Since being appointed General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays just over three years ago, Anthopoulos has built one of the top farm systems in baseball and now has the Blue Jays in position to take advantage of the relatively weak AL East. Winning the division would be a feat they have not accomplished since way back in 1993. Replacing J.P. Ricciardi, who was supposed to be the next great GM, Anthopoulos inherited one of the worst farm systems in baseball as well as one of the worst contracts in baseball history, which happens to still belong to Vernon Wells. On the other hand, the Jays had a great trade chip in Roy Halladay and plenty of future payroll flexibility to be able to hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Now that the Blue Jays have started the second part of rebuilding, otherwise known as contending, I thought it would be interesting to take an inside look at Anthopoulos' moves to get them here. This series will encompass AA's trades, free agent signings, the amateur draft and international free agency. We will look through his moves and try to determine if he has been successful at bettering the team and helping them move forward as a franchise.
Prior to Anthopoulos' first regular season on the job, he appointed Dwayne Murphy as hitting coach. He is considered responsible for turning Jose Bautista's and later Edwin Encarnacion's raw power into game changing home run power. While neither of these players were acquired by Anthopoulos, both only started succeeding after he had taken the reigns of the organization. Murphy is known to have a coaching style similar to his own hitting style, he is a big believer in trying to hit for as much power as possible and once said "Get ready, get a pitch, swing hard". While his hitting approach does not necessarily fit everyone's hitting technique, the matching of the right personnel with the right coaching and in the right ballpark is nothing short of extremely creative. Being able to help Bautista and Encarnacion mature into two of the deadliest power hitters in baseball was nothing short of a stroke of genius.
While Murphy's methods did not work out for everyone, Anthopoulos showed his understanding of the principal of making the best with what you have. Finding the right blend of coaching with the players already on hand is no smaller of a skill than being able to swing a good trade or find a talented player cheaply on the waiver wire. I mean imagine having the best knuckleballer in history pitching indoors half of his starts.
Anthopoulos has just attempted to remodel his club from a talented team with a few too many holes to compete, into one of the better looking teams in baseball, on paper. One of the first questions that should be asked is why now. The answer is that a few things had fallen into place making it the opportune moment for the Blue Jays to trade away a bunch of their top prospects and try to compete now.
First of all, the AL East is probably the weakest it's been in a decade if not longer. The Yankees are trying to get themselves under the luxury tax threshold for next season which is seriously hampering their ability to add impact players. The Red Sox are coming off a brutal season which involved finishing below .500 and trading away half their team. They definitely have improved this offseason, but the Red Sox, just like the Yankees, just aren't that scary anymore. The Rays are a very well run organization and have only improved this offseason trading from an organizational strength to replace BJ Upton. And I think it's safe to say no one takes the Orioles 2012 postseason appearance too seriously, you'd still be hard pressed to find a less talented team in the AL East. When this is taken into account along with the second wild card spot, now seems like a great time to compete.
Another factor to consider is the Blue Jays market size and current inter-sport competition for the Toronto spotlight. The Raptors are not even close to being a respectable basketball team and the NHL is currently in the midst of its second lockout in the past ten years. Not that it matters, being that the Maples Leafs aren't any good. If you look back at the early '90's Toronto was clearly a Blue Jays town. With the large market currently not being fully exploited by any one of those teams, the Jays have the ability to dominate one of the largest markets in sports.
A third factor is money. For a big market team, the Blue Jays had barely been spending having their payroll in the $70-$85 million range the past few seasons. Couple that with Rogers being maybe the wealthiest owners in baseball and all of the sudden we're dealing with a lot of financial flexibility. On the other hand, the Blue Jays spending now could be them realizing that with prices in baseball going up and the new TV deal with FOX beginning in 2014, free agents will just be getting more expensive. Therefore, them investing a lot of future dollars now, could really be them capitalizing on what will likely be a more expensive marketplace 3-5 years from now. It's basically betting that one 2012 dollar, will only buy you 80 cents on the free agent market in two years. So accordingly, the Blue Jays have invested a lot of 2012 dollars in their 2014 payroll and beyond.
Even with the stars aligning themselves financially and competitively, the Blue Jays still were a good 10-15 winsshy of being in the same conversation as the Rays, Angels, Rangers and Tigers. Even with stars like Bautista, Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow along with a great cast of role players, their window of opportunity was probably sometime in the next few seasons. Equipped with one of the best farm systems in baseball all the Blue Jays needed was to wait a couple years and they'd have all the pieces in place to make a serious playoff run. And that's where the Marlins come in. Without Jeffrey Loria none of this ever happens. But, being able to add another couple of stars to an already talented Blue Jays team without having to commit a ton of years or give up too many prospects is exactly what the doctor ordered. This is just an example of the perfect opportunity coming along at the perfect moment. It's getting lucky, but using that luck to gain an advantage over your opponents.
But before we get into actually judging AA as a GM, I feel the need to point out his fearlessness in conducting blockbuster trades. In his three years on the job he's been involved in quite a few trades, high in both quality and quantity. Not only will we try to find out if Anthopoulos is one of the best at what he does, but we'll try to uncover patterns he follows when making baseball operations decisions.
We'll take a look into actual transactions made this far in Anthopoulos' tenure.
Dov Goldstein contributed to this article