I haven’t written a baseball posting on this blog in over four years. I didn’t even write anything about the Jays when they clinched the postseason for the first time in 22 years, or when they came back to win a 5 game series when down 2 games to 0, or when finally succumbed to a very good Kansas City team in the ALCS. But what happened today is so mind-boggling that I can’t not write about it: Alex Anthopoulos is not returning as the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. The timing of this announcement is as telling as it is puzzling.
Anthopoulos became the GM of the Jays in 2009 and spent the next six years building the team into the 2015 AL East division champions, a team two wins away from the World Series. And as soon as he breaks the Jays’ 22-year streak of missing the playoffs – the longest of any team in any major North American sport – he decides it’s “no longer a good fit”? No, there’s something else going on here.
But perhaps the timing makes sense after all. During the season, the Jays hired Mark Shapiro to replace Paul Beeston as President of the team at the end of the season and according to one report, Shapiro “scolded” Anthopoulos for trading away too many prospects. Other reports say the contract they offered AA meant that if he had stayed, Shapiro would have had final say on any moves that he wanted to make, effectively making AA the assistant GM. If either of those is true, the Jays should be ashamed because they forced the best GM they’ve had in decades out and in the process, shot themselves in the foot, in a couple of ways.
AA not only brought the Jays back into the playoffs, he put them back in to the hearts, minds, and wallets of the city. Toronto hasn’t seen this much sports excitement since
the last Toronto Rock championship the 1993 World Series. Yes, he traded away prospects but you don’t pick up the best 3rd baseman in the game and likely AL MVP, one of the best shortstops in the game, and one of the best starting pitchers in the game without giving up prospects. If he traded away prospects for older players with one last kick at the can, then they’d be right to complain. But those prospects brought in 29-year-old Donaldson, 31-year-old Tulo, and 30-year-old Price, and those three (among others, most of whom were acquired by AA) brought the Jays to the ALCS. He’s set the team up not only to be great this year, but for years to come.
And now he’s gone. This will not sit well with many fans, who see AA’s departure as a virtual firing rather than him just moving on. Make no mistake, the majority of fans couldn’t care less who the GM is and as long as the Jays do well next year, they won’t bat an eye. It’s not like I’m going to boycott the team either, but if deals are made in the off-season that appear to weaken the team in any way, if David Price signs somewhere else and isn’t replaced with another stud starter, or if the Jays don’t compete next season, well, I wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Shapiro’s shoes. And to add insult to injury, Anthopoulos was named the Sporting News Executive of the Year, and was informed of this just moments before the press conference where he announced that he wasn’t returning.
So the Jays may have shot themselves in the foot with the fans, but just as importantly, it’s possible they’ve done the same thing with the players. This whole event doesn’t look good for the Jays, and I only hope it doesn’t have an effect on their ability to sign and trade for players. David Price seemed happy playing for the Jays, but what if he was a fan of AA and doesn’t like the way this played out? He’s a free agent and is going to get top dollar offers from a bunch of teams, and staying in Toronto may not have the draw it did just a week ago. God help us if Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista demand a trade.
The best case scenario is fine, in which it makes no difference and the team competes again next year. But the worst case is terrible. Price signs elsewhere. Other free agents don’t want to sign here. Trades to Toronto get blocked by players. Existing players want out. The team doesn’t compete next year. Attendance drops like a rock. The city forgets about the Jays like they did for much of the last two decades. This is admittedly extreme and thus unlikely, but it’s not a scenario you want to even envision, let alone make possible. When you have a young talented GM who’s done as good a job as Anthopoulos has, and loves the team as much as he does, you keep him at all costs. And if that means the new president has less power, that’s just too damn bad for him.
Another great quote from twitter: “Anthopolous [sic] being declared exec of the year during the conference call about his departure is the most Toronto sports moment of all time.”