The five hundreds is back for another season. I thought that enough time had passed since October’s painful, abrupt ending that I could start writing about the Jays again without throwing my computer through a window. As an added precaution, I am writing this on an airplane with very small and very strong windows, as well as a likely long jail sentence if I were to act unruly. As a result, instead of throwing my computer around I have instead felt sudden and unexpected heart palpitations probably not felt by any human since the Ultimate Warrior was at the height of his substance aided powers. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Until it kills you.
Mood in Song Form
This song seemed appropriate given that the team is now back to work in Florida, and I find Rihanna about as easy to understand as some of Gibby's post game press conferences where he is clearly a few brews and dips into it.
I’m going to take advantage of the next month to focus on some of the things that really excite me about the 2016 Jays team, as well as where I still have concerns or questions. Today, I wanted to recap the key personnel move made by the Jays since the end of the season.
Anthopoulos out; Shapiro in
I don’t have any blood thinners on this plane to take while I write about this, so instead I have resorted to drinking all the mini bottles I can get my hands on while claiming its for medical reasons.
Just when the Jays won a meaningful game for the first time in 22 years they decided it was time to change course. We almost literally had 15 minutes of fame (as measured by winning the AL East, a level of fame that is bestowed upon a team every year, but that’s not the point….) before we decided to break up the band. When Shapiro was brought in late in the season I didn’t see it clearly for what it was, an attempt by the Rogers family to structure the Blue Jays in the same fashion as other large market MLB teams with one President calling personnel shots, as well as overseeing operations. Other teams have successfully deployed this approach with good success. Notably, the Red Sox have done it, Theo Epstein has gone on to do the same thing in Chicago with the Cubs, and the Dodgers have done it as well. There is some merit to having one person call the shots. Here are the glaring problems with the approach being deployed in Toronto:
The Jays Already had a good General Manager
Alex Anthopoulos has done a masterful job of making this current Blue Jays team, and did a nice job taking calculated risks to acquire players to make a run at the AL East and World Series last year. To quickly recap, he drafted Stroman and Sanchez, has Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson all playing on deals well below market rate, signed an all-star free agent catcher, and somehow managed to turn a deconstructing Jose Reyes into a future Hall of Famer. This isn’t a revisionist history on AA’s tenure…. Yes he missed on the Dickey trade, and for multiple years struggled to pull together a pitching staff capable of carrying the team. But given the capital constraints and swings he took, he has a very nice track record of success to fall back on. It is no surprise that the Dodgers snagged him up right away.
Shapiro is not Theo Epstein
If you are going to drive your popular and successful general manager out of the organization by not actually giving him control over personnel decisions (essentially making him a fall guy with his personal reputation at risk, while not being able to take any of the credit if the organization continues to be successful) you better have a good replacement. If you are going to drive Tim Tebow out of town after winning a playoff game, it helps to have a Peyton Manning coming in to take over. Mark Shapiro appears to be a far cry from Theo Epstein or The Sherriff. His track record over the past 10 years in Cleveland is one of absolute mediocrity and quiet frankly irrelevance. We even mocked the Cleveland Indians franchise for their naming of their ballpark “Progressive Field” with one of the most racist team names in modern sports (shout outs to other racist teams omitted because they are losers too). It would appear that the Rogers Family has fallen in love with Shapiro’s ability to monetize a baseball operation as much as his ability to repeatedly put a top team out on the field.
The Jays are a big market team with a small market mindset
If the Rogers family is looking to implement the organizational structure that has made teams like the Cubs, Yanks, Dodgers, Red Sox and others successful over the past fifteen years, they are failing to recognize the overwhelming characteristic that has allowed those teams to win. Money. Lots and lots and lots of money. In 2016, the Dodgers will have an anticipated payroll between $230,000,000 and $245,000,000., The Yankees will spend over $220,000,00 easily by opening day. The Blue Jays opening day roster will cost approximately $100,000,000.
It has been widely reported that the Jays are limited by ownership to a payroll of approximately $140 million, even though ticket prices are going up and the Jays made out like bandits last season financially. To put this in context, the Red Sox will have 10 players under contract this season that will make the same amount as the entire Blue Jays team on opening day and have committed over $170,000,000 as of today.
What Rogers would like you to believe is that these other teams have a significant advantage over the Blue Jays given the size of their markets. As sportsnet’s fall ratings and potential to increase advertising costs for live content would indicate to you, this is simply not the case. The Blue Jays draw on an area of over 12 million people who can regularly attend games, as well as a regular television viewing audience across the country. I was in Winnipeg over thanksgiving last year, and every single person was watching and talking Blue Jays, wearing playoff gear and planning trips to games.
The Blue Jays relationship with Sportsnet is the key to the entire equation. Over the past 5 years, there has been a significant shift in teams signing massive television deals with regional television stations, often taking an ownership stake in the business. The Dodgers and Time Warner signed a 25-year deal worth an estimated $8.35 billion that pays them $84 million annually. The Yankees receive $85 million annually for the Yes network for their broadcast rights. Forbes documented all of these deals with great clarity here.
The Jays have an incredibly integrated model with 4 or 5 channels pumping out Blue Jays content and selling it to a range of partners. There is significant revenue being generated from the Blue Jays content that flows directly to Rogers. Baseball is particularly attractive because it is Canadian content, and provides you 162 days of content. It is fair to say that the corporate opportunities in Canada are smaller than Los Angeles or New York, but the 35 million person market the Jays attract also allows partners to do things like run a Honda advertisement with official Blue Jays content in it from coast to coast without worrying about regional affinities. It also helps crush rival sport stations content.
If the Jays want to deploy the same strategy as the most successful teams in baseball I am all for it. But lets not pretend that there isn’t money in the budget, or that last year the team didn’t make money, and isn’t in a position to increase its advertising revenues for much higher viewed content. The Rogers family should embrace their rightful place among the baseball powers and spend accordingly.
From where I sit we have replaced a talented general manager with a corporate businessman who the Rogers family felt could run the Blue Jays enterprise in the most profitable manner for their bottom line.
Shapiro Press Conference
I would also like to quickly touch on the absurdity of the Shapiro press conference after it became publically known that AA was leaving the club. I would have actually gained respect for Shapiro if he had gone up there and said “Ultimately I will be the one who is responsible for the fate of this club, so I wanted final say on all personnel decisions, and Alex disagreed with that. I am in charge, and that’s the way it goes”.
Instead he clumsily stumbled around the issue like a prizefighter in the late rounds of his retirement fight. He pretended that Alex wanted to pursue other opportunities, that he wasn’t sure why Alex was moving on, and that there would be an open search for the next general manager of the team before hiring his long time lackey Ross Atkins over LaCava. The dishonesty and lack of transparency in that press conference was a direct contradiction to what he claimed he would provide when he arrived on day one.
One quick clarification I want to make: IF Shapiro turns out to be a great GM/President and lead the Blue Jays to 3 consecutive World Series titles I will be thrilled, and it will be clear that the Blue Jays made a good decision. However, what won’t change is the fact that the way they conducted that decision making was amateurish, and unnecessarily harmful to people inside the organization and those that care about it.
Next week on the fivehundreds we will dig into some of the decisions that have been made this offseason to change and shape the 2016 Blue Jays team. Some popular names are gone, and some new players are looking for their opportunity.