TORONTO – Turmoil is suddenly riding shotgun to misery in this lost Toronto Blue Jays season, with a bout of speculation about the relationship between Mark Shapiro and his superiors at club owner Rogers Communications Inc., the latest addition to the recent tumult.
Consider this brief rundown of the dumpster fire:
(*) On July 30, the players held a 40-minute long meeting after a poop-show 10-1 loss at Oakland, a discussion that came amid the pre-trade-deadline selloff which included the jarring and layered Roberto Osuna deal;
(*) On Aug. 2, the Blue Jays started Tyler Clippard in their third bullpen day in 10 games, before passing the ball onto Mike Hauschild, a just-released free agent who only passed a physical an hour before the game and signed his contract 30 minutes prior. While he shoved for six innings that night, it was widely noted that pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley was passed up for someone outside the organization;
(*) On Monday, Sportsnet colleague Jeff Blair wrote that “if the chatter is true, this could very well be John Gibbons’ final homestand as Blue Jays manager,” which was inauspicious way to begin a homestand featuring the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. General manager Ross Atkins offered only a tepid vote of confidence when he told Ben Nicholson-Smith and myself that his relationship with Gibbons “is great and every day our conversations are about solutions and part of our conversations have to incorporate the future, too. He’s very much a part of those.”
(*) On Thursday, Prime Time Sports radio host Bob McCown of Sportsnet 590 The Fan hinted at problems between Shapiro, the Blue Jays president and CEO, and his superiors, and in response to a caller question Friday, added 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.”
So, yeah, quite the setup for Saturday’s 25-year reunion of the back-to-back World Series teams of 1992 and ’93.
Welcome back, gang!
Amid the Gong Show this week, the Red Sox, a collection of talent so enviable that it’s difficult to dislike baseball’s least likeable franchise, came into town and took two of three from the Blue Jays. And then the Rays, cleverly transitioning their roster to an impressive group of young players with plenty more coming, arrived Friday and knocked around Marco Estrada for five runs over 5.1 innings in a 7-0 thumping.
Unlike the situation with Gibbons, which took another twist Friday when the manager told MLB Network Radio that the Blue Jays are “starting to get into a full-blown rebuild” and that he wasn’t “so sure I want to go through one of those things,” Shapiro got some quick backing when Edward S. Rogers, Rogers’ chair of board and chairman of the Blue Jays, sent out the following tweet:
Very confident with the leadership and vision for the future of the Toronto Blue Jays under Mark Shapiro @MarkShapiro, President and CEO of the Blue Jays.
— Edward Rogers (@EdwardSRogers) August 10, 2018
Shapiro declined comment, but talk of the friction comes as the Blue Jays are more aggressively transitioning their roster from the playoff clubs of 2015 and ’16, attendance is in decline and the team is seeking money to renovate aging Rogers Centre to better generate revenue.
Certainly the ground beneath everyone seems uncertain, with Gibbons and Atkins both under contract through the 2019 season and Shapiro’s deal running through 2020. What type of contract a potential replacement for Gibbons could be given under the circumstances is an interesting question and you’d think it would be difficult to give that person more term than the two men above him.
To some degree turmoil is the expected by-product of the comedown from the highs of 2015 and ’16, and the turnover of an accomplished roster. Regardless, this is a messy stretch for a franchise that hasn’t experienced this type of concentrated circus since the end of the John Farrell era in 2012, and any comparison to that time is a bad thing.
One key difference from then to now is that the Blue Jays farm system is much stronger with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., widely regarded as the game’s top prospect, ready for the big-leagues now but unlikely to debut until 2019. Baseball America this week ranked the club’s system third, suggesting there is some depth to support the transition underway.
Estrada, a potential August trade candidate, wasn’t as sharp as he was during seven innings of one-hit ball in Seattle last week, allowing only five hits, two of which were home runs. He struck out six and probably hasn’t done enough to convince a contender to bet on him just yet.
Left-hander Thomas Pannone debuted in his relief, cleanly escaping the sixth before allowing a two-spot in the seventh. The lumps he or any of the other kids take between now and the end of the season is the best remaining opportunity to be productive toward a better future.
The issue now is how the bridge from now to then is built, and how ugly it gets along the way.