Editor’s Note: What follows is 100% fiction. While we are not generally proprietors of fiction, much like you we enjoy trying new things from time to time. This is fake and we are a news organization, but this is not fake news.
February 1st 11:47 p.m.
Mark Shapiro’s phone buzzes and comes awake.
He really doesn’t want to get it. The warm, soothing, embrace of unconsciousness is close at hand. He tells himself that tonight is a night off. Nothing’s happening in this offseason anyway. Whatever it is can wait for the morning.
Mark’s not really a “wait for the morning” type of guy, though. He reaches over to the end table, picks up the unruly device. He finds himself face-to-face with a rather alarming text.
It’s his lifelong friend Stan Butler, a man residing at the very top of top of the Pentagon hierarchy. If anyone knows when the world is going to end it’s this guy. Mark taps out the only response he can think of.
Stan gets back right away
As Mark lies back in bed he contemplates his life, his family, and the fate of the human race. He also spares a thought for how Stan ascended to his position despite speaking like a 19-year-old frat boy in a bad movie.
So, the world is going to end. That’s a bummer. Definitely could have waited for the morning.
February 2nd 6:30 a.m.
When it comes to matters of armageddon, silver linings can prove frustratingly elusive. Mark is a master of positive thinking, though. Yes, he and everyone he knows is going to die far sooner than he imagined. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an upside.
Over the course of a sleepless night the answer comes to him. He gets Ross Atkins on the line.
“Ross, I’ve got some really bad news. The world is coming to an end. Apparently some time around December 2nd.”
“Did you get this from Stan?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I guess it’s legitimate then. So, what are we going to do?”
“Well, Ross, we’re going to win the World Series.”
With that Mark finished his steel-cut oats and goes for a run. He’s got the pitch of a lifetime to put together and he does his best thinking on the move.
February 3rd 10:30 a.m.
The Rogers boardroom is chock full of executives. Mark prides himself in knowing everyone’s name and he’s blanking on half of these guys. Part of it is the nerves. He’s never proposed something like this before. He never would. It’s not him — but needs must.
He stands at the front of the room. Normally he wouldn’t be caught dead without a PowerPoint presentation at a time like this, but he just couldn’t bring himself to put the word “Armageddon” on a slide.
“I’m talking about a massive single-year payroll increase. Into the $200 millions. Well over the luxury tax threshold.”
Rogers CEO Joe Natale stands and asks the obvious question.
“And why in the world would we do this?”
This is the moment of truth. Mark knows the “apocalypse is nigh” pitch is unlikely to land, so he tries something else.
“Our division rivals are getting younger and better, and our fan base is at a tipping point where it can take off or go dormant once again. A huge chunk of our team is on one-year deals and we have a generational talent who is probably gone. We’re not going to have a chance like this again for ages.
“No one goes all-in anymore. We’re in a culture of risk-averse front offices playing for the future, we can seize the moment. Prospects are just lottery tickets and the lottery is a tax on the stupid.”
One of the suits whose name Mark forgets raises his hand.
“Weren’t you just selling us on a strategy based on prudent asset management and a sustainable competitive window last year?”
“Well,” Mark searches for the name, can’t find it, and continues. “I’ve had an epiphany. The Blue Jays need a title and we need it this year. We all know there’s a Josh Donaldson window and we need to seize it whatever the cost …”
Joe interrupts him.
“Mark, I’m afraid it’s not going to be whatever the cost. Payroll is going to be $165 million. From a baseball perspective do whatever you want, that’s what we pay you for. If you want to push your chips in that’s on you. But we’re not putting more money into what seems like a rash change of heart.”
Mark’s heart sinks. He considers whether to play the end-of-the-world card. It doesn’t seem likely to work. Going all-in with a virtually unlimited payroll is one thing, doing it without a payroll increase is another.
He doesn’t have anything else to add. What he’s proposing makes no sense — objectively speaking. This is going to be on him and Ross.
February 3rd 7:30 p.m.
