Blue Jays: How critical is spring training complex change?


Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro is stepping into a role where he must straddle the line between business and baseball. In many situations, such as MLB payroll decisions and the ever-distant dream of grass in the ‘Dome, that line will blur. The most prominent case of this in the current agenda appears to be Toronto’s need for an improved, or even relocated, spring training facility.

The Blue Jays have kicked off their season in Dunedin, Florida every spring since 1977. While the club has become deeply engrained in the community, which is one of the smaller to host a Major League spring training complex, it’s becoming evident that the Jays facilities have fallen well behind the league-wide standard.

A move to Arizona has been floated as a solution, or perhaps even a partnership with another organization on a complex. Shapiro played a leading role in moving the Cleveland Indians from Florida to Arizona in 2009, and with Toronto’s Dunedin contract expiring at the end of 2017, now would be the time to set some wheels in motion. Spring facilities do hold an an underrated level of importance on the business and baseball sides, and in quotes from a recent article by John Lott of the National Post, Shapiro sounds motivated.

“Spring training is one of the most important resources in building a championship culture. It needs to be a state-of-the-art facility that provides a culture capable of rehabbing, training (and) developing players in a cutting-edge environment that provides a competitive advantage. So we’ll hope to do that, hopefully in Dunedin.”

Hopefully. Not only are spring facilities becoming a more popular piece of the fan experience, there’s surely a level of psychology involved with a state-of-the-art facility, as well. What’s that quote about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have? Training in top level facilities prior to the season could set a stronger tone, infuse a little added excellence from day one. Maybe there’s something to that, maybe not.

These facilities were believed to be a “legacy” project for Paul Beeston that never quite came to fruition, but even if the Jays were to stay in Dunedin, the need for an upgrade has become all too evident. While Marcus Stroman‘s knee injury could have happened even on the finest of fields, the infamous Michael Saunders sprinkler accident could very well have been avoided. Saunders gave the Jays just nine sub-par games for his $2.875 million salary, and ownership should take note of that.

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Shapiro seems inclined to move aggressively with this, but it does open up another budget conversation. This time on the business side. How big would Rogers like to go, how tied in would these costs be to the ‘Dome renovations, and how tied in are both of those budgets to the MLB player budget. There are several balls in the air here, but the conversation thus far has been encouraging.

We’d like to open this one up a little, too, especially to our many readers that have made an annual trip out of Dunedin. If Rogers handed you the chequebook, which changes are you making first? And perhaps most importantly, would a move from Dunedin to Arizona end your spring training tradition?