Making sense of the Blue Jays’ front office

One thing I know is that I have no idea what the most recent news regarding the Toronto Blue Jays’ search for a new president means.

Word broke Sunday that the team was actively looking for a replacement to Welland-native, cigar-smoking president from the World Series years Paul Beeston. To whit:

Beeston’s return to the Jays in 2008 was initially on an interim basis, but that eventually turned into a permanent status. Well, apparently permanent at least until very recently. According to Olney, Kenny Williams – of Chicago White Sox and trading Mike Sirotka to the Jays in 2001 fame – is also a candidate to replace the Beest.

And of course, as is natural these days, just about everyone immediately had an opinion. Some thought it’d be a great move, because they don’t like Beeston and “hey, look what Duquette did in Baltimore!” Others took the opposite stance, saying Duquette’s one of those stupid folk who don’t believe in analytics and is a scouting guy. You know, the guys who looked stupid while arguing with Brad Pitt in Moneyball.

The problem with all of this is that: a) we really don’t know what the president of the Jays does for the on-field product b) despite many of our beliefs, we really don’t for sure know what each supposed candidate would bring to the table, and how it would relate to the position he’d take over that we know little about, and c) we don’t even know if those guys are the favourites, who else is in consideration, and how quickly a change might happen.

So let’s try to shed some light on this.

What does a president do?

This is a bit of a moving target. Traditionally, the general manager looked after player acquisition, signings and trades. They were in charge of drafting players and all that stuff. The president, meanwhile, was more of the money guy, working with ownership to set the budget, and providing oversight whenever the GM was considering a major deal.

That’s not necessarily the case anymore, as the lines have been blurred. Take the Chicago Cubs, for instance. If anyone thinks Theo Epstein is not the one calling the shots as far as player acquisition, then they’re wildly mistaken.

In Toronto, I think it’s fair to assume that general manager Alex Anthopoulos is the one calling the shots in trades, drafting and free agent signings. There haven’t been any whispers of Beeston interfering with AA’s decisions and moves and whenever there has been a huge move it appears to be Anthopoulos at the face of it.

Now that doesn’t mean that Beeston has been simply a figurehead. It’s tough to say who between AA and the Beest is the major believer in The Policy of not signing a free agent to a deal longer than five years, but considering the team had a similar philosophy under the Gillick-Beeston regime, I’d say it’s safe to say the Beest is a firm believer in The Policy.

Does that fact there were whispers of the Jays going beyond five years to sign Jon Lester this offseason have anything to do with the sudden rumours that Beeston’s getting the boot soon?

Are we about to see the Jays in on all the big name free agents, under the narrative of a new president bringing in a new The Policy? We already saw the Jays sign free agent catcher Russell Martin, going right up to The Policy’s limits to do so.

Is this a good thing?

On the flip side, the Jays ownership can be considered…uh…finicky, to say the least. Beeston’s got cache in Toronto. He’s got history with the team. Casual fans remember him from the glory days. Outside of Toronto, the Beest has been a big name in Major League Baseball for years. It’s hard to say with any certainty what power Beeston possesses with regards to getting more dollars from ownership, but one would assume that few would have anymore persuasive ability with ownership than the Beest.

Perhaps a replacement at the president position would also come with a change in the job duties that come with the presidency. And if that’s the case, what do we want in a president?

Presumably, it’d be someone who has general manager experience. If the president is going to be become another pseudo-GM, then you want someone with experience making trades and signings, and drafting players. You’d also want someone who complements the current GM.

Like AA, Duquette comes from a scouting background. Like AA, Duquette has a history of good drafting and good trades. He had a role in drafting and developing that players that created the 1994 Montreal Expos team. Boston’s 2004 World Series win has a lot of Dan Duquette in it, with the GM acquiring many of the pieces that led the team to its first championship in 782 years (He signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, acquired Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek).

So based on an admittedly rudimentary examination, Duquette doesn’t seem to offer a different skill set than AA. Perhaps his history of signing free agents could be something, but I don’t know.

Williams, meanwhile, also comes from a scouting background. He built the 2005 World Series champion White Sox, so maybe the Jays front office is stuck in the mid-2000s. On the other hand, Wikipedia says Kenny Ken Ken was once called the “stealth bomber” for his under-the-radar moves. Could you imagine a stealth bomber working together with a Greek ninja? The Jays might win the World Series next year and no one would even know it.

The bottom line is that both Duquette and Williams have lengthy resumes, and both have had success building strong teams. However, neither seems to bring anything unique that Anthopoulos lacks. It couldn’t hurt from an on-field perspective, but how much would it help?

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