Paul Beeston, it turns out, has not left the building.
During a 45-minute interview on Thursday at Rogers Centre, Mark Shapiro, the newly minted president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Blue Jays, makes no mention of the man he supplanted at the top of the baseball club’s food chain.
Yet there he is down the hall, still occupying his old office – like George Costanza in the old Seinfeld series who slept under his desk while working for the New York Yankees.
On this afternoon, Beeston is hunkered down in his digs, with the door closed, engrossed in some unknown undertaking. The Blue Jays are allowing their former leader to maintain his office while in so-called retirement and act as sort of an unofficial adviser to the new regime.
“If he [Shapiro] needs anything from me he comes and sees me,” Beeston said in his typical breezy fashion over the phone on Friday. “I get along with him very, very well. I’m hopeful everything works out well for him. I guess you could say I’m helping him with the transition. He seems to have his own way of doing things and I think it’s good. And he’s the CEO, he does what he wants to do.”
Not mentioning the 70-year-old Beeston seems an odd omission for the savvy Shapiro, who has experienced a rocky introduction to his new job in Toronto. Not only was his appointment announced while the Blue Jays were making their exhilarating run to the top of the American League East and into the playoffs, but he then presided over the departure of the Canadian who’d become a folk hero in the process – general manager Alex Anthopoulos. The abrupt resignation of the Montreal-born GM cast Shapiro as the villain of the piece.
So why not soften the blow by ballyhooing the continued involvement of the revered Beeston? And how long will that relationship last?
“Paul and I never really talked about it,” Shapiro said later by e-mail. “I just made it clear that whatever he wants or whatever we can do for him, we will. He and I will talk frequently and he has made it clear that he is always there to help me in any way he can. I have sought his input regularly and his advice on transition and background.”
Three months into his tenure with the Blue Jays, the former Cleveland Indians executive seems more comfortable in his surroundings. He readily admits that his arrival in Toronto has not unfolded as smoothly as he would have liked. But the circumstances, he insists, were beyond his control.
He understands the exalted status that Anthopoulos had risen to in Toronto – the good Canadian boy whose trade-deadline deals for the likes of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and pitching ace David Price helped propel Toronto into the post-season for the first time in 22 years. In the process, it ignited the passions of baseball fans across the country.
“I definitely did not anticipate it,” Shapiro said in the interview, about his initial frosty reception in Toronto. “When I was going through my decision-making process [on whether or not to leave Cleveland] to come here, it was not what I expected. You’re contemplating leaving some place after 24 years and that’s a tough decision. And so you’re just thinking about the excitement of the decision and going someplace new. And frankly maybe the expectation that people might be happy or excited that you’re coming.”
Not after the departure of Anthopoulos, whose only public explanation was that he felt it was no longer a good fit for him with Shapiro on board. It is widely believed that Anthopoulos left after realizing that his autonomy to run the baseball operations for the Blue Jays would not be the same under Shapiro, himself a former GM with the Indians. Shapiro replaced him with another former Cleveland exec, Ross Atkins, while Anthopoulos has since resurfaced as vice-president of baseball operations with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In some quarters, the 48-year-old Shapiro has been portrayed as the bogeyman of Bremner Boulevard, a power-thirsty executive intent on running his own baseball empire no matter whose toes were crushed in the process. Shapiro said he would have been delighted to work with Anthopoulos, that they would have been able to complement each other.
“Not having the opportunity to do that with him – disappointing,” Shapiro said. “But the day that decision’s made, we’re moving forward. We have to focus on winning and we have to focus on competing and making sure we can field the best team possible.”
With spring training fast approaching – pitchers and catchers are slated to report to Toronto’s spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., on Feb. 22 – Shapiro said he feels confident in Toronto’s ability to repeat as AL East champions. He feels this way despite the loss of Price, one of baseball’s premier pitchers, to the Boston Red Sox through free agency.
Shapiro has admitted that the Blue Jays never really seriously tried to bring the left-hander back, understanding that the cost of his services would be prohibitive. The seven-year, $217-million (U.S.) Price wound up getting from the Red Sox bears that out.
He said that with the lineup as currently constructed, the Blue Jays have what he described as “a very special, unique window” of opportunity to succeed in 2016. “It’s an opportunity to win and you look at those as just pearls,” Shapiro said. “They’re special and I think that probably resonates with people here.”
But to win last year, Anthopoulos traded away most of Toronto’s blue-chip minor-league prospects to secure the likes of Tulowotzki and Price. Shapiro said that was “a high price paid.”
And with Jose Bautista (age 35) and Edwin Encarnacion (33), the two sluggers in the meat of the batting order, not getting any younger, maintaining the high standard of play will not be easy.
“What’s obvious is that behind this major league team there is not enough to build organically, build a championship team again,” Shapiro said. “So we need to ride this core out as long as we possibly can and simultaneously look to kind of inject as we can underneath it.”
Both Bautista and Encarnacion are eligible to become free agents at the end of this season, and both are looking for contract extensions that will be lucrative and lengthy. Shapiro said that initial talks have started with Encarnacion, and that he and Atkins will be travelling to Tampa on Thursday to meet with Bautista.
With the dropping Canadian dollar currently under the 70-cent U.S. mark, Shapiro was asked if that makes it more unlikely the Blue Jays will be able to re-sign both players to new deals.
“Again, without talking about [what] the lower dollar does in terms of specific people, it’s a significant challenge,” he said. “And if it lowers further, which it looks like it might, it becomes a bigger challenge. But it’s just one you’ve got to manage against.”Report Typo/Error
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