Ross sits across from Mark at the island in his kitchen. The granite is so clean it’s almost reflective. There isn’t a dish, glass, mug, or goblet, out of place. Smooth jazz plays in the background.
“Are you sure you don’t want a hot chocolate?” Ross asks. It’s the third time he’s asked. Mark is getting the sense he just wants a hot chocolate for himself.
“I’m fine Ross,” Mark replies. He sees the glimmer in his colleague’s eye fade, but pushes on.
“The way I see it, we’ve got the greatest asymmetrical information advantage in the history of baseball. Everyone is playing for five years, maybe more. We just have to play for one. We’ve got to be able to turn that into a World Series.”
“OK, but what are the rules? There’s a way to do this totally unethically. We could sign every free agent out there to deals that pay nothing this year but are massively backloaded.”
“No, we can’t do that. Seems unfair to deprive a man of his earning potential in his last year on earth. I also don’t feel comfortable offering to pay down contracts we move in future years. Tulowitzki would be easier to move if we say we’ll pay his salary through 2021, but that doesn’t seem fair. Other than that I think we’re good. I’m going to head home. I want you to draw up some deals.”
“Sounds good. Are you sure you don’t want some hot chocolate, though?”
February 4th 9:30 a.m.
Mark and Ross sit in Mark’s office. Normally the room would be full of front office personnel for a day like this. Mark has decided to only keep Ross in the loop. If the U.S. government wants to inform the population vis a vis the end of times, that’s their business, but it doesn’t feel like his place.
Ross hands Mark a piece of paper with a number of trade proposals on them. It appears that his enthusiasm for a paperless office has diminished with environmentalism being rendered obsolete and all. Mark scans the list. Everything on it is patently absurd.
The two men are on the precipice of being laughingstocks. Everyone who he’s ever respected in this industry will think he’s a complete idiot.
He passes the sheet back to Ross.
“Make the calls.”
When Ross calls to propose a trade it’s almost never accepted right away, or that hour, or even that day. He gears up for a long-running negotiation where he fights tooth-and-nail over players, many of whom are MLB long shots at best. It can be grueling, but he tends to enjoy it. Sweating the details is kind of his thing.
Today is a little different. He expects almost no resistance on the deals he’s going to offer. If anything, his biggest obstacle will be getting people to take him seriously.
First up is Dan Duquette. Manny Machado is the best player on a one-year deal who anyone is listening on. That makes him an obvious target. The Orioles also have some interesting relievers who could help the 2018 run.
“Dan, it’s Ross Atkins with the Blue Jays. I’m going to level with you. I want Manny Machado.”
“Doesn’t everybody? Ross, it’s hard to envision me trading my best player to a division rival. If you’re looking to pull this off it’s going to be harder than an Arnold Schwarzenegger quad after leg day.”
Ross puts aside the peculiar choice of metaphor and soldiers on.
“I know that Dan. But here’s what I’ve got for you. Huge prospect haul and and three useful major- leaguers for Machado and two relievers. Bo Bichette, Logan Warmoth and T.J. Zeuch plus Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce and Danny Barnes. I’m taking back Machado, Mychal Givens before he gets expensive, and Brad Bach on his expiring contract.”
“Um … what? Let me call you back.”
Ross leans back and takes a sip of his morning mochaccino. He knows that Duquette will take the deal. The Baltimore GM is just wondering if he should pounce on his rival’s temporary insanity or try and squeeze him for a little more.
While he’s waiting he makes his next call. This one is going to be bizarre, but shouldn’t be too hard. He calls Al Avila.
“Al, it’s Ross Atkins, how’s it going.”
“Can’t complain, you?”
“OK, OK. So I want Miguel Cabrera.”
“Ross, don’t quote me on this, but you can have him. Please take him.”
“Al it’s not going to be that easy, you’re going to have to take some money back. Here’s what I’m thinking. Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales for Miggy. Equals out on payroll for two years then you get a bunch of relief. We’ll throw in a couple of prospects, let’s say Reese McGuire and Thomas Pannone so you can say you’re getting younger.”
