LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Atlanta Braves presumably hired Alex Anthopoulos because of his successes — the Josh Donaldson trade, international signings such as Roberto Osuna and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the AL East title that ended a 22-year playoff drought.
But as Anthopoulos embarks on his second GM job, he’s more inclined to think about his failures.
“There’s been a ton,” he said at the MLB GM Meetings Tuesday. “But I do think that’s where you get better. I dwell on them, but I’ve learned to handle them better now, and I want to learn from them.”
Among the more important lessons Anthopoulos has learned: In the aftermath of failure, don’t let boldness give way to timidity. Or, as Pat Gillick once put it to Anthopoulos: Don’t lose your nerve.
“It’s very important,” Anthopoulos said. “I remember Billy Beane telling me this, too. You’re going to trade great players, but at the end of the day you need to be active and you can’t have fear. You go through every GM — every successful GM — they’ve all made moves that they want to take back. You just need to get more right than wrong.”
Anthopoulos arrived late to the GM Meetings after his introductory press conference in Atlanta Monday, so it may well be a few weeks before he starts applying those lessons to the Braves roster. While other GMs are weeks into their off-season plans, Anthopoulos estimates that he has 300 unanswered text messages on his phone and didn’t get his official Braves email address until lunchtime Tuesday. A busy month awaits.
Anthopoulos inherits an exceptionally strong core of prospects and some legitimate big-league talent (including at least one player he pursued as Toronto’s GM: “I think we asked about Freddie Freeman in Toronto”). That said, the Braves face questions in the bullpen and at third base following a 92-loss season that ended with the removal of executives John Coppolella and Gordon Blakeley amidst an MLB investigation into Atlanta’s international signing practices.
There’s still plenty of work ahead in Atlanta. While he familiarizes himself with his new surroundings, Anthopoulos intends to rely on the rest of the Braves’ front office, a group that includes longtime executive John Hart and former Blue Jays official Perry Minasian.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers lose one of their top executives after a successful two-year stint with Anthopoulos.
“Over the last two years, we’ve maybe influenced that a little bit, but he’s influenced us,” Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi said. “It was a very happy marriage for a couple of years and we’re kind of disappointed personally and professionally that he’s gone, but obviously wish him the best. He’s going to do great there.”
Anthopoulos knew Zaidi and Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman well before heading to Los Angeles — their presence drew him there, after all. But even though Anthopoulos had an idea of what to expect, his Dodgers colleagues impressed him greatly.
“It was like going to get my PhD,” he said.
“You learn more each and every year,” Anthopoulos added. “Getting the chance to work in L.A. with Andrew and Farhan was an unbelievable experience. Being around them every day, I definitely got better.”
Even two years after leaving the Blue Jays, Anthopoulos still feels a strong connection to Toronto, too.
“Tremendous pride,” Anthopoulos said. “I’m so excited. As I’ve said before I’m always going to follow the Blue Jays and hope that they do very well. I’m very proud of the organization. I hope they continue to do great things. I think they’re doing a great job now. Clearly they’re going to keep things going.
“I love seeing that they’re leading the American League in attendance, the TV ratings are through the roof,” Anthopoulos added. “Youth baseball is up … (it’s) very rewarding.”
Anthopoulos repeated that he’s ecstatic to become the GM of the Braves, yet acknowledged that he would have loved to spend more time learning alongside Friedman and Zaidi in Los Angeles.
“I felt that way when I got the GM job in Toronto,” he said. “I was four years the assistant GM and felt ‘If I could just have a few more years to settle in a bit more.’ Same thing in L.A. I was really starting to enjoy, get exposed to more things, grasp more things, I think there was more there, but you can’t time things, right?”
Instead of finding out what awaited in Los Angeles, Anthopoulos begins the challenge of turning the Braves back into a winner. Failures are inevitable along the way, and when they occur he’ll turn back to Gillick’s advice.
“If you’re not getting better and you’re not learning in this game, you’re probably not really engaged,” Anthopoulos said.