TORONTO - Mark Shapiro can sympathize with frustrated Toronto Blue Jays fans - he's unhappy too.
The Blue Jays president and CEO spoke with media on Thursday afternoon, and before taking questions he acknowledged that a sizable portion of Toronto's fanbase is unhappy with a series of moves that have cleared out most of the players from the team's 2015 and 2016 post-seasons runs.
Shapiro was also clear that there was only one solution to the disconnect between the Blue Jays' front office and its fans.
“Winning will fix everything, without a doubt. There's no question in my mind. Ultimately that's the only thing that will satisfy people,” said Shapiro in a Rogers Centre boardroom. “I sympathize with the frustration. No one likes to go through any period other than winning, particularly when it means changing players who people build a strong attachment to.”
The departures of starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez ahead of Major League Baseball's July 31 trade deadline were particularly contentious. Although some fans understand the need to rebuild Toronto's lineup around rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, many felt that Stroman and Sanchez - 28 and 27 respectively - still had a place on the team.
When Shapiro was asked directly if he was frustrated with the backlash, he said he also wanted the team to get back above .500.
“I just want to win,” said Shapiro.
“It bothers me to lose. Terribly,” he added. “As far as anything else, you just turn that toward how much more can we do, how much harder can we work, how much more urgency can we have to get back to a winning team? That's where my energy is focused. Controlling what I can control.
“I can't control (fans' reaction) in any way except putting my energy toward us winning as fast as possible. That I can control.”
He said it was jarring for him to return to Toronto after a 10-game road trip, where the Blue Jays won seven games, to find that fans were unhappy with how the team was being run.
“I wish every fan, I wish media, could spend time inside the team,” Shapiro said. “To be around these guys right now, it's buoying. These guys are fired up, they're excited, they believe in each other, there's great energy, it's positive, it's optimistic.
“So when you're immersed in that environment, that's what you feel. It's hard for a fan to grasp on to that until it translates into wins.”
Shapiro also preached patience, saying the remaining two months of the season will determine a lot of the Blue Jays' personnel decisions going forward. Whether it's where Guerrero and Biggio wind up in the infield, what free agents Toronto will pursue in the off-season, or what the future holds for double-A pitching prospect Nate Pearson, who is seen as a future ace.
“Clearly pitching is probably the area where we'll spend the bulk of our resources, maybe some bullpen pieces as well,” Shapiro said. “Other than that, position-player wise we likely have good alternatives that we need to give opportunities to continue to play. But (general manager Ross Atkins) and I will comment on that more once we have another couple of months of baseball under our belts.”
Part of the rebuilding process has seen the Blue Jays shed salary, thanks to so many players being on their rookie contracts. According to Sportrac.com, the Blue Jays have the ninth lowest total payroll in MLB at just over US$111 million. Their current 25-man payroll, however, is the lowest in baseball at $36 million.
Shapiro said that Rogers Communications, the team's owner, has not given him any direction on salary beyond making sure the Blue Jays do not lose money. He said that as Toronto's new core of players reach their prime he'd be “opportunistic” and add key pieces through free agency to help the Blue Jays once again become a contender.