President and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays Mark Shapiro covered a variety of topics while speaking with Arden Zwelling and Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (audio link). Shapiro provides insight into evolutions within the game, the process of identifying talent, and the breakdown of responsibility in front offices. He also speaks in-depth about the process of player development as the best opportunity for gaining a competitive advantage.
He uses the Washington Nationals and their recent pennant victory to examine some of these team-building strategies in context. He starts by citing the all-important playoff axiom: “Just get in.” It’s interesting that Shapiro notes this as a point of contention for him throughout his career, as common baseball discourse stalls on this idea every trading season in divvying up baseball’s 30 organizations into buy/sell/hold buckets.
Those in the “anything can happen once you’re in” camp haven taken a hit as recent postseasons have gone chalk. The last three World Series champions were hardly long shots: 103-win Cubs, 101-win Astros, and 108-win Red Sox. The Nats, in fact, are the first Wild Card team to make the World Series since the 2014 Wild Card showdown that featured two second-place clubs playing on the game’s biggest stage. That season, the 88-win San Francisco Giants defeated the 89-win Kansas City Royals in 7 games.
The “imperfect” Nationals check a couple of boxes on Shapiro’s postseason team wish list: frontline starting pitching and players in a variety of career stages. Shapiro has “always been a big believer in looking at the different segments of the player population and feeling like when you’re ready to win you need representation from all three.” Young cores rising through farm systems together has been the en vogue team-building philosophy after the success of Chicago, Houston, and Boston, but to Shapiro’s point, the Nationals are succeeding with a mix of young, mid-prime, and veteran players.
The Nats field not only the oldest players in baseball – reliever Fernando Rodney – but they field the oldest roster in baseball with an average age of 31.1 years old. Veterans like Max Scherzer, Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman have keyed their postseason success. True to Shapiro’s “need to have a balance,” however, the engine of this Nats roster is their young superstar duo of Juan Soto, 20, and Victor Robles, 22. The steadiest production will usually come from those players in their prime, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Stephen Strasburg are some of the players that qualify for the Nats. Shapiro sees all three brackets as vital to team success: energy from the youth, reliability from those in their prime, and the strongest desire to win coming from those veteran players.
The full podcast is worth a listen, as Shapiro speaks directly to rumors about different job opportunities. Notably, he listens to all inquiries, but he has not been interviewing for outside opportunities. Given his comments here and before, Shapiro continues to be a good candidate for an extension this winter.