Shapiro on unique challenges facing Toronto

Blue Jays' 2021 home field location TBD; Rogers Centre updates

December 11th, 2020

TORONTO -- A club’s payroll flexibility is only interesting to fans when it’s used to add players and win ball games, but the Blue Jays, like most MLB clubs, find themselves in the middle of one of the more unusual offseasons in their history.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the financial realities for clubs, but how it’s changed and to what extent varies. The Blue Jays, along with being the league's lone Canadian club, are owned by Rogers, a large communications and media company, which also differentiates them from many other clubs' ownership structures.

Speaking on Friday, Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro reiterated that Toronto is in a good position when it comes to the corner of the budget that baseball fans care about.

“We’ve got a firm understanding of the support we need to execute our offseason plan,” Shapiro said. “There are still a lot of uncertainties within the budget, but not as it pertains to Major League payroll.”

Just what that payroll will be remains an unknown. The Blue Jays are widely expected to be one of baseball’s most aggressive teams, but they’ll need to prove it. Shapiro's comments fall in line with what he and general manager Ross Atkins have said stretching back into the 2020 season.

It was reasonable to question whether the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a large company like Rogers would trickle down and directly impact Toronto's payroll, but Shapiro doesn’t believe that’s the case. Instead, he sees these next few months leading into the 2021 season as a “ramp-up” period, one that should still be allowed by the club's expected payroll projection.

“What it clearly does is stay the course, continuing on the strategy and plan, and allowing us to move forward,” Shapiro said. “We’re incredibly fortunate that we’ve got that strength of ownership behind us.”

Again, this is something that fans will only be excited about when it takes the form of big name free-agent signings or trade additions, but it’s an encouraging starting point compared to where some other clubs find themselves.

The virtual Winter Meetings didn’t bring much action this past week, but Shapiro expects that to pick up leading into the holidays. All that matters is how this roster looks on Opening Day, but Blue Jays fans are understandably eager for news that happens now, not later.

“We need to get better. I am 100 percent confident we will get better,” Shapiro said. “That can come in the form of four very good players. It could come in the form of two elite players, but we’re going to get better and we’re having a lot of exciting conversations happening right now.”

2021 home still unknown
For the second season in a row, the Blue Jays don’t know where they’ll be playing their home games. The organization will do anything they can to safely play in Toronto, whether for all or part of 2021, but the reality is cloudy, and in the end, it’s not all up to them.

“We don’t have the luxury of letting optimism guide our process,” Shapiro said. “Yes, I am optimistic, but this whole pandemic and crisis has been about walking the tightrope between optimism and being candid and real as to what the circumstances are. On one side, we are optimistic and hopeful and absolutely clear [Toronto] is where we want to be. We don’t have the luxury to just plan for that. We have to plan for alternatives.”

Buffalo was a fine fit for 2020, but in '21, the club’s Spring Training home in Dunedin would make sense. The Blue Jays have opened their new training complex there, which Shapiro considers the best in baseball, and TD Ballpark can easily host Major League play. This will all be clearer come February or March, but the Blue Jays will need to adapt along the way.

Stadium chatter …
Shapiro said that the focus of Rogers is currently on the pandemic, with any potential stadium plans being pushed down the line. When the time comes for ownership to more seriously discuss a new stadium and surrounding development project, the Blue Jays will be involved, but that’s not happening today or tomorrow.

“From my perspective, it’s not in my windshield,” Shapiro said. “It certainly is one of the things that I thought we would attack when I got here. At some point, the scope and the magnitude of that project got much bigger than the deal that the Toronto Blue Jays could put together alone.”

Shapiro added that Rogers Centre will be getting some upgrades in 2021 regardless of where the Blue Jays start their season, including new turf and batting cages.