Is Alex Anthopoulos a top GM?

It sure is looking like it…

When former general manager J.P. Ricciardi was ousted from the Blue Jays in 2009, Alex Anthopoulos (popularly known as AA) inherited a franchise widely viewed as a stagnant also-ran in the ultra-competitive American League East. Perhaps that is an unfair characterization for a team that has now eclipsed the .500 mark in four of the last five seasons despite the stiff competition.

Nevertheless, when Anthopoulos was hired in Oct., 2009, an air of futility had seemingly settled over Toronto as the club struggled to assemble a competitive unit. The Roy Halladay saga was dragging on, with many assuming that the return would ultimately look like the pitiful haul captured by the Twins in return for Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season. Worse yet, the Vernon Wells contract was starting to get pricey, and the farm system lacked can’t-miss talent.

Fast forward to Jan., 2011, and you can almost feel giddy about the franchise’s future. Anthopoulos’ first act as GM was to expand the scouting department. He then wielded the Blackberry to great efficiency, swapping Halladay and cash to the Phillies in return for future rotation fixture Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis D’Arnaud.

Taylor was immediately flipped for Brett Wallace, who was in turn flipped mid-season for ultra toolsy prospect/project Anthony Gose. AA also parted with reliever Brandon League in return for the volatile, but talented, Brandon Morrow. More recently, he sent Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee for top prospect Brett Lawrie.

Altogether, his early trade history is promising. The players sent packing have all been talented, but the returns should help build the Jays into a contender. As rated by Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein, the Blue Jays added four of their top nine prospects via trades under Anthopoulos, including Kyle Drabek (No. 1), Brett Lawrie (No. 3), Travis D’Arnaud (No. 4), and Anthony Gose (No. 9).

Of course, it’s the most recent trade that prompted this ode to Alex. Last Friday night, Anthopoulos revealed himself to be an assassin of the rarest breed, the albatross killer. With the invaluable help of Angels GM Tony Reagins, Anthopoulos turned Vernon Wells into Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

By now, an analysis of this trade is probably unnecessary. Suffice it to say that this was a heist for Toronto. The Wells contract is one of the worst albatrosses in baseball, yet Toronto managed to pay just $14.5 million for three years of service (and $25.5 million in signing bonuses) while avoiding the final $84 million of the contract. Not only did Anthopoulos avoid paying a dime of the remainder of Wells’ contract, he acquired two potentially useful players in the process.

The best part of the Wells trade is the new-found financial flexibility. According to Cots Contracts, the Jays are currently on the hook for $44 million in 2011, with arbitration decisions on Jose Bautista, Napoli, and Jason Frasor costing somewhere between $16.15 million to $20.33 million. As such, payroll should settle in at just over $60 million in 2011. For a franchise that has operated a player payroll as high as $97.9 million (2008) and averaged an $82 million payroll over the last five seasons, that’s quite a bit of saved change.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Blue Jays leverage the reduced payroll. The most cynical among us might expect increased dividends for the owners, but for the Jays to succeed in the AL East, nearly all of that money should be funneled back into the program. With eight of the first 120 picks in next June’s amateur draft, the Blue Jays could wield their cash to select the best talents available.

Any cash not used to sign draftees could be used in the international talent market. Ideally, the remaining spoils would be stashed (invested) for a future free agent splash. Jays fans have been witnessed throwing the name Albert Pujols around the internet.

In just over a year, Anthopoulos has accomplished much for the Blue Jays franchise. By properly leveraging all the unspoken gains from the Vernon Wells trade, the Blue Jays could acquire enough talent to be within striking distance of the beasts of the East. Thus far, the decision to hire AA has appeared to be a bit of genius.

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Brad Johnson
11 years ago

Not to be outdone, between the time this article was submitted and when it was published (about an hour), AA flipped Napoli for Frank Francisco.

There’s two things to like about this addition from the Jays perspective. First, Napoli didn’t have an obvious role on the Jays due to the presence of Arencibia, Molina, Lind, and Encarnacion. Second, Francisco is a cheaper player over the life of his contract. He’s likely to be a fairly high ranking free agent and thus could net the Jays more draft picks next season if the Jays are willing to offer arbitration.

I have to imagine the Jays are pretty pleased with the pitching staff now that they’ve added a reliable stopper. Their next target could be of the DH variety, perhaps Vlad if his cost is low enough or one of those under appreciated types like Russell Branyan.

11 years ago

Seems like a decent move, but I like the trade better (from a 2011 wins standpoint) with Napoli behind the plate, but I’ve not seen what Arencibia can do on a daily basis. I think Napoli will hit 30+HR one of these seasons.

11 years ago

As much as Napoli was an intriguing player and the Jays already have 3 (arguably 4 if you count Frasor) solid RH relievers who can close out games, I think the trade makes sense long term. 

They save more cash.  They potentially give the young staff a bit more confidence when they exit a tight game that it will be closed out for them.  They also get a better chance to see what they have in EE (in a DH role), Arencibia behind the plate and Lind at first. 

Also, this should open up a spot for a prospect like Lawrie or Mastroianni to stick with the big club. 

Here’s hoping AA manages to flip Rivera.  Maybe he can try a LH reliever?

11 years ago

I would be wary of flipping Rivera, that would leave a huge hole at 3B if Jose isn’t moved there.

The only way I see flipping Rivera being a good thing, is if the Jays believe Darin Mastoianni is ready for the big show as an everyday player.

But hey, we can’t expect AA to totally dissolve all of the growing pains.

Brad Johnson
11 years ago

I don’t know that 2011 wins are particularly valuable to the Jays. I think they’re looking ahead a little ways right now and trying to build a franchise that can shoulder payrolls a fair bit over 100 million.

The funny thing is, the Blue Jays probably sell more tickets as the result of these trades despite drifting backwards a little as a franchise. Adding a cheap DH should remain a priority.

11 years ago

Funny thing about the question in the headline…

This time last year Jack Zduriencik was the talk of the town and Brian Sabean was thought to be a bad GM by many.

While Anthropoulos has done a lot for the Jays, let’s try not to forget that it’s a results based industry and until he actually wins something (wins consistently would be even better if you want to call him a “top” guy) than it’s hard to put him in that category.

Brad Johnson
11 years ago

Brian Sabean’s not a bad GM?

11 years ago

Maybe Sabean is an awful GM.  Maybe Kenny Williams, Rueben Amaro, Walt Jocketty and Theo Epstien are crummy GM’s.  Maybe Anthropoulos and Zduriencik are the A to Z of GM’s.  The best of the best.  The greatest GMs that ever generally managed.

I’m not trying to be snarky here (well, maybe a little).  I think it’s great to try to identify the up and comers but remember, Omar Minaya was once thought to be one of those guys.  Let’s not go crowning anybody just yet and let’s give some respect – however grudgingly – to the guys that have been succesful whether we agree with their methods or not.

The thing is, like I said before, it’s a results based industry.  Only one guy can be on top each year.  Somebody can get lucky every once in a while and win a championship but there has to be some general correlation between ability and results, otherwise what’s the point?  If it’s all completely random, just go watch a bingo tournament.

11 years ago

AA also turned a few good months of Alex Gonzalez into a problematic but high-upside young shortstop named Yunel Escobar, and got a sandwich pick for paying off a 500G buyout on Miguel Olivo. And unlike his predecessor, who was constantly leaking what he was thinking (to the US media, not the Toronto baseball writers) and publicly embarassing the likes of Roy Halladay, Anthopolous have managed to pull off a deal for Vernon Wells that’s been brewing since mid-December without anyone, anywhere having a clue it was going on.

Um, we sort of love this guy in Toronto.