According to Ken Rosenthal, the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in Mark Shapiro to fill their soon-to-be vacant president position. (The Jays’ current president/CEO Paul Beeston will be stepping down at the end of the season). While it’s clear that Toronto would like to employ the Indians’ president, it’s less clear whether or not Shapiro is interested in stepping into that role.
In Rosenthal’s report, he mentioned that the Blue Jays were interested in Dave Dombrowski before he took the position with the Red Sox earlier this week, and that they’ve also considered Dan Duquette from the Orioles and Ken Williams from the White Sox. It seems as if they’ve primarily approached existing team presidents, trying to find someone willing to make a lateral move from their current organization.
And that’s what makes these rumors interesting where Shapiro is concerned – this wouldn’t be a promotion for him, as he’s already president of the Indians organization. But there could be an allure for Shapiro to take the position in Toronto. He’s been with the Indians since 1992, and became the general manager in 2001, when he was only in his mid-30s. He served in that position until 2010, when he was promoted to president and assistant general manager Chris Antonetti was promoted to general manager. Shapiro has spent most of his professional career in Cleveland and could be looking for a change.
At the same time, Toronto may hold appeal for someone who has been hamstrung by a small budget for most of his time in Cleveland. They already started the season with a budget north of $120 million (10th in all of baseball), and it’s already grown throughout the season. In contrast, the Indians opened the season at $88 million (23rd in all of baseball) and actually saw that diminish as they unloaded salary recently (although it’s likely to come back up some for the 2016 season). The Blue Jays have been going all out this season in the hopes of winning it all. Whoever takes over will oversee a rather powerful offense, but a pitching staff that has been shaky at times and could see changes (unless they manage to retain David Price). Even though they’ve depleted their minor league system with all of the trades this season (it was ranked 10th in MLB by Baseball America before the season), their deep-pocketed owners have shown a willingness to continually expand their payroll. After pinching pennies for most of this century, Shapiro may jump at the chance to work with additional financial resources.
To make this whole situation even more intriguing, if Shapiro leaves for Toronto, he may not go alone. When Dombrowski took the position in Boston, general manager Ben Cherington stepped down almost immediately. Even though Dombrowski said he planned to keep him in the position, he could’ve said that just to allow Cherington a dignified exit. On the flip side, why would Cherington want to give up some of his autonomy to someone who was obviously being brought in to dramatically change the Red Sox? The same could be said for the position in Toronto – current GM Alex Anthopoulos may not want to work under Shapiro, or Shapiro may want to bring in his own staff. Plus Anthopoulos’s contract expires after the season, so it would be easy to cut ties with him.
Which brings me to the next question – would Shapiro take Chris Antonetti or assistant general manager Mike Chernoff with him to Toronto? Chernoff’s name has already been mentioned with a number of potentially vacant GM positions this offseason, as he was last offseason. It may only be a matter of time before he leaves for bigger and better things; but what if Shapiro and Antonetti left as well? And what would that mean for manager Terry Francona? He has a clause in his contract that ties his fortunes to those of Shapiro and Antonetti. If at any point they leave the organization (as far as I know, either willingly or unwillingly) than Francona can opt out of his contract. There was a similar structure in Tampa Bay, that allowed Joe Maddon out of his contract when general manager Andrew Friedman left to become president of the Dodgers.
I’ve had a lot of complaints about the Indians’ front office over the years, but there are a number of things I think they’ve done well. While they punted on drafts for a number of years, and have made some poor free agent signings (Grady Sizemore post-injury, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Gavin Floyd, to name a few) they’ve done a fantastic job of improving the organization via trades. In particular, the deals that brought Yan Gomes and Trevor Bauer to the Indians were nearly highway robbery; you almost have to ask if they slipped the opposing GMs roofies. While I’ve questioned their judgment, and even called for their dismissal at times, is the grass really greener with different leadership? Would we automatically see an improvement in a team that has been a huge disappointment in 2015? I guess it would depend on who the Indians found to replace the departed executives, but I’m not necessarily optimistic. People aren’t necessarily going to be knocking down the door to run an organization with a small budget, extremely poor attendance, a mediocre minor league system (ranked 22nd in all of baseball prior to the 2015 season by Baseball America), and that’s coming off of an extremely bad season. Friedman left the Rays to run the powerful Dodgers, a team with a bottomless pit of money to spend on players. There is no such draw here in Cleveland.
At this point we just have to sit and wait…there’s been no indication of how likely Shapiro is to move across the border. Once we know whether or not he’s going, we’ll have to decide if that can be considered good, or bad.