The new president of the Toronto Blue Jays faces many challenges in building on the team’s 2015 success, but fans are tired of excuses and want results.
The Blue Jays won their first division title in 22 years. They are defending AL East Champions! They captured the hearts of an entire nation. They made old fans cry with joy, they made new ones scream in disbelief. For their next act, they signed Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, hoping that they are enough to compete for another banner. But, is hope enough? Blue Jays fans have watched several free agents and potential trade targets fly off the shelves. And, while those deals themselves may not make sense, there is growing impatience in Blue Jays Land.
Reasonable, logical fan understands the parameters under which the Blue Jays are operating. But, there is a growing sense among others that these parameters are just excuses. Rightly or wrongly, these excuses are only serving to feed the frustration over the club’s new regime. From the day Mark Shapiro was introduced as the team’s new president, there was an uneasy feeling that things would be different. He brings an extreme logical, business approach to running a team.
Often that approach may be opposed to the big free agent contracts that are being tossed around. And, while we often forget that under Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays weren’t free spenders either, it seems like we’re hearing a list of frustrating excuses that fans just don’t want to hear. Take, for example, Shapiro’s recent comments (via John Lott of The National Post) about the exchange rate. “There are obviously some other things that go into (the Jays’ payroll decisions), challenges with the exchange rate, and things that baseball fans shouldn’t have to think about, but when you run a business you do have to think about.”
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Lott goes on to explain that the club does hedge against the varying US-CAN exchange rate. This year, the rate is operating at a low that hasn’t been seen in a long time. But, is that just an excuse? Well, it is real. It is not made up. But, shouldn’t the club kind of “suck it up” and accept that it is part of doing business; the business that they chose to operate in? Despite the exchange rate, are we really expected to believe that a large company like Rogers is crying poor over the amount of money being spent? Yes, revenue is taken in Canadian Dollars and mostly spent in US Dollars. But, pretending like that is crippling is bordering on over-dramatic for a billion dollar company.
Of course, the argument will be that when you answer to share holders, etc, you have to be concerned with your bottom line. Which makes sense. That can often cause conflict, though, when you’re talking about running a professional sports team. Fans don’t always care about bottom line. They want winning and moves that lead to winning.
Some of those moves may mean playing at the high rollers table. This year, that task may be harder than ever. We’re seeing ridiculous amounts of money being thrown around for players that realistically should not be getting as much. We watched 2 starters sign for $30M+. Two of them. One of them played for the Blue Jays just a short time ago. Now, whether we realistically thought David Price would be back with Toronto is debatable. But, what is less debatable is the idea of them being able to afford him. The cost would have been high, but the return is one that many fans believe the team should have spent on.
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Shapiro also spoke about playing in that market: “It’s such a tough market to wade into and allocate so many of your resources to, but we know we’ve got to find some alternatives, and we know we’ve got to play in that market. To play in the upper ends of that market, it’s a dangerous place to play. You’d better have a lot of flexibility and your threshold for risk had better be very high.” Didn’t he say that he was excited about his opportunity in Toronto in part because of the greater tolerance for risk he would have? The rising market of free agents is being used as another excuse for inaction and it is growing more frustrating.
MLB is staring to resemble the NBA in the sense that to build a winner, you almost need to stack your team. One move here and there is not going to cut it. The Arizona Diamondbacks are a good example of that. They didn’t stop by landing Zack Greinke. They traded for Shelby Miller, too. One move is not going to help. Neither is a “meh” type of move. The offseason needs to be impactful. Blue Jays fans have been decidedly underwhelmed thus far.
Now, the argument can be made that the Toronto Blue Jays do not need to make the franchise altering moves that the Diamondbacks made. They already possess the best offense in the game. That aspect of the game is set for at least the 2016 season (with the future of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion unknown). The defense has already been addressed by AA last season. But, the pitching staff was the clear area of concern that was addressed by somewhat uninspiring moves. The bullpen is still an area that looks more worrisome every day as potential option slip away.
If the Blue Jays want to build on the success of 2015, they have to remember that not only was the team successful in the standings, but as a brand across Canada. Folks spent a great deal of their hard earned money supporting this team. That kind of support is ready and waiting for them. It would certainly help mitigate the excuses that we keep hearing. And, rightly or wrongly, to many Blue Jays fans, those excuses are just that: excuses.