Shapiro introduced as new president of Blue Jays
TORONTO (AP) — Mark Shapiro hoped for a smoother start to his new job as president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The longtime Cleveland Indians executive, who began his role with Toronto on Monday, spoke at a packed news conference eager for more details about last week’s departure of general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the architect of the Blue Jays’ first playoff team since 1993.
“Not the transition that I originally expected, not the opening press conference that I envisioned,” Shapiro said as he took the stage in front of nine television cameras and dozens of media in a small room across the hall from the Toronto clubhouse.
Hired in July, Shapiro takes over for Paul Beeston, the first employee in Blue Jays history and president when Toronto won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. Beeston is also a former president and COO of Major League Baseball.
Anthopoulos rejected a contract offer and left the Blue Jays last Thursday, less than a week after the team was eliminated from the American League Championship Series, and the same day he was named Executive of the Year.
“It was my sincere hope that I would have the chance to learn from him and to partner with him and to work with him,” said Shapiro, who won the same award in 2005 and 2007.
Shapiro said there was “no truth” to reports that before the split, he had scolded Anthopoulos for trading too many prospects to acquire Troy Tulowitzki and David Price at this year’s deadline.
Tony LaCava, an assistant to Anthopoulos since 2007, will serve as interim general manager, Shapiro said. The new president offered no timetable, however, for the “critical hiring decision” of a full-time general manager.
Shapiro also said John Gibbons will remain manager of the Blue Jays in 2016.
“His strength, his toughness, and his consistency were the hand this club needed,” Shapiro said.
Anthopoulos, who is from Montreal, won over Blue Jays fans with his deadline deals. Toronto closed the season with a 43-18 run to overtake the New York Yankees and win the AL East. When the Blue Jays beat Baltimore to clinch the division on Sept. 30, visiting fans at Camden Yards chanted, “Thank you, Alex” at Anthopoulos as he sat behind the dugout.
Last Thursday, Anthopoulos said he left because it was no longer the “right fit,” but declined to talk about specifics.
LaCava said he was “shocked ... challenged and humbled” by the turn of events that led to him replacing his former boss.
“He’s like my brother and I’m going to miss him,” LaCava said. “My first reaction to him leaving was, ‘Don’t leave.’ I continued to try to talk to him about staying but he made a decision that he’s really happy with.”
Before joining the Blue Jays, LaCava worked with Shapiro in Cleveland in 2002. Under John Hart, the Indians had reached the playoffs six times in the previous seven years, but Shapiro made the unpopular decision to rebuild.
“It was a tough time,” LaCava said. “I saw him deal with a lot of backlash.”
Shapiro said he remembers “some pretty intense distaste and ... some pretty strong feelings” from his early days in Cleveland but isn’t worried about experiencing more of the same in Toronto.
“In the end the true test is are we going to win?,” he said. “I understand the disappointment, I share the disappointment. We’re going to move forward and we’re going to seek to build a winning team and a winning organization.”
With all nine starters from baseball’s highest scoring offense under control for next season, Shapiro said winning could come quickly, too.
“It’s a team that has the capability, with a good offseason, to be a championship caliber team next year,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
With the team surging, Toronto sold out 20 of its final 21 games in 2015, finishing in the top 10 in attendance for the first time this century. Cleveland, by contrast, has not finished higher than 28th of 30 in attendance over the past four years.
Under Beeston, the Blue Jays had a policy against offering contracts longer than five years. While Shapiro said that was “probably a good stance to take,” he won’t be bound by it, either.
“I don’t believe in absolutes so, no,” he said. “I think in the right situation, the right circumstance, I could foresee a seven-year deal. It would have to be a very unique situation and circumstance and the risk tolerance would have to be very clear. But there are certainly those situations that would justify that length of contract.”
LaCava said he and his assistants had a meeting scheduled after Monday’s press conference to discuss whether to pick up options on sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and right-hander R.A. Dickey. LaCava said Shapiro was scheduled to sit in on front office meetings starting Tuesday.