Blue Jays' shakeup not totally shocking
Shapiro brings wealth of experience; Anthopoulos exits with stock high
The first thing that must be understood about what's happening in the Toronto front office right now is that Mark Shapiro was never not going to be involved in the baseball side of the operation.
Though Shapiro has graduated to the business side of the sport in recent years, he was still very much versed and active in the day-to-day baseball decisions of the Cleveland Indians, while simultaneously overseeing Progressive Field improvements, experiments with ticket pricing and promotions, and all the other assorted tasks associated with this entertainment field.
The second thing that must be understood about this awkward and ultimately unpopular situation is that Alex Anthopoulos' reputation -- his stock, as it were -- has never been stronger.
So while Thursday's news that Anthopoulos turned down a contract extension and will not be returning as the Blue Jays' general manager does qualify as surprise, it's not a total shock. To say it was shocking would require a belief that powerful people with big beliefs in their ability are inevitably going to work well together, no matter the particulars.
That's a blue-sky daydream that doesn't always play out so well in real life.
It seems reasonable to conclude, in absence of specifics from either central figure (Anthopoulos told reporters he values his privacy on these matters, and Shapiro did not immediately respond to a request for comment) that Rogers Corporation gave Shapiro the keys to its baseball arm and instructed him to run with it as he saw fit. And Anthopoulos, having just overseen a dramatic return to prominence for a long-dormant ballclub, does not want his autonomy on baseball matters to be compromised.
Now, in isolation, both decisions make sense.
Shapiro is a long-tenured and well-respected executive in this industry. He has navigated the tricky waters that come with small-market revenue limitations and made unpopular but, many times, rewarding decisions for the betterment of the on-field product. And in expanding his influence to the Indians' presidency in 2010, he immersed himself in another, as-yet-untapped element of the operation -- a personal growth process that Rogers saw as applicable to its situation, which includes but is not limited to necessary improvements to the Blue Jays' home park.
Anthopoulos, meanwhile, has every right and reason to feel firm in the assumption that, simply put, he knows what the heck he's doing. This is -- or, for the moment, was -- one of baseball's most entertainingly aggressive GMs. And his aggression was rewarded when the Blue Jays seized the moment in the American League East standings this season and went on a wild run that concluded with Game 6 of the AL Championship Series. Though it didn't end with a World Series, Anthopoulos just had a very, very good year.
Of course, these decisions weren't made in isolation. They are weaved together. When Rogers hired Shapiro, there had to be intrinsic knowledge that retaining Anthopoulos was not guaranteed. And Shapiro, having himself once enjoyed the freedom of having the final say in annual club construction, had to know this was a sensitive situation.
Shapiro made his decision in August and said at the time he did not enter the situation blindly. He knew, for one, that he has absolutely no equity built up with the Blue Jays' fan base or Canada, at large. He has none of the personal or political connections that he's built in Cleveland. And as we're seeing, with Toronto fans responding viscerally to this news (and understandably so), Shapiro is officially behind in the count when it comes to winning the average fan over.
In fairness, because of the somewhat unusual timing of Shapiro's official hiring, there was no way to know for certain just how popular Anthopoulos would be in this moment. If the Blue Jays had tanked in September, this outrage would be considerably less palpable, if it even existed at all.
The outrage, however, does exist, no doubt. And now, while Anthopoulos waits for the next GM position that will inevitably bear his name to open up elsewhere, Shapiro's only means of earning trust is to win baseball games.
Anthopoulos' exit has ensured a fascinating replacement process (it's worth noting that Shapiro and Ben Cherington are both branches of the John Hart family tree) as Shapiro searches for a suitable working partner, and it's also ensured that Shapiro's every move from this moment forward, no matter how minute, will be scrutinized sharply and -- at times, I'm sure -- excessively.
But here's one bottom line to take from this: If Anthopoulos' insistence on sovereignty outweighed his commitment to his native Canada's lone club and the place where his baseball career blossomed (and I can't stress enough how understandable that insistence is, given the circumstances), then this divorce was likely inevitable. Frankly, it might very well be in the best interest of the Blue Jays to have this happen now, as opposed to six months or a year from now. Anthopoulos certainly sensed the uncertainty to his situation last winter, when he negotiated extensions for his staff in order to ensure their security through 2016.
So, no, what happened here is not a shock, unless you're shocked to learn that prideful men can't always coexist.
The Blue Jays made their decision on Shapiro many weeks ago, and it was a decision sound in its reasoning. But it was also a decision with consequences, and the chief consequence has revealed itself here in the afterglow of the club's first October run in 22 years.