The rollercoaster that has been the Braves’ General Manager search – triggered by revelations of improper practices under the leadership of John Coppolella – might end before news of whatever punishment Major League Baseball hands down is announced. First broken by the New York Post’s Joel Sherman and confirmed by multiple sources after, the Braves have picked their new GM. His name is Alex Anthopoulos. Between Coppolella, Anthopoulos, and Mike Foltynewicz, my spell checker just gave up and went home.
While the preference appeared to be Dayton Moore since Coppy stepped down, Moore didn’t seem to want to deal with Atlanta and the issues that were developing there. It’s worth mentioning Jim Hendry. According to Sherman, that was the preference of John Schuerholz. There was concern that the figurehead talk involving Schuerholz might be found to be false should the Braves hire Hendry. To go further down the rabbit hole, there existed a chance that Hendry would represent a mentor for Jonathan Schuerholz – something the older Schuerholz was reportedly interested in. None of that came to pass. Thankfully
Back to Anthopoulos. Apparently, he was John Hart‘s choice. That brought its own problems because if Hart’s name was further stained by the investigation into the Braves under Coppy, Hart could be forced into early retirement. Further, even if that didn’t happen, Liberty Media could sack Hart just to hold someone accountable. All of that seems unlikely to happen if the Braves are hiring a GM who Hart preferred.
What kind of GM would Anthopoulos be? What’s his history? Let’s dive in.
Before Landing The GM Job in Toronto
Anthopoulos’s rise through the game mirrors in some ways the man he will replace should the hiring go official. After graduating with an economics degree from McMaster University in Canada, he landed an unpaid internship with the Expos. Coppy got an offer from Intel to work for them. Anthopoulos got one from Fidelity. Both chose baseball.
Within two years after joining the Expos, Anthopoulos was the club’s scouting coordinator and soon earned a promotion to Assistant Scouting Director. In three years, he impressed the organization enough to take him out of the mail room all the way to a position that helped to oversee a small army of scouts.
The Montreal-native left the Expos after the ’03 season concluded and moved to Toronto to become their scouting director for two seasons before moving up to Assistant General Manager. From the end of 2005 until the conclusion of the 2009 season, Anthopoulos served as J.P. Ricciardi’s right-hand man. They acquired Troy Glaus from the Diamondbacks, traded him for Scott Rolen, and then sent Rolen to the Reds for three players including Edwin Encarnacion. They also acquired Jose Bautista for nothing. Both were underachievers, but the Jays saw more in them.
The New GM
As the final days of the 2009 season came to an end, the Jays announced a change. Ricciardi would be fired and Anthopoulos, just 32-years-old, would take over. In the span of a decade, he had gone from sorting fan mail addressed to Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Vidro to a major league general manager. There probably is a movie script ready to be written about that. Did I mention he’s Greek-Canadian and can speak fluent French?
The Jays had finished a dozen games under .500 in 2009 with the sixth-most runs and the fifth-most runs given up. That first winter, Anthopoulos signed Alex Gonzalez, but the biggest moment of the winter came on December 16. With just one year left on his contract, Roy Halladay (RIP) had to be traded. The Jays couldn’t go through what promised to be a tough year in 2010 and lose Halladay for nothing. The previous summer, Ricciardi and Anthopoulos tried to find a trade for Halladay but failed. Finally, the young GM found a trade that he could agree to. Philadelphia sent Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, and Michael Taylor to Toronto. Taylor didn’t last a day before being sent to the A’s for Brett Wallace. It was the first of many big deals Anthopoulos would make.
The deal ultimately didn’t really work out so well for the Jays. Expected to develop into a solid #2 workhorse, Drabek has thrown less than 200 innings in the majors since the trade with a 5.26 ERA. Wallace would later be traded for Anthony Gose while d’Arnaud also would be traded. We’ll get to that later.
The 2010 Jays improved to 85-77 with a surprising 54 homers from Bautista. The pitching staff continued to struggle and a later trade of Gonzalez and two other prospects to the Braves for Jo-Jo Reyes (along with Yunel Escobar) didn’t help.
The next offseason, Anthopoulos added a few nice hitting talents in Rajai Davis and Brett Lawrie via trades. They also kept Encarnacion after he hit free agency. The result was a 2011 season where the Jays won as many games as they lost. They had gained a reputation as a team that could hit plenty of homers and score some runs, but couldn’t keep the other team off the scoreboard enough. More of the same followed in 2012.
Finally, after 2012, the Jays decided enough was enough. The organization was too stagnant and needed a shake-up. It got that in the form of two mega deals. The first came just a few weeks after the offseason began. They acquired Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes – among others and cash – from the Marlins for a collection of secondary talent including the former Brave, Escobar. Less than a month later, they packaged d’Arnaud with Noah Syndergaard for the reigning NL Cy Young, R.A. Dickey. The Jays were going for it.
The problem with going for it…sometimes, you come up short. Johnson would miss half of 2013 and when he did pitch, Jays’ fans wished he was on the DL. Dickey and Buehrle were dependable innings-eaters, but the staff still finished 12th in the AL in run prevention. Meanwhile, the offense was a constant disappointment. Anthopoulos had failed to put together a winner. Or had he?
Anthopoulos stayed quiet the next offseason, refusing to change the course after just one year. The offense rebounded to finish fourth in the AL in runs in 2014 while Buehrle and Dickey were better their second year in the AL. The rotation was also getting younger. Drew Hutchison was still not established, but Marcus Stroman had arrived. The Jays won nine more games than they had in 2013 and were back on the rise.
