I have to admit to mixed feelings about former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who landed with Atlanta yesterday.
When fans almost everywhere were tweeting #FireAA in the early 2-teens, I was a steadfast AA defender, even as his attempted overhaul of the team in the fall of 2012 ultimately proved unsuccessful. He was a Canadian kid who had made good with two Canadian teams. He went to the same school (McMaster), and was in the same program (Economics) as my oldest son.
As a guy who follows the minor leagues closely, I was dismayed with the quantity of prospects he dealt from November, 2014 to the the trade deadline the following July, even though it brought the team back to the post season for the first time since that son was a toddler. It was as if six years of also-ran status was erased in the space of just over two months. When Anthopoulos left the club shortly after the team was defeated in the ALCS, his image rehabilitation was complete, and he became something of a deity in the eyes of fans (many of whom had clambered aboard the bandwagon weeks earlier). The FireAA fans were too impatient, while the halo-effect crowd seemed to have forgotten about a half dozen mediocre years prior. And it’s not like the guys he dealt that July have set the world on fire just yet.
Along with amateur scouting director Blake Parker, Blue Jays drafts were a thing to marvel at, and it still is an interesting exercise to look back on them today. They found some clever work arounds of the new slotting system, and they weren’t afraid to roll the dice on draft day, often gambling on that most risky draft commodity of all, the high school Pitcher. And they weren’t afraid to punt a pick – whether it be a Tyler Beede, who turned into Marcus Stroman a year later (not signing Beede also freed up cash to convince Daniel Norris to forego his Clemson commitment) , or Phil Bickford, who begat Max Pentecost. During the period 2010-14, Anthopoulos and Parker drafted and signed 9 Pitchers who made 20 starts from 2016-17, but only 2 of them are currently with the Blue Jays. That fact, as much as anything, might summarize the Anthopoulos philosophy on roster construction. Just the same, there is a solid legacy in place in Toronto from his years at the helm: Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Danny Barnes, Ryan Tepera, and Roberto Osuna were all drafted/signed and developed during his tenure, along with Anthony Alford, Sean Reid-Foley, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr, among others.
And now in Atlanta, AA takes over a team with the number one-ranked farm system in the game, a new stadium, and hope for the future. He also inherits an organization that likely will face some harsh sanctions for their international dealings under disgraced former GM John Coppolella – the Braves may have many of their IFA signings declared free agents, including prized prospect Kevin Maitan. With the Braves heading into year three of a rebuild, he may be under some pressure to make moves to put more fans in the stands – despite a new park, the Braves last year were middle-of-the-pack in terms of attendance, and their local television deal has been called well-below market value.
What will his approach to building his 25-man be? Will he deal from this wealth of prospects to upgrade it, or will he allow his young players to grow into it? The Braves have what Baseball America calls the deepest group of pitching prospects in the game, as well as Ronald Acuna, the best prospect in the minors with the possible exception of one Vladdy Jr.
Certainly, his time in Los Angeles has reinforced to Anthopoulos the importance of building from within. In Toronto, he did have to take something of a riverboat gambler’s approach: knowing that most free agents were reluctant to come north of the border, he had to deal from his prospect base in order to fill gaping holes in the MLB roster. We may never know how the behind the scenes events of 2015 played out. Did President Paul Beeston, who was on the way out the door himself, give his blessing to AA’s deadline moves in an attempt to go out in a mutual blaze of glory? Had he known he was staying, would Anthopoulos have pumped the brakes on his dealing, or will his philosophy of “Flags fly forever/Prospects are good, parades are better,” always be part and parcel of how he attempts to put together a winner?
Anthopoulos takes over a team in transition and in some turmoil. His previous experience dealing with Rogers in Toronto should serve him well in Georgia – the Braves are baseball’s only other corporate-owned team. On the whole, I’m happy for AA. For whatever reasons, it’s a shame that he either was forced out, or left Toronto of his own accord. It would have been nice to see where he would have gone with this club. A cynic might observe that he left the team with an aging core and little farm system depth with which to use in some way or another to upgrade it, while an optimist might say that a guy who dealt Adam Lind for Marco Estrada would find creative ways to improve it.
I wish him well, and will follow Atlanta more closely than I have in the past now that he’s running the show.