Avila barely lets him finish his sentence.
Blue Jays get: Miguel Cabrera
Tigers get: Kendrys Morales, Troy Tulowitkzi, Thomas Pannone, and Reese McGuire
Ross knows he’s just taken on arguably the worst contract in baseball (non Albert Pujols-division), and given up a couple of prospects for the privilege of doing it.
On the other hand, he’s only going to have to pay $30 million of the $192 million left on his deal. The Blue Jays shave $1 million off their 2018 payroll and they upgrade their DH from Morales to Cabrera, who figures to bounce back from a down season. He’s also cleared the shortstop position for the arrival of Machado.
The trade gets out on Twitter quickly (undoubtedly the Tigers want to share how smart they are) and Ross’s phone looks like its going to combust. Amidst the concerned inquiries from friends, family, and the press, is a text from Duquette.
Ross thought seeing his trade with the Tigers would make Duquette try and prey on his sudden bout of lunacy with further demands. Instead, it seems the Baltimore GM has decided he’s too unstable to be trusted and wants to take the deal that’s on the table. Works for Ross.
Blue Jays get: Manny Machado, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens
Orioles get: Bo Bichette, T.J. Zeuch, Logan Warmoth, Danny Barnes, Steve Pearce, and Ezequiel Carrera
This trade isn’t as outwardly insane, but there’s no doubt the baseball world will scoff at it. The Blue Jays have paid an enormous prospect price for one year of an elite player and some bullpen upgrades.
Ross is thrilled with it, though; he’s got a superstar to put at short and the back end of his relief corps is looking strong. The only problem is the money. He’s taking on $13.04 million in extra salary. That means the next deal he makes will have to clear some payroll.
He had planned to make all the calls in one afternoon, but giving away his team’s entire now-hypothetical future is too exhausting. As is responding to a few choice members of the media and concerned colleagues. He has to call it a day, so he shoots Mark a text.
Mark gets right back.
With that, Ross breathes a sign of relief and strides toward his chair and picks up his book on the flora and fauna of the Appalachian Valley. He’s been working on it for a while. It’s a bit dry, but the whole impending apocalypse has him determined to finish it.
Though a little hot cocoa before he gets started would really hit the spot …
February 5th 9:00 a.m.
Mark finds himself more excited than usual to attack the day. Being the president of an MLB baseball team is a dream job, but sometimes it’s more fun to get your hands dirty and play GM. Today is going to be particularly interesting because his first call is to his predecessor.
He leans back in his chair, fiddles with a stress ball in the shape of the Microsoft Excel logo and dials Alex Anthopoulos.
“Hey Alex, this is Mark Shapiro. What’s going on?”
“Not much, but I’m pretty busy at the moment. Any particular reason you’re calling?”
Mark can tell as a rule Anthopoulos isn’t interested in talking to him. But he also knows the Canadian can’t resist a trade discussion.
“Alex, I’ve got a trade to propose to you.”
“Based on what I saw yesterday it seems like I should be listening intently.”
Mark perseveres through the cheek of the former Blue Jays GM.
“Here’s the deal. We’re looking to clear some salary. I know you can afford to take some on, and you’ll be compensated handsomely in prospects without taking a step back in 2018.”
“How does that work, exactly?”
“We’re going to send you Russell Martin. He can be a leader in your clubhouse and help your young pitchers. We take back Tyler Flowers to be our catcher and Arodys Vizcaino for the bullpen. Then from a prospect perspective you get Dan Jansen as a possible catcher of the future, Eric Pardinho and Ryan Borucki. One high-floor arm who’s almost here, another high upside guy who’s a ways away.”
There’s silence on the line. Mark can hear the cogs in Anthopoulos’s mind churning.
