Monday marked the official beginning of the Mark Shapiro Era in Toronto and while he made a couple announcements that sound like there aren't going to be sweeping changes with the Blue Jays in 2016, that might not actually be the case.
Shapiro, brought in from the Cleveland Indians to replace outgoing president Paul Beeston, announced that manager John Gibbons would return next season and that Tony LaCava, departed former general manager Alex Anthopoulos' No. 2, would step into the role for the time being. After having the popular Anthopoulos turn down an extension and depart last week, these moves sound re-assuring, right?
Naming LaCava the interim GM and then failing to commit to him being a candidate for the full-time position makes him seem like a placeholder until Shapiro finds someone he’s more interested in working with and that new general manager is likely going to want to make his own call on Gibbons’ future, so Monday’s announcements ring a little hollow.
That makes complete sense and is exactly what happens when a new president or general manager (or both) arrive to a club, so why not just get take that course from Jump Street, rather than trying to smooth things over with a couple temporary moves that might just get erased before the season starts because after watching Monday’s media conference and listening to reactions after the fact, it’s clear that no one is buying LaCava and Gibbons remaining in their respective positions long-term anyway.
Part of this feels like an “extend an olive branch” situation from Shapiro’s side of things.
As much as the club offered Anthopoulos an extension, it was a two-year deal, far less than new arrival general managers tend to get and not what you would expect the club to offer the architect of its first playoff berth in years and he opted to turn it down and pursue other opportunities. That set fans off and taking steps to cool those frustrations by keeping the departed general manager’s chief lieutenant and chosen bench boss in place seems like a “See guys – I’m not going to change everything” kind of move by Shapiro to start his tenure in Toronto.
While it might buy you a respite from harsh criticism for the time being, bumping them from their positions before the year is out will make Monday’s proclamations ring hollow.
It’s no different than how Shapiro didn’t exactly praise the moves Anthopoulos made at the deadline that brought the team Troy Tulowitzki and David Price and propelled them to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. He started by saying he questioned the decisions from across the aisle in Cleveland, then gave Anthopoulos his due for the moves paying off and producing immediate returns before circling back to his core belief that long-term planning and building the club from the farm system up is the best way to approach things.
And here’s the thing: as much as those moves produced results this year, it’s impossible to say if they were the right moves right now, as it will take a couple years before the prospects that were shipped to Detroit and Colorado (and Oakland in the Josh Donaldson deal) start to reach their full potential as big league players, so Shapiro could still be proven right in the long run.
But fans got attached to this team over the course of the 2015 season and that included Anthopoulos, a young Canadian general manager who transformed the Blue Jays into contender over the last couple years, so Shapiro and his incoming team – whoever that may be, whenever they may arrive – are facing an uphill battle.
Monday’s new conference was a start and produced a couple positive steps forward, but those could all be undone and even more ground could be lost if Shapiro doesn’t make some impact moves in the offseason.