Well-respected former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has signed an eight-year contract extension to stay in Atlanta as President of Baseball Operations and GM through the 2031 season.
After building the 2015 AL East pennant winner and ALCS team in Toronto, he spent two seasons as an assistant GM to Andrew Friedman of the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning two NL West titles, before the Braves hired him after they’d lost 90 games in 2017.
As the Braves press release notes, “In six seasons under his leadership, Atlanta has compiled a 515-354 (.593) record, won six consecutive NL East division titles, and captured the 2021 World Series championship. The Braves' 515 wins under Anthopoulos' direction stand as the third most in baseball since 2018, as do their 24 postseason victories. He was named by Baseball America as the MLB Executive of the Year following the 2022 season and has finished as runner-up for Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year Award in each of the last two years.”
Blue Jays ALCS Teams
Blue Jays’ history buffs will recall that Anthopoulos built the first AL East title winner in Toronto since National Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Gillick had built the back-to-back World Series champs in 1992-1993. That 2015 team captured the imagination of the entire country, with a 93-69 regular season, followed by a run to the ALCS including the best bat flip in MLB history.
Ahead of that season, Anthopoulos had acquired then 29-year old Josh Donaldson, who would go on to win the 2015 AL MVP award, as well as starter Marco Estrada, who went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA over 34 appearances and 181 innings. He also signed catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82M contract, in what was then the largest ever free agent deal for the franchise.
Donaldson led that 2015 team with a 7.1 bWAR. Kevin Pillar had a 5.2 bWAR. Edwin Encarnación put up a 4.9 bWAR and José Bautista was at 4.8, while Martin was at 3.2.
Anthopoulos was also behind trade deadline deals for lefty David Price, who went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts and 74.1 innings down the stretch, with 87 strikeouts against only 18 walks; and All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who tightened up the Blue Jays infield defence with a dWAR of 0.5 in 41 games. He also added Ben Revere, and relievers Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins.
20-year-old rookie Roberto Osuna saved 20 games that year after taking over the closer’s role from Miguel Castro and Brett Cecil on June 22nd. Devon Travis, acquired from Detroit for Anthony Gose, had an OPS+ of 131 in 62 games.
24-year-old Marcus Stroman went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA over 4 starts and 27 innings that September after rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered during a routine bunt drill in spring training. Aaron Sanchez went 7-6 with a 3.22 ERA (128 ERA+), and proved to be a solid set-up man in high leverage situations ahead of Osuna.
In terms of the farm system, on July 2, 2015, Anthopoulos and international scouting director Ismael Cruz signed Vladimir Guerrero Jr., as an international free agent. He and his scouting department also drafted Danny Jansen, Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza, and many pundits believe the pick of high schooler Bo Bichette at No. 66 in June 2016 was pushed by Anthopoulos’ Head Scout Brian Parker, who was fired shortly after that draft.
Sadly Anthopoulos left Toronto after that magical season. He was named the Sporting News ‘Executive of the Year’ for 2015 as selected by a panel of 47 MLB executives on October 29th, the same day he rejected a five-year extension to stay on as GM in Toronto.
Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons tells a story of how on the day that Anthopoulos decided to walk away from six seasons in the dream job he loved with the Blue Jays, “[owner Ed] Rogers surprised him almost out of nowhere with a lucrative offer… Before the offer, the two had never met. The de facto owner had never met the general manager.”
According to Anthopoulos, there may have been some issues that led to his departure from Toronto despite the contract extension offer. When he was hired in Atlanta after the 2017 season, he spoke with Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s ‘Jeff Blair Show’ and cryptically said,
"… you can have the greatest organization in the world, if you’re working for people you don’t enjoy, you don’t believe in them, they don’t believe in you, what environment is that going to be? How rewarding is that going to be?"- Alex Anthopoulos
In Atlanta, 21 of the players on the Braves’ 26-man roster for the 2023 NLDS were acquired after Anthopoulos arrived in 2017. He’s acquired Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, Orlando Arica, Raisel Iglesias, Joe Jiménez, Jarred Kelenic, Aaron Bummer and Chris Sale all via trade.
Anthopoulos drafted Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II, Bryce Elder and AJ Smith-Shawver. Last summer he drafted potential ace Hurston Waldrep at No. 24 (who the Jays could’ve drafted at No. 20). He’s also signed free agents Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud, Charlie Morton and Reynaldo López.
In perhaps his best year of building, Anthopoulos traded for 2021 NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario, 2021 WS MVP Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall to replace Ronald Acuña Jr., and Ozuna when they were out for the season and missed the playoffs. Those trades certainly helped Atlanta in their run to the 2021 World Series Championship.
Blue Jays fans surely have fond memories of that 2015 team which won the AL East and went back to the postseason for the first time since 1993; Anthopoulos had built that roster in six years as GM. Hall of Famer Pat Gillick took the expansion franchise Blue Jays to an AL East pennant in just eight years, and built the core of a team that won five AL East titles and back-to-back World Series Championships in their competitive era from 1985 and 1993.
Ross Atkins is now starting his 9th year as Toronto GM, and the team has no AL East titles under his leadership. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, with a team that was mostly inherited from his predecessors. And the 2023 team was one of MLB’s oldest, with a bottom third farm system. Current stars Bichette and Guerrero can test free agency after 2025, as can Jordan Romano. Danny Jansen will be a free agent after the upcoming season unless a contract extension is signed.
So while we wish Alex Anthopoulos well and congratulate him on his big extension, Blue Jays fans are also left wondering, “What could have been?” In 2015, the Blue Jays luxury tax payroll was $141M, which ranked 16th in baseball. What could he have done with a top-five luxury tax payroll of $258M, like Atkins had in 2023?