GM Alex Anthopoulos, under whose six-year tenure the Blue Jays emerged as one of the best teams in the AL, will not return to Toronto, reportedly over philosophical disagreements over how he built a winner, and concerns that his power over baseball operations would be severely curtailed under a new team president.
Sportsnet had the news first, and every subsequent report repeats that Anthopoulos was offered a long-term contract extension, but turned it down. The disagreement reportedly wasn’t over money, and there are no other GM jobs open, so it’s not as if Anthopoulos is leaving for something better. Instead, it’s not hard to connect the dots between Anthopoulos’s departure and the hiring of new president and CEO Mark Shapiro in August.
Shapiro had more or less run baseball operations in Cleveland since 2001, so when he came to Toronto, you knew it wouldn’t be just to handle the financial side of things. Anthopoulos, who said it was his decision not to negotiate an extension during the playoffs (negotiations that ended up lasting three business days at most) appears to have balked at having to cede decision-making power, especially to someone who reportedly came right in and criticized the way he had been doing things.
Anthopoulos’s Blue Jays, with their recent acquisitions culminating in deadline deals for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, are in Win-Now Mode. They did not win this year, but are in a much closer place than they were a year ago, or even three months ago. This necessarily comes at a cost, both to payroll and to farm-system depth. Both of those things are anathema to Mark Shapiro’s way of doing business.
You can blame this on Shapiro (and a lot of people will), but he’s doing what he was hired to do. This is on Rogers, which wants a slimmer payroll and a stronger pipeline of cheap, controllable talent. That’s no less valid a way to run a team, and other than Noah Syndergaard, there aren’t any ex-Jays prospects that you can point to as obviously bad deals.
The good news for Jays fans is that a change in the front office doesn’t mean things have to change on the field, not for a while. Nearly every significant everyday player is under team control for next year (the rotation is a different story), and I can think of numerous recent examples of teams switching GMs near the peak of a run of success, and winning championships with the old guy’s roster.
The optics are terrible here—right now, it looks like the Blue Jays giving the boot to the man who oversaw their rise from mediocrity to contender, and repudiating his strategies that got them there—but the cult of the executive is a trap. There are lots of people out there capable of building championship teams, and multiple ways to do it. Anthopoulos had success in Toronto; that doesn’t mean it was sustainable, or that ownership was willing to spend to realize his vision, or that Shapiro can’t also have success with his methods. The Blue Jays should be good for the immediate future, and Anthopoulos’s moves (good and bad, and he’s had both) will be felt for a long time after he’s gone. The only thing that seems clear for now is that the big-acquisition window is closed—taking the next step will have to be done without a payroll bump to match.