Anthopoulos sets Blue Jays up for present, future success

Alex Anthopoulos. (Mark Blinch/CP)

This article was originally published in Sportsnet Magazine.

In the past eight months or so, Alex Anthopoulos has acquired for the Toronto Blue Jays players who may be the best catcher, third baseman and shortstop in all of baseball. Never in the franchise’s history could that claim be made at any of those positions.

And then for an encore, he added a starting pitcher—a rental, but so it goes—who would be a lock for a place in most dream rotations.
So do you think maybe now he can keep his job?

In a fair world, that shouldn’t have been a debating point before the deal that brought David Price to Toronto, where he joined the other relative newcomers Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki.

But no one ever said that the professional sports business was fair, or rational, or immune to knee-jerk reactions.

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By any measure, this has been some spectacular general managing, all the more impressive given the fact that it took place at a time when Anthopoulos’s boss was outgoing, and when elements of ownership spent much of the winter considering whether to deal prospects, including Jeff Hoffman, in order to add Dan Duquette to the front office as a replacement for Paul Beeston.

Imagine how the dominoes might have fallen differently. The key element in the Tulowitzki trade could have been gone. Duquette, quite understandably, might have looked for his own guy to run the ballclub rather than inheriting Anthopoulos. This season would almost certainly have taken on the look of a reboot, or a rethink, if not necessarily a rebuild, while the new guys figured out what they had.

Instead, without giving away any of his best major-league-ready arms—Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna, who should form the core of the rotation for years to come—Anthopoulos strengthened his team considerably in the long term, strengthened the pitching dramatically in the short term and did it all while remaining within the tight payroll parameters that not so long ago had him and his players discussing the idea of deferring salary in order to sign Ervin Santana.

Hoffman may turn into a front-of-the-rotation starter for the Rockies, just as the departed Noah Syndergaard is emerging as one for the Mets. Daniel Norris may discover his lost mojo—and more importantly, his lost velocity—with the Tigers. Same with Miguel Castro and the other prospects traded away. That’s the price you pay.

But in the meantime, the Jays are set up not just to take a run in 2015, but to be a force for the next two, three, four years. Those position players are no mirage—not to mention the fact that there’s still life left in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, that Devon Travis is a Blue Jay, that the team was already scoring a ridiculous number of runs, and that entering the next off-season, Anthopoulos will be dealing from a position of strength.

Also, you’d have to hope that with the big television numbers and spiked attendance that seem a sure thing for the rest of this season (never mind what will happen if it actually results in a trip to the post-season for the first time since 1993), ownership might be more inclined to do a little bit of investment spending, understanding the foundation that has been laid.

So about that ninja GM. Because he is who he is, because he never played the game, because he left the family heating and air conditioning business in Montreal to volunteer in the Expos’ mailroom, because he inherited the Jays gig almost by default after his boss and mentor J.P. Ricciardi was run out of town, Anthopoulos has never been given the benefit of the doubt by the fan base.

If Billy Beane had received the same return when forced to deal Roy Halladay, dumped Vernon Wells’s contract, made the Marlins and R.A. Dickey deals, acquired J.A. Happ from Houston and then moved him to Seattle for Michael Saunders, he would have been lauded for the successes and forgiven the failures because he’s the book guy, the movie guy, undeniably one of the best minds in baseball. That he hasn’t won a whole lot, that his teams have never won a World Series, that his deadline moves last year didn’t really pan out, isn’t held against him. Beane is bulletproof, and Anthopoulos has been sort of the opposite.

And yet his tenure has been one of clever asset management, of excellent drafting, of selective risk taking, of bucking convention. And so far, of zero post-season appearances. That might finally change in 2015 (the 21,000 tickets sold the day of the Price deal would suggest fans are considerably hopeful it will). Certainly in 2016, and 2017, and 2018, somebody is going to be in charge of a pretty intriguing ballclub with young, inexpensive and extremely talented pitchers right on the cusp, a core of elite young veterans and a fan base that will drive revenues through the roof at the first hint of success.

It ought to be Anthopoulos.

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