Mark Shapiro’s tenure in Cleveland was successful in some respects. They never won a championship, but they rarely if ever put truly awful teams on the field. There were and, since he left continue to be, business challenges with respect to attendance and local support. But the general sense of things is that he was a good businessman running the Tribe and that he made the most of what they had.
The knock on Shapiro was that when the club was good he was unwilling to spend extra to make it great. To put it over the top. Whether that was his choice or the task he was given by ownership, the feeling among Indians fans was always that Shapiro is willing to do anything to win and could be pretty savvy at making moves to do it, but only as long as it didn’t hurt the profitability of the Cleveland Indians.
When the Blue Jays hired Shapiro there were a lot of worried Blue Jays fans. Indeed, right after he came on board general manager Alex Anthopolus resigned after he was allegedly given a tongue-lashing by Shapiro for trading prospects for David Price and spending too much money. Never mind that, you know, it worked and the Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, electrifying the fan base. Would Shapiro’s cost-cutting and cost-avoidance m.o. from Cleveland continue up north?
It’s probably too early to say, but Shapiro said something while on a radio show today that will probably give Jays fans pause:
I haven’t heard the entire interview and, from what I am told by people who did, Shapiro backed off a little bit saying later that he wouldn’t do this “8 of 10 times” or words to that effect. I’m told he also said that he meant straight player options and not opt-outs, though straight player options at the end of contracts aren’t terribly common. They tend to be vesting options or mutual options. Given that this came up in the context of a Jose Bautista deal and that, given its possible size and significance, the discussion about such a deal would likely include opt-outs, it’s hard to say what sort of line in the sand, exactly, Shapiro was drawing here.
But I keep looking at that word “never” in his quote. And I can’t help but think that a “never” or even an “8 of 10 times” approach on any aspect of a player contract is unwise. There is not an unlimited supply of elite players in baseball and there are not so many deals done that it’s impossible to do them absent some pre-set philosophy regarding what is and what is not, as a matter of principle, acceptable to a team. You do X for one player, you do Y for another. The circumstances can change everything. The player’s age. His skills. His position. Going through life with one hand tied behind your back — or going out of your way not to use one of your hands as a general disposition — seems pretty limiting.
I think Shapiro is a smart guy. I have always thought that, if some team gave him resources the Indians were never able or willing to give him, he could put together a great club which could win for a long time. I wonder sometimes, though, whether he was hired in Toronto to do what he was asked to do in Cleveland: be a budget hawk and prioritize the business side of things over the baseball side of things rather than balance them.