Blue Jays Rogers Centre- Credit: DaveMe Images

How About AA, eh?

Jays From the Couch recently conducted a Twitter poll asking Blue Jays fans “Do you wish Alex Anthopoulos was still with #BlueJays?” Only 30% of 115 respondents said, “Yes”. This may be a case when the minority opinion should rule the day.


Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase


 


Alex Anthopoulos has been making the rounds of media outlets during the 2021 World Series, never tiring of how special the 2021 run by his team has been for him and the City of Atlanta. But a telling look into the soul of the 44 year-old Canadian executive was caught on camera during MLB Tonight before Game One. When asked by MLB analyst Mark DeRosa if the job he had done with the current Braves roster was his crowning achievement, AA did not hesitate in his response. “No. It was 2015 with Toronto. No question.”

 

As I watched this interview, I felt a huge grin spread across my face. Here Anthopoulos was on the brink of realizing the ultimate baseball success with Atlanta, and he was waxing poetic about the special season he made happen seven years earlier in Toronto. It would have been so easy for AA to remain focused on the current highs and take a few bows after the accolades were heaped upon him at every media stop. But that has never been Anthopoulos’ style to keep the spotlight focused on himself. Which makes fan response to our JFtC poll even more puzzling.

 

It is common fan base reaction to dismiss the accomplishments of players and management personnel once they move on down the road. But with Alex Anthopoulos the sense of gratitude for the magic of 2015 has been diluted by criticisms of his “giving away” Roy Halladay, spending too much money during the 2014 off season, and for “leaving the cupboards bare” after securing consecutive playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016. It is almost frightening to ponder how Blue Jays fans might react had an ill-timed rain delay not derailed a possible World Series championship in 2015.

 

The refreshing aspect of Alex Anthopoulos is his willingness to accept the blame for his mistakes. He never used a second Tommy John surgery for uber prospect Kyle Drabek as an excuse for the lack of return in the Roy Halladay deal. A trade that was forced upon him by ownership refusal to pay market value for the pitcher and a request by Halladay himself to be moved to a contender. When he aggressively spent payroll dollars during the winter of 2014, leaving no payroll flexibility to add at the trade deadline,  AA was forthright. “I regret 2014,” Anthopoulos said. “I put it on myself. We should have found a way… I know how it affected the clubhouse. I lived it.”

 

Even more important, Anthopoulos was always the “good soldier”. When the ill-advised long-term contracts of J.P. Ricciardi (remember Vernon Wells?) caused the front office to issue an edict for no contracts longer than 5 years, AA simply wiggled his handcuffed hands to work the phones to acquire talent via trades and crafty use of the waiver wire. When he could not persuade ownership to temporarily take on additional payroll in at the deadline in 2014, Anthopoulos laid the blame on his shoulders and candidly admitted this to the players.

 

Even after having his legs cut out from under him when Toronto hired Mark Shapiro to head baseball operations, Anthopoulos refused to publicly criticize the Blue Jays organization. “I just think there’s certain things that should remain private and behind closed doors, and I know sometimes that’s hard to hear and hard to understand. I just think it’s the right thing for the organization and the ball club and everybody involved.” A classy decision, given that media reports cited Shapiro criticizing AA for trading away prospects as part of the wildly successful 2015 playoff run.

 

The ultimate measure of  AA’s impact might be found in the area he is criticized most for by Toronto fans and media. Beginning with his first draft in 2010, Anthopoulos identified amateur talent that other teams coveted. Noah Syndegaard, Joe Musgrove, Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd are the most prominent AA draftees that were used to acquire veteran talent that made the achievements of 2015 possible. Early in his tenure, Anthopoulos was adept at trading for players who could bring compensatory draft picks to expedite the roster build.

 

Players drafted under Anthopoulos that played for the Blue Jays in 2021 are Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza, Ryan Borucki, Danny Jansen and Rowdy Tellez. Oh yeah…a young kid named Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was signed by AA in July, 2015. During his tenure in Atlanta, Anthopolous has drafted players with solid floors as opposed to high ceilings and signed young players Ronald Acuna Jr.and Ozzie Albies to long term, team friendly contracts.

 

Anthopoulos has also rapidly built playoff contenders from the ashes of burdensome mistakes made by his predecessors. In Toronto he moved impractical contracts like Vernon Wells and Halladay for roster depth and trade pieces while steadily increasing the farm system. He then cashed in his prospect capital to acquire and solidify a 2015 roster that many Blue Jays followers feel should have advanced to the World Series.

 

When he took over the GM reigns in Atlanta, he walked into a potentially disastrous situation created by the illegal signings made by the previous regime. Anthopoulos was forced to surrender 13 international prospects, was prohibited from spending more than $10,000 on any international free agent for two signing periods, and have his bonus pool slashed by 50% in 2020. In his first year in Atlanta, his team improved from 72-90 to 90-72 and winning their first AL East title in 4 years. Since 2015, Anthopoulos has been a part of organizations (Toronto, Los Angeles, Atlanta) that have made the playoffs.

 

Even the most successful baseball executive or manager does not make the right decisions all the time. It is indeed ironic that a hitter who only gets a hit three out of ten times is considered to be of All Star caliber, but a General Manager who is right 50% of the time comes under heated criticism. Alex Anthopoulos certainly did the right thing more often than not during his team in Toronto. Yet social media and Canadian media treat his accomplishments more like the selling of his soul than a creation of solid, magical playoff contending teams from 2014-16.

 

Should Atlanta hold on and win their first World Series since 1995, perhaps Blue Jays fans will take notice and applaud their native son for his accomplishments. Not only in Atlanta, but in Toronto as well. Perhaps they will wistfully wonder about the “what ifs” of what might have occurred for the Jays had he accepted the 5-year extension begrudgingly offered by Shapiro in the fall of 2015.

 

Perhaps more than 30% of polled Blue Jays fans will agree with the informed minority that they wish Alex Anthopoulos was still in Toronto making the playoffs and contending for World Series appearances.

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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