SIMMONS: Blue Jays face front-office shuffle with Mark Shapiro sheltering himself from storm

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Mark Shapiro will almost certainly push general manager Ross Atkins to another place in the Blue Jays organization at the end of the season. In essence, that will be Shapiro firing himself as GM.

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They won’t call it a firing. But you rarely hear those words around professional sports any more. They’ll call it a mutual decision or something like that. In the best interests of the club.

Shapiro, the Blue Jays president, with one year left on his contract and this horrible season to answer for, doesn’t have many bullets left to play with here. With two years left on his own deal, Atkins — his close friend and the GM he gave a rousing endorsement to at the end of the playoff mish-mash of a year ago — will likely be shuffled into another front office position with a fancy title and replaced by another general manager that Shapiro will have complete control over.

That’s how he operates. As this Jays season has gotten worse and worse, what’s apparent around baseball is how lost the Jays have become operationally. In last place in the American League East, 17 games behind Baltimore. Nine and a half games and six teams out of a wild-card spot. And with historically clueless corporate ownership, the Jays find themselves paddling in circles, not willing to admit or declare they have lost their way but desperately in need some kind of plan.

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And as of Saturday, baseball people continue to tell me, the Jays have not declared themselves to be sellers in the market place with the trade deadline some 23 days away. Somehow, and this comes back to Shapiro and the one year left on his contract, they are not willing to admit that this season is over. They are not indicating that their players of some quality — and especially those with expiring contracts — are for sale or for rent.

This is Shapiro hanging on as long as he possibly can — and Atkins doing what he is told — while the Jays’ season, roster and future, goes nowhere.

This isn’t just about now with Shapiro and the Jays. This is about next year and the year after that. This team, right now, isn’t good enough. Next year isn’t just Shapiro’s last year on his deal, it’s the last year for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette under Toronto contract.

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Guerrero has had a reasonable half-season, but this is the worst year of Bichette’s otherwise excellent career. He has been a player with a WAR (wins above replacement) as high as 5.8. His WAR this season is at minus-0.2.

They have George Springer under contract for $25 million a season for two more years. He is a diminishing asset. So is one-time ace Kevin Gausman, signed for two more years at $23 million per. Guerrero’s WAR indicates he is the 52nd best player in baseball. But he’s already making $19 million and has already taken home more than $50 million Blue Jays dollars in all. In 2021, he led the American League in seven different offensive categories. Since then he’s led in only one — hitting into double plays.

Shapiro’s big calling card as president of the Jays is what he’s done redecorating. If you need someone to finish your basement, call him. If you need someone to build a baseball team, maybe you should call someone else.

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He has spent $500 million of Rogers money — half a billion dollars — on upgrading the spring training home in Dunedin and upgrading Rogers Centre. He somehow made the home stadium more fun and way more expensive all at the same time. And in doing so, somehow he managed to brown off many longtime loyal Blue Jays customers whom he had zero regard for while making the prices unaffordable for too many.

Renovating a stadium, when you have $400 million to spend, is not as hard as trying to build a competitive baseball team even with a record Blue Jays payroll. This was a luxury-tax team last year and will likely be again this season. And what are fans and ownership getting from that?

A team that would not have even qualified for the playoffs before an additional wild card entry was added in baseball in 2021. A team that has not won a single playoff game — his team and Atkins’ team, not the one he inherited in 2016 — in Shapiro’s near-decade in Toronto.

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He was going to build a team that could sustain itself year after year. He was going to build a draft-and-develop team. But their farm system is paper thin and their draft record beyond suspect. Shapiro had grand visions for the Blue Jays and all kinds of money to spend. But really, what has he developed?

The Jays have spent huge money on starting pitching, which isn’t as meaningful as it used to be. Starters tend to last five or six innings, rarely more than that. That leaves three or four innings for a bullpen most nights. Shapiro’s team, by extension Atkins’ team, by extension manager John Schneider’s team, has the worst bullpen statistically in the AL, second-worst in the majors.

So, where do they do they go from here? Baseball people shake their heads when asked that question. How do you fix the Jays? What do you do with Guerrero and Bichette? What do you do with the $48 million a year tied into Springer and Gausman the next two years What do you do when you have one of the worst offences in baseball, even with Guerrero and Bichette. What do you do with your aging starting pitching, no rotation starting depth on the way, a bullpen with health and production issues and a manager who may not be up to the job?

Why, knowing all of of this, would Rogers consider re-upping Shapiro? He will almost certainly make the GM move at the end of the current season because it’s the only move he can make to shelter himself from the storm.

After that, he’s on his own. This is his team. He made this mess. The hard part now, cleaning it up.

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