Sportsnet Tries to Change the Narrative on the Jays

Sportsnet Tries to Change the Narrative on the Jays

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

I’m on vacation from work right now and will try to devote some more time to writing over the coming weeks. Thanks to all new readers who found us due to the McCown news but special thanks to our long standing readers who have stuck around as we shifted to a less regular posting schedule. Sports media is a very niche but also very personal topic. We really appreciate those of you who take the time to share your thoughts here.

 

If there are topics you’d like to see covered in this space, email or DM.

 

The Hate You Give

 

It has come to the point where the first premise in any discussion of the Toronto Blue is that fans (and possibly players) hate Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. This sets up a debate either regarding why fans hate management or whether the hate they get is deserved.

 

In his widely hailed August 7th piece for Sportsnet Shi Davidi lays out the case for media, fans, and management to turn the page on the past and to start looking ahead. Boiled down to one quote, the article says this:

 

“Now, though, they are no longer tied to a situation they inherited and were forced to play out, but never believed in. The players they acquire now are obtained to fulfil their own vision, which is why it’s their talent evaluation that must be judged from here on out.”

 

As he writes, the future is bight and the current team of Shapiro and Atkins deserve a lot of credit for that, credit that they are not currently receiving.

 

“Over an extended period, the consistently poor messaging seems disingenuous, allowing for grey areas in the public’s mind and dumb narratives to develop and persist, aided by zingers from acid-tongued columnists. As a result, even the very important gains the Blue Jays have made over the past four years have gotten lost.”

 

Notice the phrasing here: “seems disingenuous” as opposed to “is disingenuous”; “grey areas” which suggests that the issue has to do with misinterpretation; and then of course blaming media for pushing “dumb” narratives presumably at the expense of what Shi believes are “true” narratives.

 

The gains that Davidi points to in order to bolster his argument are the following:

 

  • new “business processes” that apparently have not been updated since 1977
  • raises for coaches, which previous management had apparently been underpaying
  • raises for minor league players
  • raises for non-baseball operations employees who previously could not earn enough with the Jays
  • more money for analytics and player development
  • “clever incremental gains” for the farm system
  • “locked down” improvement to Dunedin

 

The net result of these moves is, according to Davidi:

 

“The Blue Jays now feature an exciting core of position players that offers lots of promise, although the challenge of how to properly align the group defensively to better aid run prevention isn’t being talked about nearly enough. Regardless, there’s lots for Shapiro and the Blue Jays to take credit for without continually disparaging what was inherited, or harping on irrelevant-to-the-fanbase intangibles like organizational culture.”

 

It’s worth pointing out that there are exactly zero links to supporting articles or data to back up the bulleted points above. The idea that business processes haven’t been modernized since 1977 is something Shapiro might say – how else would Davidi know about this – but it is the responsibility of the reporter to fact-check that claim. Davidi didn’t bother to act as a buffer between management and the readership in this case. Which process? How about some quotes from previous members of the organization on that point? Same for the stuff about staff raises.

 

The piece continues with some advice for management:

 

“[I]f the Blue Jays front office has full conviction in the path it’s on and the decisions it makes, criticism from media observers and bandwagon fans inanely spitting social-media venom should have zero impact.”

 

Again here Shi’s message is clear. The team is doing what is right and the main issues pertain to the toxic combination of “bandwagon fans”, columnists, and social media. Notably Shi never provides any examples of media criticism that he deems to be unfair. This is just a generality thrown out there for the reader to interpret or misinterpret.

 

The article ends with what Shi takes to be valid questions about the current roster and its development under Shapiro. He also adds something that is uncontroversial among the majority of Jays observers:

 

“They tanked this year and to keep pretending otherwise is insulting. In refusing to make significant adds prior to the 2017 and ’18 seasons, they pretty much ensured we’d get to this point, barring lowest percentile outcomes. Taking a step back financially is excusable when the team is this young, but to keep sitting out opportunities to add experienced or veteran impact is not. That needs to be watched vigilantly this winter.”

