Mark Shapiro talks Toronto future, Blue Jays off-season on At The Letters

With the World Series approaching and the off-season mere weeks away, Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro joined Sportsnet’s At The Letters podcast for a wide-ranging talk about baseball.

In the course of an hour-long discussion, Shapiro offered his perspective on his future in Toronto, previewed the work ahead for the Toronto front office and discussed the potential of some large-scale structural changes in baseball.

Listen to the full episode here, but in the meantime here are some highlights from his appearance on ATL…

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

On his reaction to seeing the Nationals reach the World Series as a wild-card team

“Just get in. Anything can happen. There is a randomness to the post-season (but) there is not a randomness to the teams that get in. Over 162, if you get in you deserve to be there. You’ve prevailed over the rigours of a ridiculous schedule unlike any in all of professional sport.”

On his future in Toronto beyond 2020

"I honestly don’t give it much thought at all. I never have. This will be my 29th season. I just believe if you do a good job and continue to focus on doing the job and not on your tenure, your status, that it all kind of takes care of itself …"

"Where I am, who I’m doing it with and what I’m doing, I really don’t have a need to change any of those things and I’ve gotten positive feedback from the people I work for. It’s a very unique situation in that we don’t have a day-to-day owner sitting in this building with us. It’s an incredible level of empowerment for me, which is also something I appreciate and don’t take for granted. I cannot be absolute, but my guess is everything will continue to move forward. I’ll be here next year and the year after that."

On a Sports Business Daily report identifying Shapiro as a potential candidate for the Big Ten commissioner job

"Easy to respond to that. It’s been misreported. One hundred per cent. Yes, I get contacted for jobs. And was I contacted for that one, yes. Someone approached me about that. Have I entered into any interviews? I can honestly say that in 29 years, there’s only one job I’ve pursued or interviewed for and it’s this one. Do I get contacted? Yes. That’s not just me, that’s other established executives. Have people approached me about five or six things since I’ve been here? Yes. On the record, people have approached me about five or six different jobs since I’ve been here – outside of baseball."

"My nature in general is to be measured, but I have not engaged past looking at a job description and talking to someone. I’ve not engaged in any interviews. You can’t get very far along if you withdraw before you can interview. Including the Big Ten, that’s a complete mischaracterization. I did not interview."

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On the value of hearing from a variety of front office voices

"Houston, the Dodgers, the Cubs, Cleveland, Tampa, New York, as they’ve evolved. The Clubs that are there year after year are the clubs that have killer front offices, that have devastating front offices, that have not just one person. Maybe one person’s setting the tone for that or empowering those other people. It’s not as fun for a fan to sit back and say ‘what was Ross (Atkins) thinking?’ Well, it wasn’t Ross’s thoughts alone. It was Mike Murov and Joe Sheehan and Sanjay (Choudhury) and Jeremy Reesor and Steve Sanders and Tony LaCava. That’s not as fun."

On whether the Blue Jays have considered playing exhibition games or regular season games in Vancouver

"We have. It’s just a logistical challenge, because we don’t find out our schedule early enough to be able to plan. We wouldn’t want to go to Vancouver for an exhibition game (before the season) and then come back to the East Coast. That level of travel would be a competitive disadvantage – a significant one, not a small one … (Potentially) if there was a year we knew we were opening on the West Coast and we could arrange to play games in Vancouver prior to beginning the season on the West Coast."

"Yes, we’ve thought about (regular season baseball in Vancouver). There are a number of enormous challenges that come with that. Everything from season ticket holders here to corporate partners here to major economic and business implications, so it’s just not as simple. From a brand perspective, it clearly would be a positive for us in recognition of the uniqueness of us being a national team, and I think it’d be a great way to recognize the fans in Vancouver who come down and support us in Seattle, which is one of the more remarkable things to see, but it would be a very expensive and tough business proposition for us."

On the possibility of expanding the playoffs beyond 10 teams (Shapiro has been a member of baseball’s competition committee for the last decade-plus)

"That is something that a lot of time’s being spent on – a whole lot of time. Everything from the alignment it would take to do that to the number of teams we should have in the playoffs to the length of the season to playoff structure.

“This is what I’d say: never in my 11 or 12 years of going to those meetings have I heard the level of openness, the level of how united it is across the 30 MLB teams, the removal of self-interest (because normally it gets back to ‘how does that affect me?’) and the collective effort to think about the game and how we can improve the game in general for fans and attract new fans.

“Yes, those are things that are actually being talked about and considered. The hardest piece when it gets to big change within major-league baseball is it has to be negotiated. It has to be bargained collectively with the union. That gets into a history (of tension) that we need to overcome."

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