DUNEDIN, Fla.—When Mark Shapiro arrived in Toronto, he had a vision for what he wanted the Blue Jays’ organization to become. Almost seven years later, even his biggest detractors must concede the seasoned front office executive has done a commendable job of turning it into reality.
Shapiro might not have been a very popular guy during his early days in the city, but the 54-year-old has accomplished almost everything he set out to do since being hired to replace long-time president Paul Beeston. Maligned or not, the man is getting the job done.
The Jays undertook an ambitious rebuild under Shapiro. They created a high-performance department that features dozens of employees, specializing in everything from nutrition to mental performance and sports science. They constructed a state-of-the-art training complex and became one of the first teams to pay its minor-leaguers a living wage.
On the field, Shapiro and hand-picked general manager Ross Atkins have assembled an exciting young core. They convinced owner Rogers Communications to make sizeable investments and turned the city into a popular destination for some of the league’s top free agents, a concept once thought to be impossible.
While the Jays still have some work to do before the mission can be considered a success, they’re more than halfway there with one of the league’s top rosters. Winning is never a given, but the Jays will enter the year as one of the favorites in the American League East.
There have been a lot of legacy projects over the last several years that will remain in place long after Shapiro is gone. He’s about to add another one to the list and this one might be his biggest one yet. While the specifics have yet to be worked out, the Jays are on the verge of announcing a major renovation to Rogers Centre.
“I can formally acknowledge that we’ve had approval for a significant renovation,” Shapiro said during a sit-down interview with the Star. “We’re in the planning, design and budgeting phases of that right now. We will formally announce in about a month or two, and at that point I’ll be able to show you designs, but I don’t want to get into it too much right now, except to say it’s going to be a significant renovation .”
The renovation is tentatively scheduled to begin later this year with the specifics still being finalized. The work will be spread across two off-seasons and, while some of the construction will have to be done during the 2023 campaign, Shapiro said it won’t interfere with games or the fan experience.
The facelift is expected to add another 10-to-15 years to the lifespan of Rogers Centre. It’s not meant to replace the idea of building a new stadium — that’s still in the works — but instead buy the organization time to figure out what it wants to do.
Approximately two years ago, the Globe and Mail reported that Rogers Communications was considering demolishing its ballpark. There were talks with city officials about what its replacement might look like, including building a stadium with a smaller footprint that would allow for residential towers and retail space. The project is still many years away so, instead of rushing it, the Jays are going to give their current stadium a much-needed facelift.
“This facility, I think is the best baseball facility in North America, arguably one of the best sports facilities in North America,” Shapiro said from his office at the Jays’ player development complex in Dunedin.
“When we’re done in Toronto, the player facility will mirror this, and the fan experience will be more modern. Those were some of the overarching big goals. The biggest yet is winning a world championship, bringing that back to Canada, right?”
The Jays still have some work to do in that regard, and not everyone will agree with the process it took to get here, but few can deny the future is bright. With a young core complemented by high-priced veterans, the Jays have an extended window of opportunity to contend for a World Series title.
After coming two wins shy of securing a spot in last year’s post-season, the expectation is that the Jays will take another step forward in 2022.
“The window that we’re in has a chance to be a special one,” Shapiro said. “I think any time you’re looking to build off of 91 wins, you’re safe to say it’s a pretty big year. Where I would temper that, there are always a range of things you can’t control, player health and things you can’t anticipate. We are guaranteed to face some adversity and challenges this year. That’s just the nature of 162 (games). You know, something’s going to happen. It’s going to be tough. It ain’t going to be easy.”
Shapiro’s arrival pushed out former GM Alex Anthopoulos in 2015 and made new team president the villain. Now, the only thing Shapiro needs to become the hero is a deep run through the post-season. Redemption stories are usually saved for the players, but the man in the ivory tower has one of his own.
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