A lot has changed since Alex Anthopoulos left Toronto. The Jays went to another American League Championship Series. Anthopoulos went to work for the Dodgers and inherited one of the best teams in baseball. The Blue Jays finished in last place. Anthopoulos went to work in Atlanta and inherited one of the best farm systems in baseball.
As time has moved on, the revolt against AA’s sudden departure and his replacement – Mark Shapiro, has faded. Fewer people see Shapiro as Rogers’, corporate shill, sent to replace the good Canadian boy and run the team on a shoestring budget. They now look at Shapiro as the man who decided to unjustly maroon Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in double-A.
This week, Anthopoulos will be back in Toronto, if not in body, then in spirit, when his Atlanta Braves take on the Blue Jays. And that makes now as good a time as any to reflect on Anthopoulos’ time in Toronto. With this in mind, here are some of AA’s the signature moments and moves as the general manager of the last great Blue Jays team.
If You Can’t Land An Ace, Bring Back a Nostalgic Logo
If times are tough, it’s helpful to be reminded of happier times. And 2011 was most definitely a difficult season for the Blue Jays. The team finished 81-81, good for fourth place in the American League East. It was also the team’s first without Roy Halladay, who was traded to the Phillies the previous offseason. With the Yankees and Red Sox running over the rest of the division, and the Jays best player now in Philadelphia’s super-rotation, morale was not high heading into 2012.
When Anthopoulos couldn’t raise spirits by landing Yu Darvish (who the team narrowly missed out on), he did the next best thing: he brought back the Jays original logo.
If the product on the field wasn’t going to improve, at the very least the jerseys could. The rebooted Blue Jays jerseys put an end to “black Jays” era and all ugly hats that came with it.
If You Believe in Late Career Breakouts, It Will Save Your Team Money
Jose Bautista didn’t have a chip on his shoulder. He was mad because he was underpaid. AA took a huge chance when he signed Jose Bautista to a five-year $65 million contract with the Blue Jays. But as Bautista continued to rake, it turned out to be one of the best values in baseball. So he doubled down and signed Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year $29 million extension in 2012.
While the deals might have seemed risky at the time, they become two of the most team friendly contracts in baseball. The cost savings allowed Anthopoulos to add similarly talented (but more expensive) players later on when the time was right.
Managers Deserve Second Chances
Major League managers often unfairly take the blame for a struggling club. There’s only so much you can do when you’re making out the lineup card and not chasing down fly balls in the outfield. For the analytically inclined, a manager’s yearly contribution is often worth less over the course of a season than a Mike Trout hot streak.
Despite their inability to impact the games, when the team underperforms, the skipper is usually the first to get the axe. (Sometimes team’s will savagely fire the pitching coach) Anthopoulos, smartly recognized the irrationality in this, and instead of getting upset when John Farrell left the Jays high and dry to take a job with the Red Sox, Anthopoulos simply returned the job to John Gibbons, who managed the team from 2004 to 2008.
With a stronger Blue Jays team (and weaker Yankees and Red Sox teams) Gibby has done just fine during his second go around in the big chair.
If Guys Won’t Sign With Your Team, Trade For ‘Em Instead
One thing Anthopoulos learned during his tenure with the Blue Jays is that free agency is a difficult pool to swim in. Not only do you have to offer a player more money than they will likely be worth over the course of their contract, but you have to convince them to come to your city.
Between the artificial turf, Canadian taxes, and a team struggling to stay relevant in the AL East, Toronto was a tough sell as a free agent destination. The Jays just missed out on Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, and Ervin Santana at various points during AA’s tenure. But when Anthopoulos couldn’t land the player he wanted on the free agent market, he did the next best thing: he traded his prospects for them.
David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, R.A. Dickey, Colby Rasmus, Brandon Morrow, and the 2012 Marlins roster all came to Toronto via trades. Anthopoulos was making crazy trades before Jerry Dipoto made it cool.
AA took a school of trading and adapted it for the modern game. Originally attributed to Dave Dombrowski, the school preached trading away all your prospects in exchange for established stars. This is what Dombrowski has done during his work with the Detroit Tigers and (currently) with Boston Red Sox.
Anthopoulos developed his own, abridged version – where he kept the best prospects (Vlad Jr., Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, hopefully Anthony Alford) while trading away the rest. Understanding that it’s ok to trade prospects as long as you keep the best ones (and forget about Noah Syndergaard) helped endear Anthopoulos to a fanbase starved for playoff baseball.
Don’t Acquire Tools If the Player Themself Is A Tool
Given his background in scouting, Anthopoulos initially favored toolsy players when constructing his roster. When he didn’t account for some of the colourful (Brett Lawrie), angry (Shea Hillenbrand), or homophobic (Yunel Escobar) characters those tools were attached to, he publicly acknowledged his decision to amend his approach to include things like character when signing and trading for players. Enter Russ Martin and Troy Tulowitzki, who have likely consumed fewer Red Bulls in their entire lives than Brett Lawrie has in a week.
Somehow Convince Billy Beane to Trade You Josh Donaldson
Many have made the joke that Anthopoulos must have had compromising pictures of Beane to get him to make the Donaldson trade. This seems unlikely – most general managers would have had the photos leaked rather than making the trade. By the time the Jays acquired Donaldson, no one should have been surprised at Anthopoulos’ ability to make an improbable trade (he did trade Vernon Wells and his massive contract) but Donaldson’s addition was once again a major splash that saw many Blue Jay fans reinvigorated and reinvested in their team.
Leave A Little Something Behind For People to Remember You By
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