 

In Shapiro’s first year (and Anthopoulos’ last) the Jays made the playoffs. This outcome surprised many people, including Shapiro who had expected to be able to rebuild starting at the end of the 2016 season. Instead he opted to tread water with Alex’s roster, for reasons that are not clear to anyone outside of the Rogers Centre.

 

While some discussants believed that the 2017 spring training roster had a shot at repeating a post-season appearance, most thought the team needed significant additions to stay competitive and maximize the diminishing value of the likes of Donaldson, Estrada, Martin, and Bautista. Instead, fans were treated to a lot of baseball played by Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Goins, and Darwin Barney leading to a 76-86 record. Things went from bad to worse in 2018 with 30% fewer fans showing up to watch a 73 win team saddled with the likes of Morales, Garcia, and Solarte.

 

All of this supports a key point when evaluating this front office, one which Shi points out at the outset of his piece:

 

“Like it or not, a rebuild happened after three tepid, toe-in-the-water years during which the Blue Jays never adequately augmented a still-talented base while trying to simultaneously retool for the future.”

 

This brings us to now, or “from here on out” as Davidi puts it. The Jays have a talented young positional core, some decent mid-career talent, and very little starting pitching. The wasted seasons of 2017 and 2018 loom large, as smart acquisitions and development would have put the Jays in a position to compete in 2020 with the right off-season moves. According to Shi, we should put the past behind us because it spoils what is an exciting future. This argument works if you cast your gaze into 2022. All of the young stars will still be here, be cheap, and be better rounded players than they currently are. Add a few quality arms currently in AA or lower and you have a powerful roster to which you can add quality free agents.

 

However in order to make this new narrative work you have to maintain the belief that 2020 and 2021 were always going to be development years. The dithering of 2017 and 2018 are part of Shapiro’s legacy, free from the meddlesome Alex Anthopoulos who left late in 2015. Whether you agree with Davidi that Shapiro & Co deserve a grace period for those years is up to you. But telling fans and media that the clock resets to 2019 since this is the first year when Alex’s shadow is no longer looming over the roster invokes a standard every other GM with would love, and none enjoy.

 

The Acid Tongues

 

Coincidentally or not the day after Davidi’s Sportsnet piece Shapiro was out and about and available to the rest of the media. Here’s a quick rundown of how others see the current Jays management:

 

  • Rob Longley at The Sun has several quotes from Shapiro, detailing that he understands fan frustration and that the lack of attendance and TV ratings are on his radar.

 

“As mentioned off the top, much of Thursday was an exercise in spin. Shapiro is not Paul Beeston. He rarely talks publicly, leaving Atkins to the day-to-day operations. But he also claimed to understand the restlessness of a fan base that led the American League in attendance in 2016 and 2017.”

 

  • For deeper analysis read Gregor Chisholm (recently interviewed here) of The Star.

 

“[Shapiro] acknowledged the recent negative “tone, tenor and frustration” surrounding the ball club and how Shapiro believed it wasn’t a fair representation of the progress the Blue Jays made over the last few months.”

 

Does the idea of “fair representation” sound familiar? It was the main focus on Davidi’s piece, and the next day the team’s president was out pushing that message. Consider also the following in the context of Davidi’s piece:

 

“For a front office that claims to read nothing, and watch even less, they sure seem sensitive to public perception. This was the sign of a man playing defence by going on the offensive, perhaps an indicator that he’s starting to feel the pressure that comes with being four years into his contract with no concrete path to contention.”

 

While some writers are talking about this being Year 4 Shi is arguing that this should really be Year 1 (AA – After Alex)

 

  • A few days before Davidi’s article Steve Simmons of The Sun had this to say:

 

“In fairness, [Atkins] doesn’t get much help from the Invisible Man, Mark Shapiro, the autocrat who is apparently granting the peasants an audience this week. So much of sport is the selling of hope. Especially when you’re not winning. The Shapiro disappearing act with Atkins seeking to find the right words is hardly comforting for Blue Jays fans in search of clarity.”

 

It’s hard not to draw the connection between the leading columnist in Toronto sports media calling Shapiro “the invisible man”, Davidi’s Wednesday article, and Shapiro’s Thursday media availability.

