Alex Anthopoulos is a World Series champion in Atlanta. This isn’t a redemption story, but the Jays must be jealous
In the end, Alex Anthopoulos got the last laugh.
Six years after walking away from the Blue Jays as a matter of principle, Anthopoulos became the first Canadian general manager to win the World Series. His spot in the record books is forever secure after a historic accomplishment that will have some fans in this area wondering what might have been.
Anthopoulos, after all, was responsible for snapping a 22-year post-season drought by leading the Jays to the 2015 American League East Division crown. Now he’s credited with bringing Atlanta its first championship since 1995. Add another line to an already impressive resumé for the product of Montreal.
“You move somewhere, you get embraced by a community, you want to make an impact,” Anthopoulos told Mike Wilner on Wednesday, on the Star’s “Deep Left Field” podcast. “And knowing how I’ve had an impact in Atlanta until the day I die, knowing I’m part of the 2021 Braves, is a great feeling.”
To some this might feel like a redemption story, because Anthopoulos reached the pinnacle of the sport after he was only half-heartedly offered a chance to return following the initial breakthrough in Toronto. That narrative was floating all over social media in the 24 hours that followed Atlanta’s championship, but it’s doesn’t tell the full story.
First off, Anthopoulos wasn’t fired by the Jays. He left voluntarily after declining a contract offer that was thrown together at the last possible minute by Jays chair Edward Rogers. If Anthopoulos had been lacking options he would have stuck around. But after leading his team to the post-season in 2015, he knew his value and that another opportunity would eventually land at his doorstep.
Anthopoulos was already widely respected around the league by the time his days in Toronto were over. He earned a reputation as a relentless negotiator, a guy who wouldn’t be deterred no matter how many times he was told to get lost. If the first 50 phone calls weren’t enough to get a deal done, maybe one of the next 50 would. It was that approach that led to finalizing trades for guys such as Josh Donaldson before other teams even knew they were available.
That same respect just didn’t seem to carry over into the Jays front office.
Under former team president Paul Beeston, Anthopoulos was given carte blanche to build the Jays as he saw fit, payroll parameters notwithstanding. Once Beeston was replaced by Mark Shapiro, the situation changed.
Unlike Beeston, Shapiro likes to be involved in baseball operations, not just the business side. Or perhaps more accurately, Shapiro prefers to have everyone involved as part of a collaborative approach. He also reportedly took issue with Anthopoulos’s aggressive manoeuvering, which involved trading away a slew of prospects to make a run at the 2015 title.
Anthopoulos, who had to miss Tuesday night’s World Series festivities after testing positive for COVID-19, operates differently. He seeks opinions from a close circle, but knows the buck stops with him. While he’ll hear everyone out, at some point he processes that information and decides on his own instead of seeking consensus.
Anthopoulos and Shapiro would have mixed as well as oil and water. They never would have been on the same page. So when Rogers came calling just days before his contract was set to expire, Anthopoulos took one look at the situation and decided he would be better off somewhere else. Some things, such as autonomy, are more important than money.
Following a two-year stint as vice-president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Anthopoulos landed the Atlanta gig in 2017 after former GM John Coppolella committed multiple amateur signing infractions and was forced to resign. With a strong core in place and a deep farm system to work with, Anthopoulos led the Braves to a division title the following year, a feat he repeated each of the next two seasons.
His best work, however, was done this year.
It’s a story most baseball fans are familiar with by now. The Braves were treading water three games below .500 at the July 30 trade deadline when Anthopoulos sprung into action. Undeterred by the loss of franchise superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. and ace Mike Soroka to major injuries, he overhauled the roster by acquiring outfielders Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler for pennies on the dollar.
Anthopoulos’s crew went 37-19 over the final two months to capture the NL East title before going on to eliminate the Milwaukee Brewers, Dodgers and Houston Astros. Along the way, they broke the record for home runs hit by players acquired during one season (including the post-season) with 61. Soler hit three in the World Series alone and was named most valuable player. Rosario had three in the previous series, while batting .560, to earn similar honours.
“In 2019, we won 97 games and we lost in the NLDS,” Anthopoulos explained. “I think the biggest thing is, you need to get in. Just the ability to get in is a huge deal, because anything can happen. Everyone’s talented when you’re in that range — 88 (wins), 90, 95, whatever it is. I think the big thing for us is that we felt we were a much better club than we had played. It was very similar to Toronto (in 2015).”
Anthopoulos appears to be the kind of guy who learns from previous mistakes and gets smarter every year.