“You know, I assumed you were trying to use my love of Russell Martin against me, but realistically I can’t say no to that package. I have no idea what you’re playing at, but you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Blue Jays get: Tyler Flowers, Arodys Vizcaino
Braves get: Russell Martin, Dan Jansen, Eric Pardinho, Ryan Borucki
It’s not a sexy trade, that’s for sure. But with the offensive renaissance Flowers is going through he’ll probably produce more with the bat than Martin while costing $16 million less. Vizcaino is a bargain power arm who throws 97 and posted a 2.83 ERA last year.
This is a deal to facilitate further deals. The approximately $12 million in savings essentially cancels out the salary taken on in the Machado deal and there are still some chips to cash in.
Next up, Thad Levine of the Minnesota Twins. Mark knows this is going to be the trickiest trade yet. The Twins have been reluctant to move Brian Dozier in the past, but the Blue Jays need him for their doomsday squad.
“Thad, this is Mark Shapiro with the Blue Jays. I’m calling to talk Brian Dozier.”
“I figured I’d hear from you or Ross at some point. I see you’re having a prospect firesale. Pretty bold strategy in 2018.”
Mark is tempted to point out that even though he’s only five years older than the Twins executive he’s held a position at GM or higher for 16 years to Levine’s two. He’s also tempted to mention his multiple Executive of the Year awards and the fact his president salary undoubtedly dwarfs Levine’s. He wants to tell this ingrate that if he wants to be smug he should try accomplishing something first.
Ultimately, he resists the temptation.
“We’re just trying to make our team better Thad, and I think there’s a deal we can strike today that you’re going to like. We want Brian Dozier and we’re willing to pay a pretty penny for him.”
“I certainly hope so, we’re not looking to take a big step back.”
“OK, so we take Brian Dozier and that lefty Taylor Rogers. We’ll give you Devon Travis and Aaron Loup as guys who can stopgap at those spots plus your prospect haul, starting with Anthony Alford, who’s almost MLB-ready, and two arms. Sean Reid-Foley who’s nearly there and Francisco Rios, who’s a breakout guy. You pocket the $8 million dollar difference and you go get yourself another piece.”
“Let me talk to my prospect guys and I’ll get back to you.”
Mark hangs up the phone and exhales. Ross is right, making moves that appear to be outwardly insane is indeed exhausting. He opens his laptop and starts a game of backgammon against the computer. Even though he sets the computer opponent to the highest setting, he still smashes it every time. Computers don’t know a damned thing about playing backgammon.
He’s about to get up and grab a coffee when his phone buzzes. It’s Levine.
Mark knows his deal is plenty generous as constructed, but he can’t be bothered to haggle.
With that, his work is almost done.
Blue Jays get: Brian Dozier, Taylor Rogers
Twins get: Devon Travis, Aaron Loup, Hagen Danner, Anthony Alford, Francisco Rios, Sean Reid-Foley
Mark considers what the Blue Jays have done so far. He’s got one of the top-10 position players in the game to play short. He’s brought in a major upgrade at the designated hitter spot, so long as Cabrera isn’t totally washed. In Dozier he has the second-best second baseman in the game behind Jose Altuve.
He’s also swapped out Barnes and Loup for four bullpen pieces, two late-inning monsters in Brach and Givens, a lefty that lefties can’t touch in Rogers, and a fireballer in Vizcaino.
He’s not done yet, but he’s really only got one card left to play: Vlad Guerrero Jr.
Mark picks up his phone and texts Ross.
As always, Ross is quick to respond.
Mark rolls his eyes. Ross always wants to meet at his place.
February 5th 8:00 p.m.
Mark and Ross recline on the couch in the latter’s “mancave.” Trophies and memorabilia from his professional career adorn the walls in the back behind a seemingly unused pool table. He even has a rather impressive television with one of those curved screens that’s supposed to be better for reasons that have yet to be explained. Of course, everything is spotless.