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

 

The last thing I want is to accuse someone as well respected as Shi Davidi of being a mouthpiece for management. This is not what I am saying. He clearly took management to task for their failure to acknowledge the great assets they inherited from the previous regime. Where I disagree with Shi is about the standard for assessing this current group.

 

During the “Wednesdays with JP” era Wilner once wrote, in defence of the beleaguered Riccardi, that you can’t compare GMs because everyone faces different circumstances. Davidi’s analysis is obviously not as shallow as Wilner’s but it falls prey to a similar desire to serve as gatekeeper for what counts as valid criticism. This is a tendency, understandably but also characteristically, of people who work for Sportsnet.

 

Perhaps Shi will serve up follow up articles covering all the details of the “gains” he alludes to in this piece. Presumably he mentioned them because he thinks they are relevant for analyzing the performance of the front office. However the tone of the piece is that we should be keeping the focus on the field, both here and in the minors, and not on the stuff about culture, likability, or finances. If that’s right then it is odd to be talking about raises for non-baseball ops folks.

 

Here’s a question not addressed in the article: could someone else be doing this job better?

 

Notice that this doesn’t start from Premise 1 – fans hate Shapiro. Rather it starts with the question of how we should measure the performance of the front office relative to who else could be running the show. This isn’t pining for the return of Alex. It’s just a basic question about whether the current group has done enough to give you confidence that they will a) get this team back to the playoffs and b) will do it as soon as possible.

 

If there is doubt on either point then it makes sense to start wondering whether another management group would be less prone to dithering and more astute at timing the development of the roster. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question. But I hope it’s a question being asked at Rogers (by someone other than Ed Rogers).

 

Let’s return to Shi’s piece:

 

“[T]he tired, poisoned discourse around the team […] needs to change, for everyone’s sake, as it’s largely focused on the wrong things — things that have little to do with what happens on the field. And that’s on the club and public alike.”

 

Can you imagine the feeling around the team if there were already a few quality starting pitchers on the roster and a few more thriving in AA or AAA? I’m not sure if this counts as a valid question to ask according to Davidi’s accounting. Crediting this management for stewarding the young core to the majors is certainly appropriate. But criticizing them for the lack of surrounding pitching at precisely the time when these future all-stars are ready to contribute is part of the discussion. Life is short and windows close fast.

 

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thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Russell/ Toronto Star

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 17
  • comment-avatar
    Tom Beshoff 2 weeks ago

    I decided to give PrimeTime a listen last night.  Coming back from break, Blair erroneously called the guest Jackie Slater and not Jane Slater, spent 90 seconds digging a deeper hole and embarrassing himself further, then did one of his characteristic 90 second preambles that makes one wonder, “is there a question in there somewhere?  I’m done.  PTS is dead to me.  

  • comment-avatar

    Love this!!

    I thought She’s article was as large as an attack we can get expect. The problem I continue to have is that the taking heads in the FO and some in the media think this is about losing. I don’t think fans mind the rebuild. It’s the way these guys present themselves and how they work the fans and the media. Burns and Smithers have earned what they get. This pony show didn’t help at all either. And finally yes, win and all is forgotten.. no question about it.

  • comment-avatar
    Severn99 2 weeks ago

    Is it just a coincidence that Sportsnet seems to have become more like the Bluejays marketing/spin department at the same time that Bob McCown was fired and the seemingly terrible trades for Stroman/Sanchez/etc?  There’s no way that McCown would put up with this nonsense and they did not want to take that chance.

  • comment-avatar

    Is that sarcasm, Severn99 ?? If not, then … Yikes !!

    I like Davidi’s article for what he urges – move on, people !! Stop pining for AA, stop whining about trades that we will NOT know the results of for several years, stop pouting about what Shapiro and Atkins did say, didn’t say, should’ve said, etc This applies to many of the media, as well as the small band of loudmouth ‘fans’ who spend their waking hours constantly crying and complaining about EVERYTHING. We have a good young team playing exciting baseball and the future looks bright. Just shut up and enjoy it, please !

