Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos's 10 Best Moves
Alex Anthopoulos started his meteoric rise to General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays as scouting coordinator for the Montreal Expos in 2003. In 2005 the Toronto Blue Jays brought him in as an assistant General Manager, promoted him to Vice President of baseball operations in 2006 and finally to General Manager in late 2009.
Anthopoulos has endeared himself to Blue Jays fans with his trade making ability and his fearless attitude towards pulling the trigger on a deal that he thinks is best for the baseball club.
I have heard Anthopoulos be called various things throughout his stay in Toronto, such as, "the magician", obviously in reference to his ability to pull off trades but the most appropriate title he’s earned is "one of the best young GMs in the league", because he truly is.
In just under three years at the helm, Anthopoulos has completely revamped the organization. They are younger, more talented, more exciting and frankly better. Time and time again he has targeted players with huge upside and has capitalized on their ability to play. He likes to have control over his players and has made a team option as a part of the contract an Alex Anthopoulos staple.
Here are his 10 best moves as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays.
10. Acquiring Anthony Gose
Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
A trade that at the time appeared to make sense for both clubs as they simply swapped prospects quickly became a trade that would characterize Alex Anthopoulos’s strategy.
Brett Wallace is a decent prospect but he is by no means a top guy. He hits for average with very little power and is rather one-dimensional in the field. Anthony Gose on the other hand is a hitter who has been tearing up minor league pitching. He lacks some power as well, but he is outstanding defensively. He has speed on the base paths and a tremendous amount of upside at just 22 years old.
Gose got his first taste of Major League action this year, and although he appears to be one or two years away from the everyday player the organization expects him to be, it appears the Jays have gotten the better end of this deal.
9. Brandon Morrow
Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
A couple of Jays fans, myself included, were a little distraught to see Brandon League and a player to be named later head out to Seattle in exchange for Brandon Morrow. The Blue Jays ended up giving up outfield prospect Johermyn Chavez as well, who was a number of years away from the Majors at the time.
Morrow was a guy who was rushed to the MLB as a part of Seattle’s philosophy on starting pitchers spending time in a major league bullpen. Morrow had some control issues when he was acquired but was just 25 and had the potential to develop into a strong arm in the Blue Jays rotation. He had a career 9.3 strikeouts per inning rate at the time of the trade that was fairly impressive and was indicative of the potential that Morrow had.
This was another trade where Anthopoulos found a young player with upside and turned him into an effective Blue Jay. Morrow has the potential to anchor the Blue Jays rotation next year. Although Brandon League pitched well for Seattle, the Toronto bullpen has barely skipped a beat since losing him.
8. Beefing Up the Scouting Department
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When Anthopoulos took over as Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, he immediately made changes in the way in which the Blue Jays scouted and valued players.
He improved the scouting team by upgrading to 25 scouting regions from the previous 14 around the country. He hired more scouts and focused their attention to players with extremely high potential. This draft strategy has led to drafting prospects such as Noah Syndergaard, Tyler Beede and Marcus Stroman.
When Anthopoulos took over, he inherited a farm system ranked 28th in the MLB. In just three years he turned it into the second best program according to Baseball Prospectus.
Since Anthopoulos has taken over, the Blue Jays have also become major players in acquiring foreign talent. When free agents outside of North America used to make their desire to play in the MLB known, the Blue Jays were rarely mentioned. Recently they have signed Adeiny Hechavarria, pursued Aroldis Chapman and barely missed out of Yu Darvish.
7. The Yunel Escobar Trade
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In 2010 Alex Anthopoulos traded then 33-year-old Alex Gonzalez and two minor league players to acquire Yunel Escobar from the Atlanta Braves. The year before Escobar was named the Braves player of the year after batting .299/.377/.426. Although his numbers were down mid-season when the Blue Jays acquired him, it was still clear he had immense talent.
Effectively Anthopoulos turned an aging shortstop into a younger and equally productive counterpart at the position without giving up too much. He swiftly ended the moving carousel of shortstops that had manned the middle of the infield for the Blue Jays and gave Escobar the reigns full time.
Escobar has become a fan favorite in Toronto and has been a key piece of the Blue Jays identity as a young, up-and-coming baseball team the past two years.
This is not the first time Anthopoulos has taken a player with potential who is struggling and turned him into a very effective Blue Jay.
6. Resigning Jose Bautista
Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE
Not much to say here really. After Jose Bautista led the league in home runs in 2010 with 54, Alex Anthopoulos locked him up to a 5-year $64 million dollar deal with a team option in 2016. The money was large enough to make Bautista happy but not too large that if he becomes a trading piece in the future it would pose as an obstacle for a potential buyer. For the most part, Blue Jays fans were happy to see Bautista return and expected him to produce at the plate. They got just that.
For a second straight year Bautista led the league in home runs and saw his average climb to over .300 in 2011. This year he has been marred by a wrist injury but his 27 home runs still ties him for 10th place in the Major Leagues despite only playing in 90 games.
