Now that Jose Bautista has landed on the disabled list for the second time this season, it might be a good time to look back to the offseason when Mark Shapiro named Ross Atkins as the replacement for the departing Alex Anthopoulos. What does Jose Bautista have to do with Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins? They represent the past and the future of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club.
With the Blue Jays in the midst of another successful season on and off the field, it’s easy to forget where this team stood during the off-season after being eliminated by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Anthopoulos departed the team along with team president Paul Beeston, and before fans could learn how to properly pronounce his last name, Mark Shapiro found himself faced with the task of replacing the homegrown, Canadian general manager whose moves turned the team into a force in the second half of the 2015 season.
What did Shapiro do? He did the same thing that made him the Sporting News Executive of the Year in 2005 and 2007 and who’s fingerprints are all over the current AL Central leading Cleveland Indians. He took a scientific, measured, and patient approach and surrounded himself with people he could trust in the face of resistance from a newly swollen fan-base who had their first taste of playoff baseball in 22 years.
The tandem of Shapiro and Atkins were confronted with their first test with the decision to negotiate and sign fan favourite and front-of-the-rotation starter David Price. It could have been very easy for the new president and his right hand man to let their emotions influence their decision making, and to try to win over the restless fans by throwing $200+ million of Rogers’ money at David Price, but they didn’t.
Instead they reviewed their data, and decided it wasn’t worth investing in a starting pitcher who has logged over 1,297 regular season innings since 2010 and was now entering his thirties when most power pitchers start their inevitable decline. If Shapiro and Atkins hadn’t had the conviction to pass on Price, the Blue Jays would have an albatross of a contract which pays out $32 million to Price through his age 36 season in 2022.
David Price – $31M (AAV), 1.6 rWAR this season.
JA Happ and Marco Estrada – $26M (AAV), 4.1 rWAR this season. #Shapiro
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) July 26, 2016
Instead of signing Price, Atkins decided it would be more economical to re-sign Marco Estrada and his devastating change-up to a two-year $26 million contract and then later that November inked veteran left-hander J.A. Happ to a three-year $36 million contract after Happ remade himself during half a season in Pittsburgh with the help of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.
Not only has the decision to not re-sign David Price made a huge impact on the roster in terms of salary, Happ and Estrada (along with the revelation that is Aaron Sanchez) have actually saved the Blue Jays proverbial Canadian bacon, since the vaunted offence from 2015 that was supposed to carry the team this season has only materialized in short stretches and the 2016 version of the Toronto Blue Jays are actually built around strong starting pitching and defence (they’re currently second in the AL with 3.79 team ERA and .989 fielding percentage).
Fun with numbers:
J.A Happ: 15-3, 3.09 ERA, opponents hitting .230. Salary $10mill
Price: 9-8, 4.34 ERA, opponents hitting .270. Salary $30m
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) August 9, 2016
After passing on Price, and deciding to ink Estrada and Happ, the Blue Jays quietly went about their offseason making a forgettable swap of Ben Revere for Drew Storen, and making minor moves like re-upping Darwin Barney and selecting Joe Biagini in the Rule 5 draft ahead of Spring Training.
This is where Jose Bautista’s current stint on the disabled list comes into play. At the start of Spring Training the 35-year-old Bautista, who is slated to become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, made the decision to take his contract negotiations public. The fan favourite, who admittedly has been underpaid versus his production over the past five seasons, thought he could pressure Shapiro and Atkins into giving him what he wanted (reportedly $150 million over five years) since the confident right-fielder knew if he had another solid season, he would hit the free agent market with multiple teams competing for his services.
While Bautista is 35, he 1) is great physical specimen, 2) showing no signs of decline and 3) has most HR in MLB over 6 yrs
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 24, 2016
What did the Blue Jays front office do? They didn’t engage in a public battle with Bautista, they stuck to their convictions that told them not to sign a 35-year-old outfielder to a contract length that would take him into his 40s. And after Joey Bats’ injury plagued season that has seen him become even more of a liability in right field, the decision not to sign him before the season is looking smarter by the day.
For all the mud thrown at Shapiro and Atkins, they've just made some solid low risk moves, and have shown Jays fans they're going for it.
— James Cybulski (@JamesCybulski) August 1, 2016
Just like Mark Shapiro’s fingerprints are all over the roster of the Cleveland Indians, Alex Anthopoulos deserves a lot of credit for the success the Toronto Blue Jays are currently enjoying. That being said, it could have been very easy for Shapiro and Atkins to submit to the whims of an impatient fan base and throw inordinate amounts of Rogers’ money at players like David Price and Jose Bautista, but their level-headed and sabermetric approach has not only allowed the team to continue to be successful this season, it may give them the payroll flexibility to maintain this success into the future.
Will that future include someone like Edwin Encarnacion? We will see. At least we can trust the people who are making the decisions.