    Blair is terrible. His mind-numbing rambles and constant mistakes continue unabated. And for a so-called baseball expert, his recent takes SUCK. He is needlessly negative – today he just wrote off the defensive talents of ALL THREE young infielders. Apparently 20 year old Vlady is a terrible third baseman and will NOT improve at all and should begin playing first base starting immediately. He grudgingly declared 21 year old Bichette an average to below average fielder who will NOT improve at all and he called Biggio a terrible second baseman. I don’t know who he wants playing second and third base, while he populates first base with three or more players. And he and Deitsch DO NOT GET ALONG at all. They won’t make it to September IMHO.

    Anyone else listen this morning to Rusic and Vendetta giggling like schoolboys when talking about that poor young woman with severe burns from an accident at Cody Ceci’s house a while ago ? They must have said ‘human torch’ or ‘human candle’ at least four times, smirking and giggling every time. Cringeworthy. And embarrassing. I hope they apologize for those heartless antics on Thursday’s show.

  • comment-avatar

    Very good article and rundown, Mike.

    The biggest issue I have with Shi’s piece is his rush to praise Shapiro for improving the business side of the Jays. The idea that Toronto’s “business processes” haven’t been updated since 1977 is laughable and a not-so-thinly veiled shot at Beeston. What’s worse, Shi expects the fans to care that Shapiro has enhanced revenue streams or locked down a sweetheart deal from Florida taxpayers for a new Dunedin ST facility.

    Note to Shi: Toronto Blue Jays fans are not the Rogers board and they don’t give a shit about Shapiro’s business acumen. You could be the best baseball business executive in the world, but if the team’s not winning, the fans are going to dislike you. That Shi resorts pointing out Shapiro’s business record and his decision to pay people more as evidence to support Shapiro’s tenure, rather than baseball moves to improve the roster, is indicative of why fan attitudes are the way they are. Surely he understands this.

    Trying to contend in 2018 was a massive, strategic blunder. Losing Edwin and Estrada to free agency for nothing; letting Donaldson, Martin, Pillar, Morales, and Sanchez depreciate until they were traded for next to nothing or nothing at all; trading Happ for a bizarre return; and not getting enough for Stroman were all substantial mistakes. Whitewashing the angry sentiment as a result of this as “zingers from acid-tongued columnists” is insulting to fans’ intelligence.

    I like Shi a lot. Did not like this particular column of his.

  • comment-avatar
    Brendan 1 week ago

    Let me start by saying that I was a huge fan of Beeston and Anthopolous. I have loved the Blue Jays since before I can remember and follow the team fairly religously.

    Mike, I think you entirely missed the point of Shi’s article. What Shi does incredibly well in his piece is summarize where the team is at right now and what he feels the narrative of the team should be. I think he’s trying to calm down and give perspective to a fan base (and based on your last paragraph yourself) that wants to call the Marcus Stroman trade a complete failure before either of the players coming back have even thrown a pitch in the organization. He’s saying we need to move on from 2015 and appreciate where the team is at right now and focus on some of the good stuff that Shapiro and Atkins have accomplished. They DO have an exciting position player core that is starting to succeed in the Majors right now. They DO have a 6th rated farm system according to baseball america even after the much maligned trade deadline moves. Why aren’t more people talking about this rather than complaining about the fact that they didn’t re-sign Edwin?

    You hammer Shi for not citing facts or examples yet you put words in his mouth by saying that he thinks “Shapiro & Co deserve a grace period for those years” when nowhere in the article does he say anything about them deserving a grace period or that nothing from the past 4 years counts until now. What he is saying is now that all of the remnants of 2015/2016 are gone this is where we can truly evaluate and assess and either criticize or applaud the work of this front office. I think a lot of people “outside of the Rogers Centre” understood why he tried to tread water in 2017 with AA’s core. I know talk radio callers love to call for a tear-down and rebuild but those are not fun (see May 2019 for a reference). Shapiro and Atkins tried to tread water to try to give the 3 million fans from 2016 a competitive baseball team to watch while at the same time rebuild a system that was in need of some rebuilding. Shapiro has said on numerous podcasts/radio hits that if he was making strictly a baseball decision he would have torn the roster down in 2017. But the 2016 team made the ALCS so he felt an obligation to give that core and its fans another shot while not trading away Vlad or Bo or Gurriel or Alford to improve that team. That plan didn’t work…it’s as simple as that…I really don’t understand why people fail to understand this.

