Shapiro gets chance to build Blue Jays up after tearing things down

Blue Jays insiders Arden Zwelling, Ben Nicholson-Smith & Shi Davidi discuss the news of a 5-year extension for Blue Jays President & CEO Mark Shapiro and what it means for the club moving forward.

TORONTO – To help frame the significance of Mark Shapiro’s five-year extension wrap your mind around this -- if he makes it through 2025, he’ll be the Toronto Blue Jays’ second-most tenured president, and at 10 years have the longest consecutive reign.

In that way, the agreement announced Wednesday with minimal fanfare via Twitter by parent company Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns this website, positions Shapiro to be one of the team’s most impactful executives ever.

Paul Beeston, the Day 1 employee who started as vice-president of business operations, is the leader on that front with 15 years in the books. He became president in 1989, added CEO duties in 1991 and served in both roles until he departed for Major League Baseball in 1997. After Paul Godfrey’s eight-year run from 2000-2008, Beeston returned, on an interim basis at first, to run the team until Shapiro arrived after the 2015 season.

Beeston left behind two World Series championships and earned a spot on the team’s Level of Excellence. Godfrey helped stabilize the business after years of neglect under the indifferent ownership of Interbrew S.A., and led the dome’s purchase, but his clubs never found a path to the post-season.

Shapiro now has the runway to fully shed his tumultuous arrival and build an enduring legacy by effectively leveraging the club’s enviable young core, featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Danny Jansen and Nate Pearson.

What he does from this point forward will define his tenure, and the Blue Jays’ future well into the next decade. His new deal is set to expire in the same off-season that Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio are likely to become eligible for free agency.

Hence, ownership’s decision to double down on Shapiro’s leadership, which was hinted at back in the fall, is especially pivotal right now, with the Blue Jays in the midst of a pandemic-tinged off-season filled with opportunity.

Augment what’s in place effectively and he’ll give the team a real shot at meeting “our goal of bringing a World Series championship back to Canada,” as Rogers and Blue Jays chairman Edward Rogers put it in a statement announcing the extension.

The wrong moves, however, will make this group an unfortunate sequel to the remarkable core amassed during the late 1990s, when the Blue Jays couldn’t make the playoffs with Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Alex Gonzalez, Shannon Stewart, Jose Cruz Jr., Chris Carpenter, Kelvim Escobar and Roy Halladay.

“Mark’s leadership and commitment to excellence over the last five years have been critical to the team’s growth and development,” Rogers said in his statement. “We’re extremely pleased that Mark will continue to lead the Toronto Blue Jays and build on the team’s progress.”

Shapiro was not available to discuss his extension and wasn’t expected to do so in the coming days. Back in October, when he replied to a question about his future by saying his desire to stay was “reciprocated by the people I work for,” he argued that when a team is doing well “there shouldn't be” attention on the front office because “we're not celebrities, we're not stars.”

At minimum, the transparency in the length of his contract is important so fans can understand how long a period the team intends to operate under its current structure,while establishing the same standard of performance under public scrutiny players, managers and coaches face.

In a statement released through the club, Shapiro said “I am thrilled to continue being a Toronto Blue Jay” and he is “excited to experience the feeling of winning a championship with this city and country.”

Some moves of significance in the coming weeks before spring training would give Shapiro’s second five-year term with the club a better start than his first, which began with former GM Alex Anthopoulos’ departure over philosophical differences.

Inheriting a team coming off an American League East championship, Shapiro hired Ross Atkins as his new GM, made mid-tier adds to keep the club competitive and as the Blue Jays won a wild card in 2016, began totally overhauling every aspect of the organization.

Player development and analytics were two focus areas, as was the now operational renovation of the club’s spring facilities in Dunedin, Fla. But that offered cold comfort as miscalculations on both sides led to Edwin Encarnacion’s departure in free agency after 2016, the big-league club took a step back the next two years, and the Blue Jays eventually went into a full-scale rebuild.

The nadir came during a 95-loss 2019 season, although the trajectory by that point had begun to change with the transitions of Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio, Jansen, Gurriel and others to the majors. A rebound trip to the playoffs came amid the pandemic-shortened campaign last summer and the clock is now running on the new core.

So far this winter, the Blue Jays have been involved with nearly every available player of consequence, but their only addition of note is re-signing left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8-million, one-year deal.

Still, they continue to big-game hunt, with top free agents George Springer, D.J. LeMahieu, J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer among their targets. Attempts to land free agents like Liam Hendriks, Kevin Gausman, Ha-seong Kim and Tomoyuki Sugano didn’t work out, while the New York Mets beat their attempts to trade for Francisco Lindor.

Setting the roster up for 2021 success is the current priority for Shapiro, although other near-term issues include finding a home if pandemic travel restrictions prevent the Blue Jays from playing in Toronto again, as expected, and settling the futures of Atkins (believed to be signed through ’21) and manager Charlie Montoyo (club option for ’22).

Longer-term, Shapiro will need to manage the economic recovery of the business post-pandemic, as well as see through the baseball end of the property redevelopment project ownership is considering that would include a new stadium.

All of that lies before him now and will end up on a ledger sheet destined to leave a major imprint on the Blue Jays. Shapiro arrived with the stated aim of building a sustainable winner and after turning over nearly the entire franchise, he’s now got five more years to deliver.

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