Away Goes AA: The Blue Jays General Manager Post Goes Vacant
The news that Alex Anthopoulos was not going to be the Toronto Blue Jays general manager in 2016 has left a lot of fans feeling a bit salty about his treatment by the Blue Jays and Rogers, the owners. Wasn’t he the man who brought Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere to the team at the trade deadline, sparking a miracle run into the AL Championship series?
Yes he was. And bold moves they were. He put his stamp on the team after years of what seemed like flat lining. But the end of the AA era in the Blue Jays executive suite came well before the machinations of this season. In fact, it was a 50/50 proposition that the Montreal native would stay in Toronto from the time his mentor, president Paul Beeston, announced he was finally retiring as president of the club. Not even this could save him.
Beeston nurtured and protected Anthopoulos through the disappointing years when the Jays were out of contention by Labour Day, when pitching prospects like Rickey Romero withered and died on the vine, when fans lamented that Rogers would never spend the requisite dollars to produce a winner at Rogers Centre.
All these threads came to a head in the epic rant by former Jays catcher, now TV analyst, Gregg Zaun about the “entitlement culture” of the team under AA. While the club rallied to the GM’s defence and Zaun was publicly flogged, the truth of his comments resonated throughout MLB.
Plainly put, AA’s reputation in Canada, especially this season, was not reflected in the industry in general. The perception of Anthopoulos was that his development system was 1) turning out too many Anthony Goses — talented but undisciplined 2) indulging too many Brett Lawries — the Canadian Messiah— and 3) Not producing pitchers who were mechanically sound enough to prosper and stay healthy at the MLB level.
Drew Hutchison might be the poster boy for this perception. After a promising start he seems unable to make the adjustments necessary to win consistently — a repeating syndrome in Toronto’s pitching history.
Yes, AA’s system had enough prospects to make the trades for Price, Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey, but the record of those prospects (Noah Syndegaard excepted) at the MLB level hasn’t impressed the industry types. Compare this to the pitching output from clubs like Tampa, St. Louis and San Francisco and you understand there can be another way.
The Rogers press release made great mention of AA refusing a generous five-year contract offer, but anyone who thinks this is about money is missing the point. New president Mark Shapiro is used to having a say in personnel matters dating back to his work in Cleveland. He wasn’t going to give Anthopoulos the autonomy he’d be given under Beeston. In short, this was a turf fight.
The real litmus test here will be what job Alex Anthopoulos gets next. Some industry insiders say he’ll never be a GM in the majors again. Perhaps it will be, like Gord Ash, a procession of jobs as director of player personnel, assistant GM posts for him. Maybe if Montreal makes it back to the majors as an expansion team he’d be a natural fit for homegrown GM for a growing team expected to lose.
But for now, the man moving the pieces on the Blue Jays’ chess board is Mark Shapiro. There is a veteran, productive collection of assets in place, a manageable budget in the everyday nine. It will fall to him to make sense of the pitching decisions on David Price, Marco Estrada, etc. He can be ruthless with the past to get his way. Reckoning is down the road.
Which begs the question what happens to manager John Gibbons who was clearly AA’s man?
Many felt that the team handed him a fat fire in the bullpen at the end of the season, necessitating Gibbons’ use of Price in the pen against Texas. On the other hand, he was handed a number of prize studs in the middle of his batting order.
It’s not like anyone compares him to Tony LaRussa or Earl Weaver. But having left him to suffer with lousy lineups from management maybe he’s earned the slack to work with this more talented team?
So what’s the skinny on Gibbons? Perhaps the analogy that works best here is Cito Gaston. Gibbons was similar to Cito in his reluctance to get in the way of veterans. Neither bold nor innovative like Gaston, he did just enough (or just too little) to significantly affect the outcome of games. Laissez faire made Gaston a hero and almost did the same for Gibbons.
It says here that Shapiro can find a stable of guys to do the same in 2016, men who’ll be HIS guy. And if he finds a manager with a penchant for salvaging pitching prospects he’ll have his man.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy @NPBRoadcaster