Shapiro 'more determined' after '21 season

CEO on Blue Jays' strategy in offseason, 2022 outlook

October 18th, 2021

TORONTO -- From 2019 to 2021, the definition of “success” became much more literal for the Blue Jays.

Before, the concept was more abstract for a rebuilding team. Success can be found within a 67-win season that saw the debuts of two franchise cornerstones in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. When the 2021 Blue Jays looked on following their final game of the season two weeks ago at Rogers Centre, though, all that mattered was one single game in the American League Wild Card race, enough to leave a 91-win club on the outside looking in.

There’s a frustration to that. It’s a frustration that’s earned, and one that not all 30 teams get to feel, which comes with being one of MLB’s most talented teams but still falling just short. Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro spoke at length Monday about the positives that can be taken away from the 2021 season -- when the Blue Jays called three cities home and put up a record (91-71) that typically comes with a ticket to the postseason -- even though there’s something else lingering.

“I’m left with one feeling, and that’s bitterness,” Shapiro said. “Every team that is not the team that wins the last game played is bitter. The fact that we’re not playing right now leaves me more determined. All of us here are more determined that we continue to get better.”

Toronto’s urgency remains the same, but having been so close adds some reality to it. Looking through the Blue Jays’ 162 games, there are dozens of points that could have closed that one-game deficit, but the same goes for all MLB clubs. Now it’s about tightening those gaps, and as Toronto learned with its recent run, those gaps get narrower the closer you get to the top.

However they do it, there’s one goal.

“Just get in. Just get in,” Shapiro said. “If you’re hot at the right time and you’re playing your best baseball at the right time, your record during the season doesn’t necessarily matter. You can win a World Series.”

That brings us to the offseason. While the Blue Jays’ young core is the organization’s greatest strength, they’ll also be forced to fill some major holes.

Robbie Ray, the AL Cy Young favorite, is a free agent. Marcus Semien, who could earn a top-three finish in AL MVP voting, is a free agent, too. The same goes for lefty Steven Matz, who quietly put together a very nice season to stabilize the rotation. The easy solution to this problem is to bring back Ray, Semien and Matz, but 29 other teams will have just as much motivation.

“They’re guys that we’re going to go into the market and compete for, but I’m not a believer that you have to sign anyone back," Shapiro said. "I’m a believer that you have to get better. As I sit down with [GM Ross Atkins] and sit in on our meetings for preparation, there are multiple ways for that to happen. We’ll have the resources to do it, both in young talent we can trade and in payroll. I’m confident. It may not be in the exact same shape and form, but we’ll get better. We’ll find a way to do it.”

Whether it’s Ray and Semien or an attempt at finding their equivalents, this won’t be a cheap task. Toronto’s current payroll should allow them to shop at the top of the market -- maybe more than once -- but the Blue Jays will not have their final payroll meeting with ownership for another month.

That said, Shapiro is optimistic there is room for significant growth despite “lagging behind” in revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every indication I’ve received and every indication that we’ve been shown, which is a demonstration of consistent and strong support, along with us fulfilling our end of that bargain by demonstrating that the team continues to improve and we continue to perform on the field, [leads] me to believe that we will stay on plan and the payroll will continue to rise,” Shapiro said.

There’s plenty more to be done, of course, including some upgrades to Rogers Centre. A new scoreboard will highlight the 2022 improvements, while a larger stadium project remains a long-term consideration. But in the short term, the Blue Jays have some high-stakes business to handle on the field heading into a pivotal offseason.