After the Toronto Blue Jays’ heart breaking 2013 season and an even more disappointing off season, there have been a large number of fans calling for the GM’s job. Being critical of a GM comes with the territory, but Alex Anthopoulos has had more than an average amount. His “all in” approach last off season ended up flopping (mostly due to injury). His plan of attack this off season has (thus far) netted a somewhat acceptable upgrade at catcher and not much else. His waiting game has yet to pay off and fans are getting restless. Even though I argued that Anthopoulos is not to blame for fans ire, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays may be wondering: Is Alex Anthopoulos’ job actually safe? I came across something that Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) shared via Twitter. It may actually help us figure this out.
In his very enlightening piece entitled The Duracell GM Generation, Ben Lindbergh (@Ben_Lindbergh) of Baseball Prospectus offers many reasons why today’s General Managers enjoy a seemingly greater sense of security in their positions. He notes that a GM has not lost their job since Nov. 2011 (Ed Wade, Houston Astros). This would seem like a long time considering how many teams have had disappointing seasons, etc. The general sense is that it is just an anomaly on the timeline of GM history. Yet, Lindbergh offers a list of reasons why it may not actually be:
-Increased parity across baseball: there are more teams getting a sniff of playoff baseball. This means that it may take longer for a team to be “out of it”. Mathematics keeps hope alive for more teams for longer. A number of teams may still be in the hunt for a final playoff spot as late as September. This competitive illusion leaves favourable judgments. A GM can say, we were very close to the playoffs this season, when really that team isn’t a championship team. It leaves a false sense of progress. As a result, GMs can hang their hats on the playoff push. Of those who don’t come close, they have ownership permission to rebuild and are given more time to do that. How does this impact Alex Anthopoulos? The Blue Jays have not been close to the playoffs, so he cannot cling to that mathematical positivity. But, what HAS happened is that he was given a window to rebuild…sort of. When he took over the club, he was tasked with trading off Roy Halladay. The clubs mission became to restock the farm system and attempt to build from within. This kind of approach would mean ownership was content to allow him some time to not make the playoffs in order to establish a foundation from which to draw for the future.
-Increased revenue: With the obscene amount of money being generated by MLB these days, there is more money involved in the managing of a ball club. Ownership groups are taking more care to hire and stick with a GM. A quick look at Forbes ranking of MLB team values shows The Toronto Blue Jays at #21 with a value of $568m and a revenue of $203m. Upon seeing this, fans may scream, “THEY HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO SIGN ANYONE AND EVERYONE!!!” Often, ownership is touted as a cheapskate company that is only interested in making money. But this would seem contradictory. If they want to make money, why wouldn’t they spend more to get to the extra income the playoffs would bring? Fans miss the point. The potential of gaining playoff money means far less than losing money you already have. Teams (not just the Blue Jays) are being run like businesses. The bottom line dictates all. As such, the Blue Jays are making money, so ownership would see no reason to change that. It might anger fans to hear this, but Rogers Communication is a business who bought the Toronto Blue Jays as a business venture and as such, want to see it financially successful. In fact, one could argue that perhaps it is not Anthopoulos who is holding the purse strings back at all. Sportsnet’s Mike Cormack tweeted the following when we heard that Ervin Santana has changed his stance on his free agency:
If Jays show no interest in Santana on a one year deal, there’s only one conclusion to draw: AA can’t get approval to spend.
— Mike Cormack (@MikeCormack) March 8, 2014
It may actually be ownership keeping The Blue Jays from signing a bigger free agent. They may be holding back money to impact their bottom line. Alex Anthopoulos may or may not have had much to do with it, but under him, the Blue Jays are turning a profit. Through that lens, he is successful. Why fire him?
-GM’s have a new skill set: Today’s GMs are relying on the smart, “Money Ball” approach to running a team. It used to be that players were brought on board because of the ERA, AVG, HR, RBI numbers and little else. But now, GMs are analysts.
“Today’s GM has a much more specialized knowledge base and skill set, and a résumé that would have made a candidate cutting-edge a decade ago might not even get him an interview today”.
Because all GMs these days have these skill sets, there is not much upgrade from the old to the new. Also, GMs can appear to be doing well by not making mistakes. Lindbergh quotes Phil Birnbaum of the Society for America Baseball Research (SABR) who says that “you gain more by not being stupid than you do by being smart.” A GM can be successful by avoiding the obvious dumb mistakes. If that is the qualifications, then Alex Anthopoulos has managed to do well. He avoids (rightly or wrongly) anything that can even be remotely considered a high stakes gamble. If it could end up being a dumb move, he won’t even sniff at it. He knows he is more secure that way. Even if he doesn’t feel secure, he can rest assured that the replacement of a GM will only result in the exact same product anyway. So, why would ownership fire him?
-GM’s have a larger team to help with decisions: Part of the skill set of a GM is the ability to not be a one man show. Lindburgh states:
“A GM doesn’t have to have the biggest brain in the office, but he does need to know how to recruit the right people and get the most out of the staff he’s assembled. Baseball as big business means that running a team in 2014 takes a village populated by high- and low-level full-timers and a fleet of poorly paid interns.”
It is hard to blame one person for decisions made by a group of people. Replacing the entire group may actually be more of a pain than it is worth especially when you consider that a new GM will bring in their whole new team. Just take a peek at the long list of people involved with decision making for the Blue Jays. Granted, Anthopoulos is the face of this team and he ends up answering the questions, but when you listen to his responses, he always uses “we” and I doubt it is the Royal “We”. He knows the value of his team. Considering this, it is difficult to fire one man for the decisions of a group.
Fans have every right to be upset with the lack of improvement thus far with the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays. After such a big splash last off season and the subsequent drowning, fans were desperate for the Blue Jays to do SOMETHING to improve. It has not really happened yet. Alex Anthopoulos has been questioned more than Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek. But, if fans are looking for him to be removed, they may suffer through their biggest disappointment yet.