Not that we shouldn’t have stopped comparing already, but fans’ relationship with the Blue Jays’ front office has been fractured since Alex Anthopoulos left two seasons ago.
Yesterday, Anthopoulos was introduced as the next general manager of the Atlanta Braves. Anthopoulos, as fans well know, was the architect behind the majority of the current Blue Jays’ roster and the man who made deadline trades that brought David Price and Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto for the team’s magical march to the playoffs in 2015.
After Rogers ham-fistedly tried and failed to push out team president Paul Beeston (and in turn, potentially Anthopoulos along with him) the previous winter, Anthopoulos decided it best to leave after leading the team to their first playoff appearance in over 20 years. Segments of the fan base were upset and directed their vitriol at Rogers and the newly hired Shapiro.
It felt as though a line had been drawn in the sand. You either supported Anthopoulos – the Canadian who worked his way to the top with a penchant for big trades and big tools (he was a former scout after all), or you supported Mark Shapiro – the business school protégé of Rogers Communications riding in to run the team on a budget like he did in Cleveland. Losing David Price and filling in the 2016 roster with several lower-cost free agent signings only seemed to anger fans more, despite the on field results.
Shapiro and Atkins are still seen by some as heartless, anti-Canadian, Rogers shills – ones more concerned with hiring ‘Cleveland cronies’ and extracting value from the draft in some type of perpetual rebuild than making the Blue Jays a perennial contender.
But Shapiro and his general manager, Ross Atkins, are far from the villans they are made out to be. The new front office has hired plenty of people that didn’t work in Cleveland (Ben Cherington, Gil Kim, Steve Sanders) while also retaining personnel from AA’s management group (Tony Lacava, Andrew Tinnish, John Gibbons). Shapiro has also stated that one of the elements that attracted him to the job in Toronto were the financial resources available to him in Toronto, as opposed to a small market like Cleveland. He ran Cleveland on the budget he did because he had to, not because he wanted to.
We also need to remember that despite being run under low payroll parameters, Cleveland had built a very good, very competitive team under the leadership of Shapiro and Atkins – no doubt a good thing for the Blue Jays moving forward, even if they have been slightly tone-deaf to the fan base here in Toronto since the tandem took over.
In an effort to counter the undeserved hostility to Shapiro and Atkins, Anthopoulos is sometimes painted as a limited executive, focused excessively on scouting and being overly willing to take big risks to win now.
Anthopoulos is responsible for the lack of depth in the Jays’ high minors. But at midseason 2017, six of the top ten Blue Jays prospects per Baseball America were drafted or signed by the AA management group, including the system’s crown jewel and one of the very best prospects in baseball, Vlad Guerrero Jr.
Also, despite emptying the cupboard at the 2015 trade deadline, none of the players Anthopoulos dealt have had a significant impact in the major leagues. Daniel Norris, Jeff Hoffman and Matt Boyd all posted ERAs higher than 5.30 in 2017. And part of the lack of depth is also attributed to the collection of recently graduated major leaguers in Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Marcus Stroman, Devon Travis, and Kevin Pillar.
According to former manager John Farrell, the Anthopoulos-run Blue Jays weren’t focused enough on player development. If Anthopoulos was focused on scouting, it seems problematic to suggest it comprised the entirety of his philosophy. Anthopoulos himself rose through the Jays front office ranks under J.P. Ricciardi, who valued analytics over scouting – though that’s not to say that his efforts in player development were above criticisms or improvement, either.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. They are all talented executives. They are all good at their jobs, even with the different approaches they may take. Alex Anthopoulos might build a philosophy around scouting and making big trades. Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins may be methodical, building gradually and focusing on organizational depth and development. But I think it would be a gross oversimplification to paint either executive as entirely entrenched in one camp – AA likely incorporates depth and player development into his strategy just as Shapiro and Atkins likely see value in scouting and making trades to acquire elite talent.
By making the playoffs in 2015, Anthopoulos was able to achieve something that hadn’t been done in a long time. In a lot of ways, he helped make baseball relevant again in Toronto. He pulled off the some of the greatest trades in Blue Jays’ history when he acquired Josh Donaldson and when he was able to rid the Blue Jays of the potentially burdensome Vernon Wells contract. Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins drafted and developed some of the best young players in the game with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. They turned the Cleveland organization into a consistent contender in the American League Central.
Just like there is more than one type of good baseball player, there is more than one good type of baseball executive. Anthopoulos, Shapiro, and Atkins all appeared to be revered throughout baseball as talented executives.
Now that Anthopoulos looks to be firmly settled in Atlanta, let’s try and put the GM wars to bed once and for all. They weren’t worth having in the first place.
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