    I also don’t quite understand why you would take Shi to task on the gains he points out. I think this front office deserves a lot of credit for those gains and I don’t think the ‘acid-tongued’ media gave enough credit to the front office for these gains. Especially minor league player raises and an enhanced analytics department. Are you not for minor league players making a live-able wage? Are you not for them attempting to build an analytics department in the same vein as the Houston Astros. Plus the incremental gains in the farm system has turned a bottom rung farm system into a top 10 farm system in just a couple of years. They drafted Bo in the third round and before his promotion was a top 10 prospect in all of baseball. Biggio was a 5th round pick who may end up being an above average every day second baseman. And as for what he could be referring to about processes not updated since 1977…how about the fact that the former team president (who I love) did not have an email address or use a computer and conducted all of his business via a landline per this cbc article from 2016: https://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/mlb/paul-beeston-retirement-blue-jays-1.3516085

    Mike, I haven’t visited the site or read much if any of your work so I don’t know if you are anti Sportsnet or if you are looking to gain a similar audience to Steve Simmons but I really think you missed the mark on this. I respect your attempt (if it was genuine) to break down Shi’s article with quotes and critism but I think you are being really unfair to Shi here. It really feels like you cherry picked what you wanted to try to point out that Shi is a shill for Shapiro which is really funny to me because if you really read Shi’s piece he does take Atkins and Shapiro to task for their poor messaging and them not helping themselves very much when it comes the casual fan. His article really feels to me like he is truly seeing the good things that this front office is trying to do and he is trying to explain to the casual fan all of the good stuff that they ARE doing as I’m sure he is bombarded with hundreds of uninformed “Shatkins” takes every day.

    Baseball is fun. Watching Bo Bichette hit doubles is fun. Watching Vlad hit 118 mph singles off of the left field wall is fun. You need only to look at the title of Shi’s article which is “The time is now for Blue Jays and fans to change the conversation” to understand that he is not trying to be a shill for Shapiro and Atkins. He is encouraging all of us to try to look for the positives and enjoy watching fun baseball players do fun things rather than constantly bitch and complain about the front office. Why don’t we all try to do that?

  • comment-avatar
    Alex 1 week ago

    While I like a number of the 590 folks (Brunt, dietsch, Barker, Blair), I do not trust them completely on Jays matters. I certainly don’t like how anyone from outside Rogers campus is just part of the negativity media bandwagon. 

    I presume, barring an unexpected level of success in a year or two, this obit on this regime will begin with “42 years of control.”

  • comment-avatar

    Just to offer a little criticism to your media criticism – I read Shi’s piece very differently than you did. Your feels like you tried to find any language that seemed ambiguous, so you could suggest Shi was wishy washy about whether the front office deserves any blame. But the piece is clearly filled with specific examples of criticisms of the way Shapiro and co have handled themselves. Shi outright said Shapiro has been disrespectful to AA and what that regime accomplished, was critical of the ’42 years of control’ comment, the Stroman gaffe and the generally poor messaging. Yes, he points to the fact that good things going on with the organization are getting lost, which honestly – as someone who is lukewarm at best on the current front office, I agree with. How can you not when you see the young talent the team has right now?
    Your piece feels kind of like you set you to write a post about how a Rogers employee isn’t hard enough on the Jays regardless of what the content of the actual piece was. And look – I despise Rogers as a company. I wish they didn’t own the Jays. But the idea that Rogers employees can’t criticize the team is obviously untrue at this point. Many employees are (in my opinion) are actually quite reactionary and over critical about the team (Sid, Zaun was as well). It’s to the point where unless a Rogers employee gives bone headed, reactionary, ‘I hate everything’ hot takes, someone on here will say they’re a shill. That’s not what I want in my sports journalism, whether they work for the same company or not. I realize you explicitly state that you’re not trying to say that about Shi, but I do think there’s an implication.

