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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider


There has been growing speculation that Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro is a target of the New York Mets, who are looking to fill their president of baseball operations/general manager position. The speculation took on a life of its own when reports surfaced that there may be tensions between Shapiro and Blue Jays ownership. I was skeptical when I first heard the rumors and have since confirmed that there is no substance to the story.

As president of the Blue Jays, Shapiro oversees both baseball and business operations. That isn’t the level of responsibility that the Mets are looking to fill. The Mets’ CEO is Jeff Wilpon, son of owner Fred Wilpon. Jeff’s responsibilities are similar to those that Shapiro has in Toronto, just with a different title. Shapiro wouldn’t leave the Jays for a lesser role and I promise you that Jeff Wilpon isn’t relinquishing any of his responsibilities.

Plus, the tensions referenced in Toronto are just part of normal everyday managing of a business. Sure, there are disagreements and differences, but none of them are overwhelming – certainly not to the level to chase Shapiro out of Toronto. The Jays president has every intention of finishing what he has started and hopes to bring a championship north of the border.

Fred and Jeff Wilpon will likely be calling Shapiro, but it will be to talk about a couple of his employees. The Mets reportedly have interest in Blue Jays baseball executives Ben Cherington and Tony LaCava. Both are VPs in the baseball department and are well respected in the industry. 

Phillips: Shapiro is not a target for Mets

TSN baseball insider Steve Phillips joined OverDrive to discus the rumour of the Mets having interest in Mark Shapiro, Shapiro's comments on Vladdy Jr. not being brought up to the Majors and his thoughts on the Jays trading Josh Donaldson for a player to be named later.

Cherington, the former Red Sox GM, is a candidate for most GM openings. Many of the players that he signed and developed are a part of baseball’s best team right now. LaCava is respected in the industry as an excellent talent evaluator and a quality communicator.

The good news for Blue Jays fans is that the industry recognizes the talent in the front office. Clubs like to cherry-pick talent from other teams that are successful. The industry recognizes the Jays’ retooling is headed in the right direction.


On call ups and controversy

Speaking of Shapiro, he appeared on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM and said that the decision to not call up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the majors this year has nothing to do with business (controlling service time) and that Guerrero going to the Arizona Fall League instead is the next step in his development. Shapiro mentioned that his young stud prospect has to keep working on his defence.

Whenever an executive makes this sort of statement it makes many people feel like he is lying and being disingenuous – especially when there is so much hype around a prospect.

A few years ago, the Cubs kept star third baseman Kris Bryant in the minor leagues for the first two weeks of the season to “work on his defence.” We all knew he was staying in the minors for just enough days to avoid qualifying for a full year of service. The Cubs wanted to ensure they would control Bryant for six full seasons and most of a seventh season.

The reason executives don’t admit what they are doing is that they can’t. The rules stipulate that decisions to call players up to the majors or send them down must be based on ability and performance. So no team will ever admit to a personnel decision based upon manipulating service time. They can profess that limiting service time is a residual benefit of a decision, but the main reason has to be about baseball evaluations and development.

Everyone needs to get over this frustration about when a player gets called up. It’s the one advantage that teams have in the relationship with the players. Plus, the clubs have the exclusive right to determine when a player is ready and has met the threshold necessary to be a big leaguer. Agents, players, fans, media and the union certainly aren’t qualified to make that decision. If I had a dollar for every time an agent believed his client was ready for the majors, I’d be a rich man.

I’m sure that if the union is so bothered by this that owners would make a deal to fix it in the next CBA.  Owners would be more than happy to stop manipulating service time if the players want to give up guaranteed contracts. Trust me, the union isn’t that upset about service time manipulation to make such a deal.


Rating the Blue Jays’ farm system

There seems to be some disagreement about the true quality of the Blue Jays’ farm system. There have been questions raised as to whether they are truly even a top 10 farm system.

General manager Ross Atkins has even been accused of exaggerating the quality of the system after saying recently that he’s excited about the way the franchise has rebuilt in the minors and considers the system among the game’s best.

Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have the Jays as a top five farm system. They are both very well-respected publications that interact with MLB executives when coming to their conclusions. This doesn’t mean that they’re always right, but they have a pretty good track record. In the past, organizations that are near the top of the rankings in these publications have consistently reaped the benefits of their young talent and their fortunes start to turn.

Phillips: I spoke to executives who say Blue Jays have top-5 farm system

TSN baseball analyst Steve Phillips joins Landsberg in the Morning with Matt Cauz to discuss the Blue Jays' farm system, Keith Law's comments on not being a top-10 farm system, the Mets' possible interest in Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and more.

I oversaw the New York Mets’ farm system from 1991-95 as the director of minor league operations. In 1995, we were named the Baseball America’s Organization of the Year because of the depth of talent we had in the minors. My experience has taught me that the best farm systems have impact talent as well as depth of talent spread throughout the organization.

With that backdrop, I can completely understand why evaluators would consider the Blue Jays a top five farm system. They have impact and depth.

Impact talent at the minor-league level manifests itself in prospects who can be projected as all-star-calibre performers, including some combination of middle-of-the-lineup hitters, front-of-the-rotation starters and back-of-the-game power relievers.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio certainly qualify as impact prospects. Danny Jansen is a legitimate two-way starting catcher prospect. LHP Ryan Borucki has shown well in his first taste of the big leagues with a 3-4 record and 4.39 ERA (eight quality starts). Billy McKinney looks like he can be a power-hitting lefty bat in a major-league outfield. Hector Perez, acquired at the deadline in the Roberto Osuna deal has a big arm that could play at the front or end of the game. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has proven he is a part of the solution somewhere in the major league infield and can really swing the bat.

The depth of the Jays farm system seems evident as a number of the lower-ranked prospects are showing they can already compete in the major leagues, like first baseman Rowdy Tellez (ranked 29th by MLB Pipeline), lefty Thomas Pannone (ranked 27th), shortstop Richard Urena (ranked 22nd) and catcher Reese McGuire (ranked 20th). And don’t forget that outfielder Anthony Alford (ranked fifth) has extraordinary tools and athleticism and could still blossom.

The depth issue can be tricky, so I made some calls to a few executives around the game and asked them where they see the Blue Jays’ farm system. They all wanted to talk about Guerrero, and one referenced him as “a once-in-a-lifetime player.”

But each of the three executives I spoke with agreed that the Jays are one of the better farms systems in baseball. One executive said, “They aren’t the Padres, Braves or White Sox, but they are in the grouping with the Yankees, Rays, Astros, Twins and Reds.”

Another executive said that the Braves and Padres are separated from everyone else. “We still like what Cash [GM Brian Cashman of the Yankees] has left in his system,” the executive said. “He made moves but didn’t give up impact. The Astros and Rays have a ton of kids, but the Jays are right in that next group.”

Finally, one of the executives said, “The Jays aren’t the best farm system but they have the best player. Guerrero is going to be a monster.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My experience is that two scouts can watch the same club play for a week and walk away with different evaluations on players. Time will tell who is right. Those who think the Jays aren’t as good as others may be right or they may be wrong. Check back in three of four years and we can decide.


Spitting Seeds

- It seems pretty clear that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons won’t be back next season. The speculation from a couple of weeks ago has grown to recent reports stating it is “99.9 per cent certain” that Gibbons will not manage the club in 2019. Ross Atkins didn’t contradict the reports last month and no one from the Jays is disputing the recent stories.

So, who will be the next manager of the Blue Jays?

When teams change managers they usually go for the antithesis of the personality they just dismissed. The easygoing guy is followed by the stern guy. The strict manager is followed by a players’ manager. There are rebuilding managers and win-now managers, and there are managers who can do both.

Gibbons is easygoing but has the ability to be tough. Just ask umpires. He doesn’t micromanage and he gives his players room. The opposite kind of manager would be a more hands-on, hard-nosed, accountability-focused manager. Mike Matheny and Joe Girardi quickly come to mind as potential targets.

Of course, the price tag of the manager will matter. Teams seem to have less of an appetite to pay managers big money. There will be plenty of time to discuss this in the days ahead. I would prefer to enjoy the last few weeks of Gibbons at the helm.