Blue Jays fans should be happy for Alex Anthopoulos, but there’s no reason to sit around and think about what could have been if he’d never left.
Maybe it’s because we’re in that offseason limbo period before free agency starts and there isn’t a whole lot going on, but lately I’ve been more annoyed by what I’ve seen from some folks in the Blue Jays on Twitter. There are always going to be rationale and “hot takes” alike, but the comments I’m seeing about Alex Anthopoulos are definitely making me shake my head.
Don’t get me wrong, I say that as a fan of the guy, and admittedly someone who was upset when he departed after the 2015 season. It also took me a little while to warm up to Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro, partly due to the way that Anthopoulos left, but it’s been several years since then and we have the benefit of a lot of hindsight.
As easy (and lazy) as it is to say, “Look! AA has Atlanta back in the playoffs. That could have been us!”, that’s not even close to an accurate statement. As any Blue Jays fan that’s been around for a few years will admit, the roster was getting older in 2015 and 2016 when they made their postseason runs, and it wasn’t long before Atkins and company started to dismantle that group. It was a tough pill to swallow, but after watching the way that Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and more saw their careers finish out over the next few years, it ultimately proved to be the right decision.
We’ll never know how Anthopoulos would have navigated a rebuild, or how far he would have doubled down on efforts to boost those teams into a World Series champion, but I think we have to remember where the Blue Jays roster was at that time, and also the situation that ‘AA’ inherited when he arrived in Atlanta.
In Toronto, Atkins and Shapiro had the difficult task of rebuilding a roster that had been very close to tasting postseason glory. The fans wanted more, and it was tough not to at least try to give it to them. Once we reached the 2018 season there was no denying the full-on rebuild, and thankfully it turned out to be a very short process before the Blue Jays were back in the playoff hunt. They qualified for the expanded postseason in 2020, and missed by one game this year despite winning 91 games. It’s hard to dispute whether they’re on the right path or not.
To Anthopoulos’ credit, he’s done a fantastic job in his current gig in finishing off a bit of a rebuild in Atlanta of his own, building them into a postseason contender, and somehow supplementing the roster this year to get the to playoffs despite losing Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Sirotka, and more. I won’t take any credit away from the man at all, and in fact, I’m more than happy to congratulate him.
Having said that, I’m sure even Anthopoulos would admit that he inherited an enviable situation when he was hired by the Braves in 2017 as the Executive Vice President and General Manager. Building a roster around young stars like Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies is a nice place to start, even if it wasn’t as helpful in 2021 as they had hoped.
However, to suggest that Anthopoulos would have done the same in Toronto by now isn’t a fair statement. Not only were the roster demands significantly different between the two clubs, so are the circumstances that they face on a year to year basis. For example, Atlanta won the NL East with a record of 88-73 (yes, one short of 162), and the Blue Jays finished fourth in the AL East with 91 wins. It is what it is and things could be different in 2022 (I doubt it, though), but the comparison is full of holes on many levels.
So instead of thinking about what could have been if Anthopoulos had never left, I choose to be quite pleased with the work that Atkins and Shapiro have done to bring the Blue Jays back to contender status. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with being happy for an old friend.