Shapiro expresses need for transparency with players

October 12th, 2023

TORONTO -- Looking back, the Blue Jays see what so often leads to heartbreak: communication issues.

This is a heartbreak that will hang over the Blue Jays’ organization until they knock it from the minds of fans with a better story. For that to happen, the Blue Jays need to make changes, but those won’t come at the top.

Ross Atkins will return as general manager, team president and CEO Mark Shapiro said Thursday. Five days ago, it was Atkins up on that same podium, sharing that manager John Schneider would return, too. This trio is now tasked with shaking the reputation of a team that soars on paper but sinks in October.

“There needs to be a higher level of transparency and communication with our players,” Shapiro said, “in our preparation and game-planning process, which we’ll talk about, I’m sure, as we get into the decision and those areas.”

When Shapiro says “the decision,” we all know what he means. That’s not a good thing. The Blue Jays’ offense flopped in the Wild Card Series, scoring only one run in two games against the Twins, but the decision to lift José Berríos after three-plus dominant innings for Yusei Kikuchi won’t go away.

Following the game, players in the clubhouse expressed their surprise at the move. Berríos, choosing his words carefully, said that he knew it was possible, but didn’t know the specific reasoning behind the move. On Saturday, Atkins pointed the decision directly back to Schneider and his staff, which hasn’t sat well with fans in Toronto, and said that he found out the move was coming at the same time as fans sitting at home watched it in real time.

“I knew the game plan,” Shapiro said on Thursday. “I knew the purpose behind it, I was aware of it and knew that the goal was to bring Kikuchi in to turn over the lineup and get some of their left-handed hitters out of the lineup for better matchups later in the game, which actually worked. But I didn’t know when it would happen, so I found out at the same moment in time when John walked to the mound.”

That moment has brought things to light which the Blue Jays need to address, getting to the heart of the communication and transparency issues Shapiro mentions.

The Blue Jays believe in Schneider and their day-to-day strategies. They believe in their players. Shapiro expressed his belief in Atkins and the front office, too. It’s the connective tissue between all of those groups, though, that needs work.

“We had probably made some assumption that there was a clarity to the people, to the planning and preparation that goes into our games,” Shapiro said. “Not just for that game, but for every single one of our games. In fact, I was in Schneider’s office the day after we got eliminated and flew home with [bench coach] Don Mattingly, Schneider and Ross. Don Mattingly was kind of miffed at the reaction to the game planning and the preparation. He said, ‘Our planning and preparation was identical for that game as it was for the 162 games during the season.’”

The intricacies of these decisions aren’t what fans want to be hearing about in early October, but they’re unavoidable, given how this deep, talented roster fell short once again. The Blue Jays have played in the Wild Card Series in three of the past four seasons and have been swept in two games each time. The year they narrowly missed the postseason, in 2021, the Blue Jays had one of their best offenses in franchise history and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. playing like an MVP, but nothing to show for it but the fading memory.

The 2023 loss stings for all its own reasons -- “the decision” among them -- but this is a heartbreak on top of heartbreaks. Each hurts worse.

“Accountability lies at the top. It lies with me, that responsibility,” Shapiro said. “We’re not looking to say that John Schneider made a mistake, Ross made a mistake or who made a mistake. We made a mistake. It didn’t work. We need to learn and get better from it, but we need to be OK making mistakes.”

There’s a value to that mindset, a necessity, even. This is about being the best, not just good, and that demands a level of freedom and risk.

These mistakes need to propel the franchise forward, though, as a better and more transparent version of itself. Eventually, that string of heartbreaks needs to lead to a happy ending.