The three time all-star has quickly become the face of the franchise. It was a stellar move by Anthopoulos to resign him.
5. Changing the Uniforms
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Alright, this probably was not Anthopoulos’s doing.
The Jays probably have research teams and marketing personnel that work with graphic designers and front office administration to design the new logo and uniforms. But since I don’t know any of their names I’m giving all the credit to Anthopoulos.
Let me first say that for a General Manager to work double duty as team logo designer is unbelievable. Add it to the list of talents he has. The final product is also modern while paying homage to the roots of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Can’t say enough good things about it. Well done, Alex!
Okay, moving on to more important baseball matters…
4. The Kelly Johnson Trade
Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
Anthopoulos was up to familiar tricks when he acquired Kelly Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He acquired a struggling player in hopes he could find life in Toronto.
Anthopoulos had to give up Aaron Hill and John McDonald to get Johnson, and from a personnel standpoint it did not seem like a great trade for the Blue Jays. Both players were long time Blue Jays and were liked by their teammates. It was tough to see them leave town, but it made sense from a business standpoint.
Both Hill’s and Johnson’s contracts expired at the end of the season and it was expected that Aaron Hill was going to leave via free agency. Under the old rules, the Blue Jays would have received a category B compensation draft pick when he did.
By acquiring Kelly Johnson, the Blue Jays were able to effectively give him a tryout at the end of the season to see if he was a good fit. If it did not work out, then the Blue Jays would have received a category A compensation draft pick when Johnson left for free agency. Thus, at the very worst Anthopoulos merely bought himself a better draft pick.
Luckily for the Jays it worked out and Johnson was resigned. Once again, what appeared to be a nothing trade for the Blue Jays ended up being both smart on a business sense and on the field.
3. Stealing Colby Rasmus
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Things were sour for Colby Rasmus in St. Louis and getting worse by the day. He was the youngest guy in the clubhouse on an aging team. He had yet to produce like he was expected to and manning centre field in a big market team like St. Louis is no easy task. His dad famously got involved in the affairs by calling out the Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and then publicly asking that his son be traded.
Enter Alex Anthopoulos who swoops in, trades the Cardinals some needed pitching help in the form of Edwin Jackson, and takes “problem child” Colby Rasmus off their hands. As a part of a three team trade that saw the Blue Jays give up one starting pitcher and two relief pitchers, Anthopoulos was able to effectively steal a potential all-star without giving up so much a prospect or draft pick.
Rasmus entered a whole new situation that was tailor made to his style of play. He was just another one of the guys on the Blue Jays. He was made to feel at home. He was able to man the outfield with some job security. Most of all he was finally able to have fun playing baseball again and his production at the plate followed suit.
Rasmus has become one of the stronger players on the Blue Jays and looks to be a part of their plans for a number of years to come. Even with outfield prospects such as Anthony Gose coming up, it looks like John Farrell wants to keep Rasmus out there in centre.
2. The Doc Deal
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Put yourself in Anthopoulos’s shoes for a second here. You get a promotion to your first GM job, but before the business cards can get printed you are tasked with trading away the organization’s best player. What do you do? A bad trade sets your tenure off on the wrong foot and first impressions mean a lot. A great trade means some job security and can make your job easier in the future. What Anthopolous did was not easy.
He ended up trading Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies in a three-team deal that saw the Blue Jays acquire Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnoud and Michael Taylor. It was no secret that Halladay was going to walk away at the end of the season, so his value was diminished, yet Anthopoulos was still able to acquire a top pitching prospect and a top catching prospect.
Both d’Arnoud and Drabek are currently injured but should factor in to the Blue Jays long-term plans once they are healthy.
Definitely not an easy task, but it was a defining trade in both Anthopoulos’s career and the Blue Jays organization.
1. Dumping Vernon Wells
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Simply because of the economic magnitude of this trade, it is undoubtedly Alex Anthopoulos’s greatest feat yet.
Vernon Wells was under contract with the Blue Jays for $126 million over seven years and had become public enemy number one in Toronto. He was not producing on the field and making way too much money that hindered the team’s ability to go out and get better players.
Then Anthopoulos worked his magic one more time and traded him to the Los Angeles Angels, saving the Jays around $80 million.
Here’s the kicker. Had Anthopoulos received a bag of baseballs in return, most Jays fans would have said good riddance to the absurd contract, cut their losses, and moved on. But Anthopoulos actually got something in return. It was not much, but it was Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Anthopoulos later flipped Napoli to the Rangers for Frank Francisco but let’s stay focused here.
Many saw the contract as untradeable but by doing just that, Anthopoulos allowed himself the financial freedom to go out and build himself a better team. It could be argued that if Vernon Wells was still a Blue Jay, they would not have the money to resign Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarncion nor go out and acquire the likes of Sergio Santos or Colby Rasmus.
This was another defining trade in both Anthopolous’s career and the Blue Jays organization.
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