  • comment-avatar

    @ Daniel…Very good reaction. I think you speak for many out here.

  • comment-avatar

    @ Daniel: A good take on the matters at hand. I think Shi has taken some undeserved hits on this.

    Poor messaging is a real problem for these guys. The Leafs proved that you can sell the concept of rebuilding; if you are open with your fanbase and explain in advance the objectives and timeline. The Jays always skirt around the issue which only gives the fans more reasons to be frustrated.

  • comment-avatar

    @Paul G….Current management is beyond terrible.. As of today 30 games out of division lead..Soooo by next year at the same time if they are 20 games behind they will “crow” “WE” are improving..
    2024 before before the Toronto team plays .500 baseball,that is only if they gas current management tomorrow..If not maybe another 22 years

  • comment-avatar

    @Slim Whitman…Sadly, you are bang on with your assessment.

    Also, I fear the current “suits’ at Rogers HQ will never commit to spending for the best player when the time comes; if a cheaper albeit lesser talented individual is available.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch 1 week ago

    A team employee wrote an article telling me, a fan, how to think and feel about this team and front office. Its that simple. Think about that. Not an independent journalist. Not an opinion piece. But a full on propaganda article. Shi is smart and a great writer. He knows the fine line he has to walk in order not to be too much of a company man yet not offer too much criticism of the people who employ him. He really is a talented writer. But to suggest that this was anything more than a propaganda-laden article is absurd. The baseball team and owners, by virtue of its main employed writer, just told ME how I am supposed to feel/treat this team. They also told me its time to move on from what was the most exciting time in team history. (Sorry, 2015 was bigger then WS days ONLY because Jays were expected to win with the highest payroll back then). The summer of 2015 and into the Fall was, maybe before Raptors, the greatest months-long stretch of sports history in Toronto. And now, 4 years after, I am told to move on. I WILL move on, when I chose to. Not when some corporation tells me too.
    And I also agree with some commentators, I could give a F about behind the scenes improvements. Give me a bloody break.

  • comment-avatar
    Liberty Village Bob 1 week ago

    Shi does not deserve to be called a Shill. He’s a fine writer and is just doing his job. Some people are paid to be critical while others are not. If Shapiro tells him about all the good things they are doing behind the scenes what’s he supposed to do? Not write about it?

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 1 week ago

    Liberty, it read to me like you said he does not deserve to be called a shill because his job is to be a shill.

    Great point by those who said that we don’t care about “behind-the-scenes improvements”. In part because we genuinely don’t care and in part because such improvements have no quantifiable benchmarks.

    Having said all this, I also think Shatkins were totally left holding the bag by Anthopolous. That a lot of the love for Anthopolous is kind of revisionist as he was being run out of town with no complaints when the 2015 Jays caught fire mid-season. That Shatkins built a monster in Cleveland so they deserve at least some credit for having baseball acumen. That the “bad messaging” talk is way overblown as all messaging comes off bad when you’re losing for a long time.

    And Brendan had my favourite line in all the comments: “I think a lot of people “outside of the Rogers Centre” understood why he tried to tread water in 2017 with AA’s core.”

  • comment-avatar

    Hopefully Blair can make it through PTS this week without having to apologize to anyone………………..last Wednesday he said that Keith Law (ESPN) sometimes has an agenda when he talks about the Blue Jays because he was let go by the Jays many years ago……..…..at the end of Thursday’s show Blair said he wanted to retract that statement and issued an apology

  • comment-avatar

    Clean house on the Starting Lineup. No more soul sucking traffic, weather and ‘highlights’. Give Burrill his own show midnight to 5:30 am to read yesterday’s traffic and create a powerful morning duo in Brady and MacArthur which will bring Brady back to life and Brady will leverage the most out of an already impactful MacArthur. Sick of this 530-9 am mess on 590. Been years.