After 30 long years, it’s a clear understatement to say that Blue Jays fans would eagerly embrace another World Series team. For those who witnessed the back-to-back 1992-93 champions, the players and their exploits are burned in our memory: “Touch ‘em all Joe!” Heck, even the José Bautista bat flip to power Toronto to the 2015 ALDS series win is perhaps the greatest memory a younger generation of Jays fans have.
However, if you wasted an hour of your life Thursday tuning in, the message from team president Mark Shapiro was essentially, “Nothing changes, we’re running it back with the same decision makers, and we have to get better.” In essence, business double speak: more of the same, run it back with Shapiro, GM Ross Atkins and manager John Schneider; and, silence and a lack of accountability from team ownership.
As someone who has been calling for Atkins to be fired over the past few seasons, its interesting to see a groundswell of similar voices after eight seasons without even one AL East pennant under this front office. The Blue Jays were the 8th and final AL playoff seed in the expanded playoff format of the pandemic shortened 2020 season. After the top AL wild card seeding in 2022, they were the 6th and final AL wild card seed this year. That’s led to an 0-6 losing streak in the postseason since 2020.
Compare that to the Blue Jays under GM Pat Gillick, who won five AL East pennants and two World Series championships in a seven team division in the nine seasons between 1985~1993. Compare that to the 2015 AL East pennant winners. Compare that to the Houston Astros, headed to a 7th consecutive ALCS since the 2017 season, a stretch which includes four World Series appearances, and two WS titles. For a relatively new Blue Jays fan in the current competitive window? None of that.
After 23 years of front office work together without a single World Series appearance - and more 3rd and 4th place finishes than actual playoff game wins - people seem to be catching on that perhaps this front office isn’t the best at baseball operations-related decision making. Yet it sounds as though they’ll be the ones trying to negotiate long term contract extensions with Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and others. They’ll be the ones trying to “get better”.
It’s apparent that Mark Shapiro makes team owner Rogers Communications a ton of money. Undoubtedly he’s been good at the Dunedin and Rogers Centre stadium renovations, as well as at honouring Jays royalty, like the José Bautista ‘Level of Excellence’ ceremony. But come on… if this team could figure things out on the baseball operations side and win the AL East, and then go on a serious World Series run, it’s a guarantee that Rogers could make even more money.
For the growing ranks of Jays fans who don’t believe Ross Atkins is capable of building that kind of team, the feeling of hopelessness and frustration is real. We also know from history that Mark Shapiro built only one AL Central pennant winner in 2007, and zero World Series teams in nine seasons as Cleveland GM after taking over from the great John Hart following the 2001 season. After 2010, Chris Antonetti was promoted to GM in Cleveland and Shapiro focused the Progressive Field renovations.
And it’s tough for Blue Jays fans to admit that. So many of us bought in to what Shapiro and Atkins were selling to the fanbase when they arrived after the 2015 season: a focus on minor league player development, waves of MLB-ready prospects, and the modernization of the front office.
The reality is this was the third oldest team in baseball on the last weekend of the regular season at an average of almost 30 years of age. The farm system is ranked bottom third. And they had the 5th highest luxury tax payroll of any team this season… all without signing any of the young, homegrown stars to long term contract extensions yet.
Catcher Danny Jansen is a free agent after next season. Bichette and Guerrero can leave after 2025, as can Chris Bassitt, Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza and Erik Swanson. José Berríos can opt out after 2026. Meanwhile Ross Atkins, who Mark Shapiro said has done a “good job”, will be the one running the baseball operations side… potentially through to the end of his five-year contract extension that expires after the 2026 season.
So while Shapiro says Atkins’ “body of work to me is undeniable” and that the Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., deal for Daulton Varsho was “a good trade”, Jays fans may be feeling even more confused than they were after the ALWC series sweep, and a bizarre media availability with the GM on the Saturday morning of the Canadian thanksgiving long weekend.
After making so many bad decisions in the past year, from bad trades (Rogers still owes $2.0 million in retained salary for 19 days of Paul DeJong in August), a lack of honesty - and accountability - around the Berríos decision, to how the Anthony Bass and Alek Manoah situations were handled, and how Atkins handled fan favorite Jay Jackson’s DFA on the last day of the season, the resounding message here from Mark Shapiro is, “We expect Atkins to get better!”
That sounds a lot like the 2023 trade deadline bet this front office made on their big hitters reverting to career mean averages in the 2H, all without adding another right-handed bat like Tommy Pham, Mark Canha or Jake Burger to offer more protection in the lineup. In essence, Davis Schneider filled that role, while Atkins added Jordan Hicks (to backfill for an injured Romano at the time) and Génesis Cabrera.
It’s unlikely many people had Davis Schneider as “productive RHH power bat in the 2H” on their Jays bingo card for 2023; and, now apparently they don’t even see Hicks and his 101mph fastball as “a fit” according to front office whispers to Sportsnet acolytes Arden Zwelling’s “At The Letters” podcast and Ben Nicholson-Smith on the JD Bunksis podcast.
Blue Jays fans may feel really disappointed in the direction this team and organization is headed. Of course it would be great if this team was able to win the AL East outright instead of playing in these short wild card series; a World Series team is the goal. Home playoff games also draw out the fans!
However, by maintaining the status quo, that does not seem to be the expectation here. If the key expectation is for Ross Atkins and this front office to grow and adjust - in a big way - this offseason, then aren’t ownership and Mark Shapiro just asking for more pain? Or as Albert Einstein is alleged to have said, “Insanity is making the same mistakes and expecting different results.”