Ross doesn’t seem to be the mancave type at first glance, because he isn’t. Mark’s theory is that he saw it on a TV show, or a friend got one, and he made an impulse decision that he now regrets. As a result, whenever Mark comes over Ross makes a concerted effort to make use of the space.
“Mark would you like a –”
“Goddamit Ross I don’t want a hot chocolate! You’ve asked a thousand times. Have I said yes once? No!”
Mark instantly regrets his outburst as he sees Ross shrink away from him. Ultimately his colleague is just trying to be nice.
“Actually, I was going to ask if you wanted a beer.”
“I could definitely use a beer right now.”
Ross produces a pair of Old Vienna bottles from the mini fridge and they get to work.
“Ok, we’ve added just 3.35 million to the payroll, which gives us about $9.2 million to play with and we have Vladdy Jr. left as the centrepiece of a big deal.”
Mark takes a sip of the OV. It’s putrid.
“So, what are you thinking?”
“There are really two ways to go. Bullpen is looking great and so is the infield. So we can go with an outfielder or try and grab a starter. Problem with pitchers is that everyone on a one-year deal is pretty much out of our price range and Christian Yelich just went off of the board.”
“Who’s the best guy out there then can get?”
“Chris Archer. I don’t think there’s a better or starter or outfielder available.”
“Do you think we can get an outfielder too, like Souza or Kiermaier?”
“Vladdy Jr.’s value is sky high right now. Worth a shot.”
A moment of silence descends on the room as Mark and Ross realize their business is concluded. Ross turns on the TV.
“Ooh a Lakefront Bargain Hunt: Renovation marathon. That’ll be good.” Ross settles back into his chair, his night’s entertainment sorted.
Mark realizes he needs to make a swift exit. He reaches for his OV and tries to down it in a pair of mammoth swigs. It’s not the best decision. The beer goes down like fermented gravel, but it does go down.
He springs from his seat and strides purposely for the door.
“Text me when you’ve swung that deal with Tampa Bay.”
February 6th 10:00 a.m.
Ross has never had a great rapport with Tampa Bay GM Erik Neander. There is just something about him that intimidates him, he feels like a junior copywriter pitching to Don Draper. He’d never admit this to Mark, but he’s generally avoided making trades with the Rays for this reason.
Ross picks up the phone and dials Neander, who picks up on the first ring.
“Ross, what’ve you got.”
“This is Ross Atkins, with the Blue Jays.”
“I know it’s Ross Atkins. You’re calling to sell me Vladdy Guerrero Jr. You want Chris Archer. That much is obvious. What else is involved in the deal.”
“Well, Erik here’s the deal. We take Archer and Kevin Kiermaier. You guys get Vladdy Jr., Kevin Pillar, and a couple more prospects — Nate Pearson and Riley Adams. That’s a significant salary savings for you, arguably the top prospect in baseball and a heck of a power arm. Adams is a good-looking catcher, too.”
“I figured as much… OK.”
Blue Jays get: Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier
Marlins get: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Nate Pearson, Riley Adams, and Kevin Pillar
Ross gets off the phone immediately. Five trades and it’s done. The 2018 armageddon Blue Jays have been assembled. Ross takes a look at his team:
C: Tyler Flowers 1B: Justin Smoak 2B: Brian Dozier SS: Manny Machado 3B: Josh Donaldson LF: Curtis Granderson CF: Kevin Kiermaier RF: Randal Grichuk DH: Miguel Cabrera
SP: Marcus Stroman, Chris Archer, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada,
RP: Roberto Osuna, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Taylor Rogers, Ryan Tepera, Arodys Vizcaino, Tim Mayza
Bench: Yangervis Solarte, Luke Maile, Aledmys Diaz, Teoscar Hernadez
Triple-A Depth: Joe Biagini, Dalton Pompey, Richard Urena, Rowdy Tellez, Carlos Ramirez, Matt Dermody
It’s certainly a good team. His starting nine hit .258/.340/.478 last year and was worth 26.5 WAR. There’s some bounce-back potential with Cabrera, Machado and Grichuk.
