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Blue Jays: Unwrapping Shapiro’s latest Vladimir Guerrero Jr. comments

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2: Mark Shapiro speaks to the media as he is introduced as president of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on November 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2: Mark Shapiro speaks to the media as he is introduced as president of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on November 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays’ President and CEO Mark Shapiro was recently asked a number of questions, including where he sees Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s development, and he may have given us a few clues to the thinking in the front office these days.

We’re just a few weeks away from Opening Day of the MLB season, and sadly it’s now guaranteed that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won’t be joining the team for their first game. His injury last week put an end to the discussion about his service time and how the Blue Jays would handle justifying the decision at the time, but the executives no longer have to worry about that in the short term.

That hasn’t stopped us all from talking about Vlad Jr., and of course that’s going to continue whether he’s on the diamond or not. As fans we can’t help ourselves but talk about his potential, when he might arrive (which now includes the injury factor), and now the new discussion around his conditioning and whether there should be long term concern.

It’s fine for any of us to have our opinions, but it’s the Blue Jays’ front office that has the most influence on what happens and based on some of the comments that Mark Shapiro made earlier this week, getting healthy isn’t the only obstacle that the top prospect in the game with have to hurdle.

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In an article from Sportnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith yesterday, Shapiro talked about the different factors that will ultimately weigh into the promotion of their top asset, and probably for any other minor leaguer that is on the cusp of a big league debut.

Of course performance is important, but that’s obviously not the only factor, and it sounds like there are a few variables at play when it comes to Guerrero, yes, including his service time, which is something the front office can’t really address directly without potentially getting themselves in hot water. Shapiro did have a few revealing comments though, and there might be a bit to unpack in what he did have to say.

"“We’re not doing it to them, we’re supplying them with resources, we’re giving them the objective feedback, we’re involving them with the process all with the goal of ‘You own your career.’ And you see that with players where all of a sudden the light goes off like, ‘There’s no Wizard of Oz behind a curtain pulling strings on people.’”"

That “light” going off was something that Nicholson-Smith referred to a few times in his piece, and something that Shapiro mentioned as a point of focus as well.

The main takeaway for me was that the Blue Jays want their players to have a great sense of ownership over their own careers, and they’re looking for self-driven individuals. We can’t put words in Shapiro’s mouth necessarily, but if we’re connected the dots here then perhaps the Blue Jays have some concerns about Guerrero’s motivation, or at least the level that it would require in order to handle being a big leaguer.

This is speculation on my part of course, but there are a couple points to consider here if I’m even remotely close. One, we have to remember that Guerrero is a teenager phenom who turns 20 on Saturday. If he doesn’t have the laser focus of a 25 year old minor league teammate who has been slugging it out for much longer, that’s somewhat understandable. The game has obviously come somewhat easy to Guerrero throughout his very short pro career, as he’s routinely stood out against players that should be far further along in their development.

Maybe they’re looking for a greater sense of urgency, but as I mentioned in my article yesterday, they haven’t exactly created an environment for Guerrero that would provide optimal motivation. I’m not saying he was being lazy because he knew he was going to start in Triple-A, but I’m pretty confident that he would have been more motivated if he knew he was gearing up for game one instead of an organization decision to not only hold him back, but affect his compensation down the road. I really don’t believe that was a factor in anything that has happened, including his injury, but I can’t help but wonder how it plays into the dynamic of the whole thing.

As Nicholson-Smith also quoted him, Shapiro did have a little more on the topic as well:

"“It’s all about getting a player to ultimately take accountability and ownership of his own career. It’s not something we can do for them. This is not university ball, this is not high school ball, this is professional sports. These guys are professionals. We’re trying to help them build that foundation and I think everything we’re going through right now with him is part of him building that set of experiences that will form the foundation of his career.”"

To be fair, and not that I’m defending the double-speak the front office has had to use to deal with this situation, Shapiro does have a point. The young phenom has missed out on some of the experience of being in minor leagues because he’s so talented. Sure, he’s had to ride the bus for a couple years, but he’s hardly had to grind it out and build the mental toughness that so many others end up with after time spent toiling and dealing with adversity. I’m not suggesting the Blue Jays should hold Guerrero back until he struggles or anything ridiculous like that, but I can at least see where they’re coming from in terms of a foundation.

Ultimately both Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done their best to handle the questions about his eventual promotion, and it continues even after the discussion is moot for the time being. They haven’t been able to come out and say, “we want an extra year of contract control”, so they’ve had to find different ways to answer the question, and have often failed to do so eloquently.

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It feels a little different with these most recent comments though. Maybe it’s because his injury will make him miss Opening Day anyway, or maybe it’s just because I’ve finally come to accept the outcome. However, Shapiro does make some solid arguments, and hopefully there is at least some truth to the strategy behind giving him a big league foundation. For the first time all winter when I’ve heard the front office talk about Vlad Jr, at least I didn’t roll my eyes.

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