickey has a $12 million club option while Drew Hutchison, bumped from the rotation in September and left off the playoff roster, is eligible for arbitration.
One or both of Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna could be stretched out, but they’re not guaranteed to transition seamlessly into the rotation. Even if they do, they’d leave gaping holes in the bullpen, with no internal answers to replace them.
Other free agents of note include catcher Dioner Navarro and relievers Mark Lowe and the retiring LaTroy Hawkins, meaning a lot of the connective tissue around vital organs Bautista, Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and Stroman must be re-signed or replaced.
That’s a lot of deft-touch work for a roster that will need to build off all accomplished in 2015, one already with $59 million committed to four players. Picking up Dickey’s option pushes the total to $71 million, although the Blue Jays could also pull an Adam Lind on him, exercising the option and then dealing the player.
The payroll this year pushed toward $140 million, and if it remains in the same range, that doesn’t leave a lot of money sitting around, especially with Donaldson’s salary due to shoot up into the $12 million range through arbitration.
Ben Revere, Brett Cecil, Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak are also eligible for arbitration, and beyond outfielder Dalton Pompey, there are no on-the-cusp minor-leaguers ready to make the jump and provide cheap help, although there are hopes hard-throwing right-hander Connor Greene comes quick.
But, again, all that flows from how Shapiro sees things, and whether or not Anthopoulos returns. He’s got the support of his players.
“He’s done a good job if you ask me, but I don’t make those decisions,” says all-star right-fielder Jose Bautista. “If I could campaign publicly for him, I probably would, but again, that’s probably going to be frowned upon around the industry, so I can’t do that. The thing I can say is I think he’s done a phenomenal job so far since he’s been hired, and this year as well.”