The bullpen is sturdy. This group combined for a 3.29 ERA last year and throws an average of 95.2 mph. They’re going lock down games effectively.
The rotation is significantly improved with Archer, and a rebound from Sanchez could make it one of the American League’s best.
Ross is a bit disappointed, though. When it was all said and done he was hoping to have a juggernaut on his hands. Instead he’s got a contender.
He texts Mark.
February 6th 1:00 pm
Mark doesn’t have anything against the press per se. Very few of them appear to be axe murderers and a couple are even OK to talk to. That said, he’s not a big fan of press conferences. The nature of his job means he can’t make most of his thoughts and plans public. Only an idiot would. But for some reason people seem to expect him to.
So, when he sidesteps questions he gets criticized. If he were to reveal all he would put himself at a major strategic disadvantage. There doesn’t seem to be a way to win.
Even so, given the major changes him and Ross have made to the team, a press conference is inevitable. So he finds himself standing at a podium in the bowels of Rogers Centre facing the music.
The media conference room is dark and strangely cold. The feel is more “coal mine cafeteria” than “hub of a world-class baseball franchise,” but there are plenty of seats for the press. Unsurprisingly, they are all full.
The onslaught of questions begins.
“Mark, what prompted this change to an all-in approach?”
The first sidestep is an easy one.
“My job is to make the Toronto Blue Jays a competitive team that this passionate fanbase can be excited about. I believe that’s something we’ve achieved here and we can be proud of accomplishing that goal.”
“Mark, a lot of people are saying you’re mortgaging the future of this club. Do you think that’s a fair characterization of what’s happening here?”
That’s not just a fair characterization, it’s a very generous one. He’s just traded away almost all of his prospects. Before he answers, Mark makes a decision. It would be easy enough to limbo under the questions today, but there are only so many more of these. He might as well have some fun.
“Have we parted with some significant prospect capital? Certainly. Have we prioritized the present over the future? To a degree. But I think we’re as likely as any team in our division to win the World Series in 2019, 2020 or 2021.”
This remark is met with a roomful of raised eyebrows and stifled chuckles. But it feels good to say something that’s 100 percent honest.
“Mark, Miguel Cabrera’s contract has been called one of the worst in baseball. Do you have any concerns about taking it on? How do you think he’s going to age?”
“We believe Miguel can bounce back and be a huge contributor in our lineup. He’s a Hall of Fame player who brings pedigree and experience. This guys knows how to win and he knows how to hit. I promise you this. No one on this club is going to age better than Cabrera over the next five years.”
He can tell that his seemingly-outlandish statements are going to make ripples on Twitter. But he finds himself enjoying his moment as a carnival barker. His public persona has been so buttoned up to this point.
“I’ll tell you something else, guys. I would be shocked if he doesn’t finish his career with the Blue Jays and I bet you his last year with us will be as good as his first.”
The gaggle of reporters is taken aback by his new-found brashness. But they proceed scribbling the statements into their notepads.
“Mark, do you worry about guys like Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. hurting you in the future? Especially with Bichette on a divisional rival?”
Mark’s really basking in it now. For a second he understands what it must feel like to be LaVar Ball.
“I don’t want to disparage anyone whether it’s those players or the GMs that traded for them. That said, I would be shocked if either of them ever make a real impact at the MLB level. I don’t see Bichette and Guerrero playing 162 big-league games between them in their careers.”
The group of reporters present is so stunned they almost forget to keep asking questions. Finally, one man Mark barely recognizes steps to the plate.
“To be frank, among your colleagues the moves your team made have been met almost exclusively with incredulity and criticism. Do you feel like you know something they don’t?”
Just as he’s enjoying himself, the question brings Mark back down to earth.
“I guess I do. For better or for worse, I do.”
With that he waves off the rest of the questions, walks purposely through the throng of media and makes his way to the elevator. There’s still more work to do.
And not a lot of time to do it.
– All photos via Getty Images