Jays Walking: The Slow, Steady Descent Of Mark Shapiro's Creation
Among the thinnest books in history IDLM thinks we can safely add My Yuge Baseball Successes by Mark Shapiro. Were it not for the (now concluded) success of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the man who took over from Paul Beeston as the Toronto Blue Jays president in 2015 might currently be hot footing it out of town just ahead of an angry mob of fans in the Edwin Encarnacion jerseys.
The Blue Jays— the team that was the darling of Toronto… nay, the darling of Canada… just 18 months ago, has sunk to such a low estate (5-14) that many are now wondering if they’ll be the worst team in baseball in 2017, not a playoff contender. As of Monday, the Jays would need a two-game win streak just to NOT have the worst record in baseball. Looking at the age of the key parts with the team, there’s no reason to see this getting better for a while.
How has this precipitous collapse happened so fast? Faced with an impatient fan base previous GM Anthopoulos emphasized winning now. It’s hard to say what Shapiro and his GM Ross Atkins emphasis has been beyond reining in salaries.
Shapiro/ Atkins’ are certainly to blame for some of it, but you have to go back to the Anthopoulos days to trace just where the good ship Blue Jay started taking on water. Every GM has moves that work and those that don’t. AA was no different. Give him credit for acquiring Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. They stabilized the batting order and improved the defence in both 2015 and 2016. (Although their all-in style is also taking a toll on their bodies.)
Troy Tulowitzki has been an A-plus defender but a disappointment at the plate. Those are high points for Anthopoulos. Let's never speak of José Reyes again.
Shapiro’s biggest priority was getting one or both of Edwin Encarnacion and José Bautista under contract or traded for value. In the end he got nothing for either asset and ended up losing EE and signing Bautista, the player who’d cut the emotional cord last fall in Toronto, on a one-year deal (with option) as a fallback move.
Encarnacion signed in Cleveland for similar money and fewer years than the Jays had been willing to offer. Shapiro then rushed to compensate by signing Kendrys Morales early in free agency. Measured against later signings in the UFA season, Morales was an overpay. He’s been a steady player so far, but hardly the intimidating force that Encarnacion represented in the lineup.
The repercussions throughout the lineup— and Donaldson’s absence with leg woes— has left the Jays looking feeble at the plate. Bautista, Steve Pearce, Martin and Devon Travis are all hitting under .200. Only Kevin Pillar is over .300. It’s a hot mess.
The pitching also marks a fault line.
Imagine, if you will, a Blue Jays’ rotation of Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. All young, affordable and healthy at the moment. Were it not for Toronto’s 2014 panic move to add aging knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (when fans were in open revolt about the Jays’ parsimonious ways), that could be the rotation today. Plus Toronto would have catcher Travis d’Arnaud (whose injuries are still hampering his development).
Norris and Boyd were the cost to add David Price for the half season run at the postseason in 2015. While both are still finding their groove, they have given indications in Detroit that they will be solid starters in the majors.
Yes, J.A. Happ (injured) and Marco Estrada have been fine reclamation projects. But they’re in their mid-30s and not likely to be at the Rogers Centre in two years. Especially if there’s a fire sale from this roster at the trade deadline.
The bullpen is young star closer Roberto Osuna, retread Joe Biagini and ancient Jason Grilli. All righties. While lefty Brett Cecil was inconsistent as the top lefty, the Shapiro/ Atkins regime has not replaced even that standard in the pen. Result? Look out below.
Which points the fickle finger at the decision to announce a contract extension for manager John Gibbons at the start of the season. Whatever message that was supposed to send, it has gone to the dead-letter department. While he will never be in the Buck Showalter/ Joe Maddon/ Joe Girardi strata of managers, Gibby is competent enough if given tools to win.
Handing him a faded/ disillusioned Bautista and early injuries to Happ, Donaldson and Sanchez would torpedo almost any manager. And if you fired him, what manager could do better with this leaky boat?
It’s clear someone will be fired. It’s also clear someone— okay several someones— will be traded to rescue value from this tire fire. All that remains now is to pencil in the names. That’s all Jays fans have to look forward to the rest of 2017. Filing in names.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)