Blue Jays: Will they address the lame duck contracts in the front office?

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 8: President and CEO Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays with his daughter Sierra and general manager Ross Atkins on the field before the start of MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 8: President and CEO Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays with his daughter Sierra and general manager Ross Atkins on the field before the start of MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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Both Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro’s contracts expire after the 2020 season. Will the Blue Jays leave them with a lame duck contract to start the season?

The Blue Jays will enter their 2020 season with the goal of taking a few more steps toward returning toward contending status in the American League. It’s a modest goal, but that’s part of the process when you commit to a roster rebuild.

At the helm of the rebuild are a pair of executives that mostly get mixed reviews from Blue Jays fans in Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. Shapiro was hired to take over for Paul Beeston, and after Alex Anthopoulos departed for L.A. after the 2016 campaign, Ross Atkins was installed as the new GM. They’ve been running the ship in Toronto since, and it’s been under their guidance that the rebuild was initiated.

One of this offseason’s big questions for me is whether or not those two will be allowed to see this rebuild through, or if that’s something they’re planning on doing on their own accord. Curiously, both of their contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2020 season, and as far as the public knows there hasn’t been much discussion about extending them beyond that.

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It’s not out of the ordinary for an executive or even a manager to enter the “lame duck” year of their contract. We saw it happen with Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs this year, and the final result was a mutual parting of ways at the end of the deal. To be fair, the Cubs have been disappointing since winning the World Series in 2016, and are still considered to be smack in the midst of their window of contention.

On the other hand, the Blue Jays are essentially entering year two of their rebuild after their last competitive window, and one would think that ownership would be interested in some continuity in the front office, especially from those that are laying the foundational pieces right now. Typically when an ownership group gives the go ahead on a rebuild, there is a grace period before the front office will really be judged too harshly on the on-field results. Assuming that’s the case, I’d be surprised if Rogers is expecting a World Series contender in 2020. If that’s true (one would assume), why are the key members of the front office entering the year with lame duck status?

It’s possible that there are a few reasons, or even a few different ways this could play out. First, I wouldn’t be shocked if Atkins and Shapiro’s contracts were extended before the 2020 season begins, even if it’s just by a year or two. It would allow the front office to do their jobs without fear of interruption, and put ownership at ease that the long-term future was being considered for all of the right reasons. To this day there are fans that suggest that Anthopoulos threw his prospect trade chips on the table because he knew he wasn’t coming back. Whether or not that’s the case is kinda irrelevant at this stage, but the same, fair question can be asked. Can a front office do their best job when they know they won’t be around to see the benefits?

The second possibility is that Shapiro, and maybe Atkins as well, aren’t ready to commit for the long term. Just a few days ago there was an article by John Lott of the Athletic that talked about Shapiro being mentioned for other sports executives jobs recently, including for Commissioner of the “Big Ten” in the NCAA. It’s hard to say how much truth there was to the rumour, but it’s entirely possible that Shapiro is keeping his options open. If that’s the case with the President, it’s possible the Blue Jays see Atkins as someone who is directly tied to his boss, or maybe the GM himself sees things that way.

All of this is speculation on my part of course, but it all started with wondering why a front office that was in the early stages of a rebuild didn’t have job security. They had to get ownership’s blessing to go that route, and typically they’ll let you see it through for at least a little while if that plan is approved. That’s not a guarantee, but typically a GM won’t get a directive to trade away all of their veterans, and then get blamed for a losing record.

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We’ll see how things play out over the next 5-6 months or so, and whether having the discussion at the moment turns out to be moot. You can debate whether or not you like the job they’ve done so far, and many fans are happy to do just that, but I don’t think many of us expected job security to be a thing just yet. We’ll see if their lame duck status ends up getting addressed, but something tells me there’s a lot more to this story that will play out over the next year.

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