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Counterpoint: Is Alex Anthopolous the right man for the job?

Authors note:  my series of Counterpoint articles is an attempt to take the unpopular side of current discussions.  I welcome suggestions for future topics in the comments section.

The job of managing a sports franchise is a difficult one.  Managing a sports franchise in Toronto may well be tougher than the average.  Every move that is made is scrutinized and second guessed.  Granted, this city has had lots of legitimate complaints.  Years ago, I referred to the Raptors as one of the worst managed franchises in the history of sport (I’m pleased to see that is no longer the case).   I also theorized that the only reason JP Ricciardi lasted as long as he did was that he was blackmailing ownership somehow.  Some would say that the Jays have not been well managed since the days of Pat Gillick, but as beloved as Pat is in our memories, he was known for years as Stand Pat in reference to his reluctance to make deals when needed.

This brings me to our current Blue Jays GM, Alex Anthopolous (or AA, as I shall refer to him).  He showed no such reluctance to make deals last winter.  His detractors will tell you he gave away too much of our future in order to gamble on an uncertain present, and will point to last season as evidence of a failed gamble.  On the flip side, he is being roundly criticized this winter for his lack of any significant action to improve a disappointing team.  However, I believe that AA is the best man for the job, and this week’s counterpoint is:

5 Reasons why Alex Anthopolous is the right man for the job:

Preparation:  AA gives the impression of an extremely well prepared GM.  He talks to all the teams, knows who is available, knows how much they will cost.  He considers multiple solutions to address problems.  It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and shout out solutions.  I laugh every time I read armchair GMs who have these brilliant plans to trade 3 players we don’t want on our team for some superstar from another team.  AA has made me believe that if there is a viable option for improving the team, he has considered it and discussed it already.  He does his research and he knows what he wants.  And he’s willing to think way outside the box, and take advantage of opportunities that come his way, even if they weren’t part of the original plan.

Planning:  AA orchestrated 3 big moves last winter.  He made a huge trade with Miami, taking on a lot of salary but clearly bringing back more talent than he was giving up.  He then signed a fairly low risk contract with Melky Cabrera, a productive hitter with a steroid past trying to clean up his image.  However, the most controversial move he made was trading prime prospects for the reigning Cy Young award winner in RA Dickey.  Normally, one would expect to pay a large price for the top pitcher from the year before, but in this case, Dickey’s age and lack of a sustained track record made the move questionable.  For me, AA explained the move well in one sentence, when he explained that he was focusing on putting together a team that would compete for the next 3 years.  The prospects he traded may not substantially contribute until after our current core group of players is past their prime or have moved on.  Overall, though things did not work out last year, I still remain a defender of the trades he made for one main reason:  the status quo wasn’t going to get us to the World Series.  The core we had wasn’t good enough.  He had to try something.  Of course I want him to go and get guys like Justin Verlander, but sure things are rarely available.  You have to take gambles.  If the risk doesn’t pay off in the next 2-3 years, it will likely cost him his remaining good will, and his job.  But for now, I believe he made the best available moves to give the team the best chance of competing in the short term.

Perseverance:  One thing that AA is constantly trying to do is to find assets that are undervalued.  His theory is to find guys with the most tools and raw talent, and to work on shaping the rest.  One of the guys he really wanted in the Roy Halladay deal was Anthony Gose.  It took a couple of years, but he got his man.  He saw Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus as young guys with very high ceilings that he could get at reasonable prices because they came with baggage.  All three of them have shown flashes of the potential that he saw in them, and all have shown some of the reasons that they were available in the first place.  Sergio Santos is another guy with a load of mostly unproven potential.  AA has made the decision that a bunch of steady but unspectacular players do not make a championship team, and that you can always get those types of guys cheaply through trades or free agency.  The guys that are hard to get are the superstars.  If a couple of these higher risk gambles pay off and become cornerstones of a championship team, he’s a genius.  We will see how these play out in practice, but I think the theory is sound.

Prudence:  There has been a lot of criticism this winter of the Jays not making further moves.  I don’t believe this is due to lack of effort or action.  AA has simply decided that the price of available assets exceeds their benefit to the team.  He decides what he needs for the team, decides what it’s worth, and then waits for the market to meet his price.  Is he talking to the remaining free agents?  Absolutely.  Will his offer meet their demands?  Who knows.  The prevailing theory is that it is harder to attract players to Toronto (not sure if it’s the cold, if it’s because we’re in a different country, or if it’s Rob Ford related somehow), so AA may have to offer players more than they would ask for from somewhere warm like Miami or LA.  I’m sure Rogers has been more reluctant with spending this year as they still await returns on the investments from last year.  But I guarantee Alex is there with an offer and has considered many ways to build this team.  He also knows that you pay less for a rental in July than you do now (if you’re in contention at the time), so he knows the cost and value well.

Patience:  Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they often say.  Neither were championship teams.  It takes the right mix of people, circumstances, and a bit of luck to get to and win a World Series.  AA had a long term plan for this team.  He knows what the team needs to become a winning ball club.  He will take chances along the way, but they are calculated risks.  He waits for the right opportunities to come along that give the Jays the best chance to win ball games and get back to the postseason.

Building a winning ball club in Toronto may be impossible in the short term.  Despite the feelings of many fans and armchair general managers, there are no easy solutions and sure fire formulae for building a winner.  But I believe if anyone can build a winner in Toronto, it will be AA.  In Alex we trust!