In 2015, everything appeared to be coming together. Anthopoulos signed Russell Martin to give the team a dependable option behind the plate while offseason moves to acquire Devon Travis, Josh Donaldson, and Marco Estrada gave Toronto new blood. In late July, the Jays were underachieving, though. Their run differential on July 25th was the best in the AL, but they were only a game above .500 and a handful of games out of first. They needed another shakeup. Three days later, they got it as they acquired Troy Tulowitzki. Two days later, they added David Price. Not finished, they traded for Ben Revere the next day. No team would play better after the Tulowitzki trade was made and the Jays would roll to the AL East title by winning 43 of their remaining 61 games. For the first time since 1993, Toronto was in the playoffs.
The Jays beat the Rangers in five games to advance to the ALCS. They would fall behind early in that series against the Royals, losing in six. But considering how long it had been for the Jays to get that far, it was a major accomplishment for Anthopoulos.
What happened next…is confusing.
Just a week after Toronto lost to the Royals, Anthopoulos would step aside as general manager. It was shocking that the native Canadian would leave the Blue Jays when it seemed like they were on the cusp of even more greatness.
It wasn’t about money, Anthopoulos said. Or how long the Jays were offering him a deal. Instead, it came down to the power structure in Toronto. Anthopoulos, who was named the 2015 Executive of the Year in the AL, was offered a contract that promised around $10 million but took away final say on personnel moves. For Anthopoulos, that was too much. The Jays had brought in former Indians GM Mark Shapiro to be the organization’s president. As Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star said, “The insulting responsibility offer to Anthopoulos was akin to the man who built a business being asked to come back as an executive assistant.”
It was a stunning decision. Shapiro had joined the Jays in August – about the time that the postseason threat Anthopoulos built was thrashing opponents each night. Why would the Jays have brought someone in? Were they trying to neuter Anthopoulos? Whatever the case, Anthopoulos left the position that seemed like his “dream job.”
Months later, he landed a job as the VP of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers. Just a few weeks ago, that team was a game away from winning the World Series.
Moving to Atlanta?
If the reports are accurate, Anthopoulos’s next home will be in Atlanta. Let’s dive into what that means.
1. Such a decision probably means John Hart won’t have much of a say and the whole “Dayton Moore won’t come to Atlanta without full control” angle ultimately wasn’t that important. Anthopoulos already left one job because it would have created a convoluted power-sharing setup where the general manager was neutered by someone a step above him. Anthopoulos wants the kind of autonomy general managers have enjoyed for years. To entice him to move away from the west coast despite hesitations to do so for previous open GM spots says to me that Anthopoulos was given the right amount of assurances that he wouldn’t be second-guessed and overruled by some “President.”
That leaves Hart as more of a figurehead who will help Anthopoulos get settled in for a year. It’s not exactly the same approach the Braves once tried with Coppy when the latter spent a year under Hart as the Assistant GM, but it’s kind of a similar idea except Hart retains less power.
2. Anthopoulos is the “right kind of guy.” Everyone in Toronto was fond of Anthopoulos – not just the media and fans like was the case with Coppy. Anthopoulos is a hard worker who treats everyone with respect. He’s aggressive, but not overbearingly. He’s creative but has the wisdom to not believe his own press. Further, he has the scout’s background while also embracing analytics. In many ways, Anthopoulos is Coppy without some of Coppy’s worst qualities.
Anthopoulos has also shown a willingness to trade prospects – something that both scares Braves fans and should excite them. The probable new GM steps into a very exciting job. While the MLB investigation could lead to some punishment down the line, it is unlikely to wreck one of the best farm systems in baseball for the short-term. That means Anthopoulos will have a farm system that includes a number of excellent starting pitching prospects and a cadre of low-floor, but high-ceiling position prospects. The Braves simply can’t and shouldn’t keep all of them.
In Toronto, Anthopoulos showed a willingness to go for it. It didn’t always work (2013) but it also worked like gangbusters (2015). Anthopoulos was willing to make the kind of moves to take the Blue Jays from also-ran to contenders. In Atlanta, he might not be as aggressive as first – the MLB investigation, mid-October hiring, and state of the major league team might lead the Braves to spend a year seeing what they have first over packaging prospects for established talent. At some point, though, Anthopoulos’s willingness to make the kind of moves needed to take that next step could lead Atlanta back to the playoffs.
3. The Braves made the right move. It’s not that Anthopoulos is the perfect candidate – that doesn’t exist. But he was the right candidate. The Braves flirted with the idea of a crusty old GM types like Dan Jennings, Dan O’Dowd, and Jim Gendry – guys who were pushed from major league GM jobs because the game had passed them by. But Anthopoulos is young, hungry, and even proven. He’s respected, likable, and of the highest integrity. In short, with everything going wrong since the season ended, this is the first sign of hope the Braves have had.
Now, there’s still the business with Major League Baseball. There remains the chance others could be sacked as MLB’s investigation comes to a close. Further, Anthopoulos’s style breeds loyalty and with that, assistants and scouts from his time in Toronto may come to Atlanta. But this offseason was stalled completely without a GM. It’s now able to truly begin and despite the weather getting more and more dreary, things don’t seem as dark in Atlanta.