2016 is going to be a tough act to follow for the Toronto Blue Jays … in more ways than one.
Not only does the team have an uphill battle to repeat as American League East Champions. Now thanks in part to a magical postseason run, the new heads of the Blue Jays’ front office have to follow a pair of newly-minted legends in Toronto: Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos.
The Blue Jays’ State of the Franchise is no longer and it has now made way for “The Leadoff”; essentially the same thing, but with a different title and now Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins at the helm of this season ticket holder forum.
Every year, you can kind of get the sense of what topics will be broached at these events. Here are my best guesses as to what will be the big topics covered at “The Leadoff”.
What’s the Status on the Grass Field?
Should it come as any surprise that the Blue Jays announced an all-dirt infield for the Rogers Centre the day prior to the season ticket holder event? This was an initiative that’s been in discussion for quite some time, but now it’s finally official.
While a grass field is the ultimate goal here, I think the all-dirt infield is a good compromise for the time being, and I expect Mark Shapiro to echo the same sentiments. There will be questions about the feasibility of the grass, and Shapiro will do his best to give some general answers.
The Blue Jays probably don’t want to come outright and say this, but my sense is that this grass thing is much, much more difficult than anybody expected. They likely discovered some things when they did the initial assessment to install the dirt infield, and now it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Ideally, everybody wants to have a grass field at the Rogers Centre; the players, the fans … it can only improve upon the overall ballpark experience for everyone. But this whole grass field thing was Paul Beeston’s baby. And with Beeston gone, Shapiro isn’t obligated to carry on the vision of the previous president.
With a one-year old turf in place and soon to be an all-dirt infield, I feel like the whole grass issue is far less of a priority at this point. The initial projection to have grass installed by 2018 may be completely out the window now, but the new turf and all-dirt infield are acceptable concessions in the meantime.
What’s the Future of Bautista & Encarnacion?
While the dirt infield and prospect of a grass field is the most topical, it’s not the largest issue surrounding the Blue Jays in the short term. This is – the future of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in respect to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ross Atkins will probably take the reins on any questions related to Jose and Edwin, and I’m interested to see what Atkins has to say. After all, he met with both of the Jays’ impending free agent sluggers over the past few weeks, and maybe Mr. Atkins can provide a little more insight as to where Bautista and Encarnacion’s heads are at right now.
Unless the Blue Jays’ payroll increases substantially next season, they’ll likely have to choose to retain one of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. And even then, there’s no guarantee either of these guys come back after 2016.
So the better question for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins might be “do you foresee the payroll increasing next year to help retain the faces of your franchise”? Because asking the Jose or Edwin question might not gain very much traction.
Will Aaron Sanchez be a Starter?
Much like the grass field question, this one creeps up practically every year at the Blue Jays’ season ticket holder event. John Gibbons has already made it known that he wants to stretch Sanchez out as a starter, but I’m curious as to what GM Ross Atkins thinks.
Starting pitching depth doesn’t seem like a concern for the Blue Jays right now, and clearly they have more than the necessary five starters. So does that means shipping one of Aaron Sanchez or Drew Hutchison down to Buffalo to begin the season?
Does that mean Jesse Chavez becomes the long man in the bullpen right off the hop? Or are there other plans entirely for the starting rotation? Whatever the Blue Jays decide to do, Aaron Sanchez will be at the centre of it all.
Now that we’ve had months to speculate, the Blue Jays need to give Aaron Sanchez every opportunity to start, because that’s where his value truly lies. If he has a poor Spring Training performance, as great as it would be to have him in the bullpen, I feel like he’d be wasted in that capacity.
Bullpen guys can be a dime a dozen; but Aaron Sanchez’ true value lies in becoming a consistent starter for the Blue Jays. And it would be reassuring to hear the organization’s commitment to keeping him in that role for the foreseeable future.
What are the Renovation Plans for the Rogers Centre?
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the Rogers Centre is the seventh oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. On other occasions, its age is very apparent; but strides have been made the past few years to revamp the Rogers Centre.
One of the things Mark Shapiro was heralded for during his time in Cleveland was the substantial renovations to Progressive Field. Shapiro and company gave the park a huge facelift, and surely he’ll be looking to replicate that formula in Toronto.
I’m particularly interested to hear what Shapiro’s short term vision is for the Rogers Centre, not the long term. Because in the long term, the Blue Jays ideally won’t be playing in that stadium anymore.
Until a brand new stadium is constructed to house the Blue Jays, Mark Shapiro can illustrate how the Rogers Centre can be improved in the interim. This can be in the form of smaller renovations, stadium additions and in-game elements around the ballpark.
Several of these small things have been hinted at in recent months (replacing the seats, statues of former players outside the stadium, revamping the concessions). Depending on the scale of these initiatives, some of them could take years to execute.
What I’m interested in hearing is how Mark Shapiro plans in improving the ballpark experience as soon as this upcoming 2016 season. Even though the atmosphere was incredible inside the stadium last October, it could always be better.
Image via Getty Images Sport/Tom Szczerbowski