On the second last day of the Toronto Blue Jays disappointing 2009 season, the reign of J.P. Ricciardi mercifully came to an end.
Interim president, Paul Beeston, appointed assistant general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, as the team’s new general manager (GM). There was no “interim” tag assigned to Anthopoulos’ title. Was that appointment the best possible move for the Blue Jays?
Considering the state of the Blue Jays franchise and its fan base, I believe that appointing Anthopoulos as the permanent GM is both not the best choice for the Blue Jays organization nor is it the best situation for him.
Anthopoulos could eventually end up being a diamond in the rough and become one of the best GM’s in the business.
But, Anthopoulos could also end up being too similar to Ricciardi and then not get fired for eight years, in spite of most of the fans loudly and constantly voicing their extreme displeasure with him.
Rebuilding Torched Bridges
The Blue Jays are one of only four teams in major league baseball (MLB) to have not made the playoffs in the wild card era (1994 to present); the Royals, Pirates, and Expos/Nationals are the only other teams not to reach the playoffs in this era.
If sharing a category with the perennial bottom-dwellers in MLB wasn’t bad enough, Blue Jays fans had to endure almost eight years of likely the most hated person in the history of Toronto sports; namely, J.P. Ricciardi.
This past season was most likely the most bitter that the Blue Jays’ fans have been in the history of the franchise.
The Blue Jays taking a big risk on another rookie GM is not the best way to send a message to disillusioned fans that things are going to drastically change for the better soon.
One of the unfortunate, but not surprising, results of Ricciardi constantly lying for so long is that the Blue Jays are now left with serious credibility issues.
Many fans have understandably stopped believing anything that comes from the Blue Jays’ upper management.
Now, more than ever, the Blue Jays need to prove to their fans that they’re serious about contending as soon as possible with actions, not just words. They need to send a clear message that they’ve heard and cared about all the cries from the fans and that they’re doing everything possible to right the past 16 years of wrongs.
The Blue Jays should hire a GM with a proven good track record. That would send the loudest and clearest message possible to the fans that the Blue Jays are serious about contending as soon as possible.
It’s Like Déjà Vu All Over Again
Now is not the time for the Blue Jays to conduct further experiments with another rookie GM.
If the Blue Jays recently made it to the playoffs, then selecting a rookie GM would be far less risky. But, not only is that not the case, their latest failed experiment, eight years with Ricciardi, is still fresh on the minds of fans.
Ricciardi came to the Blue Jays after being the assistant GM for a successful GM, Billy Beane; Beane built several playoff teams with limited payroll. Anthopoulos, on the other hand, was the assistant GM under the wing of an unsuccessful and widely hated GM, namely, Ricciardi.
Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If the Blue Jays failed to make the playoffs by taking a risk on an assistant GM with a better history, why should fans believe that this time it’ll work out drastically better with an assistant GM who wasn’t even taught by a successful GM?
What’s the Best Path to Make Alex Great?
Furthermore, I believe that Alex Anthopoulos being named as the permanent Blue Jays GM is not the best thing for him at this point in his career.
A smaller market team, whose fan base knows little to nothing about Ricciardi’s tainted history, would probably be a better fit for Anthopoulos as a GM. Then, his close relationship with Ricciardi would have less chance of acting like a millstone tied around his neck.
Anthopoulos’ career would probably be best served, however, if he remained an assistant GM, until the GM who he is working for at least builds a playoff team. Then, if he starts making mistakes, more people should give him the benefit of the doubt, and hope that he will eventually become like the GM who trained him.
Moreover, I believe that the best overall fit would be to have Anthopoulos remain as the Blue Jays’ assistant GM for the time being.
Then, the new proven good GM could more quickly get up to speed, aided by Anthopoulos’ in-depth knowledge of the Blue Jays organization. From Anthopoulos’ standpoint, he could both learn from a proven good GM and ride on the coattails of the proven good GM’s successes.
Rushing a rookie player up the major leagues can adversely affect his playing career. I believe that the same can be true for rookie GM’s.
Some people can greatly benefit from getting an early start, but I unfortunately don’t believe that Anthopoulos is one of them. If Anthopoulos doesn’t get good results soon, I believe that his future career as a major league GM could be greatly jeopardized.
The current reality of trying to contend in baseball’s toughest division means that the Blue Jays’ GM has to be one of the best, if not the best GM in all of baseball.
Unless the Blue Jays’ ownership decides to outspend the New York Yankees, which is highly unlikely, there is little to no room for the Blue Jays’ GM to make mistakes.
I believe that it would be unfair to put Anthopoulos in such a situation. I think that it would be far better for a rookie GM to have more room to make rookie mistakes.
Thus, I believe that it would be best for all parties involved if the Blue Jays hired the best available GM (with the best track record as a GM) and then kept Anthopoulos as an assistant GM.
The Surest Thing
As I stated in a previous article , Pat Gillick has a ridiculously good track record and is thereby probably the surest thing that there is in baseball right now.
In addition to what I previously wrote, I believe that it would be poetic if Gillick finished his career as a GM the same way that he started it: By leading the Blue Jays to multiple World Series championships.
Gillick did, however, recently state that he’s not interested in returning to the Toronto Blue Jays, but said that he’d consider taking a job on the west coast. But, perhaps his mind can be changed.
With things like video-conferencing, it’s more than possible for people to successfully do jobs from remote locations. Also, the Blue Jays can offer Gillick an unlimited travel budget, to go back and forth between the west coast and Toronto as many times as he likes.
That, combined with offering Gillick whatever salary/title that he wants, may be enough to convince him to return to Toronto.
If, however, no amount of perks and money will convince Gillick to return to the Blue Jays then, at the very least, they should hire someone who has built a playoff team.
Recently released San Diego Padres GM, Kevin Towers, appears to be a good starting point to start the interview process; Towers led the Padres to four division titles.
The Padres did have an uninspiring record this past season (75-87, the same as the Blue Jays), but they also had the second lowest payroll in baseball. Perhaps Towers could do better with a much larger payroll with the Blue Jays.
Moreover, the main motivation for releasing Towers appears to be a change in ownership. Towers was not released for, say, becoming the most hated person in the history of San Diego sports.
Towers may not be the perfect fit, but he should be a far better fit than a rookie GM. At the very least, more fans should be more hopeful if someone like Towers was hired, since he has had success in building playoff teams in the past.
Next to winning, hope is the second best way to generate fan interest. And fan interest is directly related to team revenue.
Moving Forward Instead of Sideways or Backwards
At this point in time, I believe that hiring another rookie GM is far from the best decision for the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
I do, however, believe that more fans will be attracted to the Blue Jays simply because Ricciardi is gone; it would be really hard for a GM to be more hated than Ricciardi was.
It should not be difficult to convince fans that Anthopoulos should be better than Ricciardi. But, saying that Anthopoulos should be better than Ricciardi is similar to saying that a shipbuilder should be better than the one that built the Titanic; it’s far from a glowing endorsement.
Considering the state of the Blue Jays organization and its fan base, hiring a GM with a proven good track record (who has, at the very least, built a playoff team) is the best choice for everyone involved with the franchise.
When the Blue Jays appoint a permanent (non-interim) president, they have a golden opportunity to reverse a mistake, while minimizing the amount of uncomfortable questions regarding why Anthopoulos wasn’t named an interim GM to begin with.
The Toronto Blue Jays are at a crossroads.
Having an unsteady hand steering the Blue Jays ship can lead to a disastrous outcome. Hiring a proven good leader can lead them back to the top of the baseball world.
The choice is theirs to make.