By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Just as the conspiracy theories, frustration and general angst had reluctantly started giving way to rational thought and overall acceptance, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays were dealt another disheartening blow on Thursday.”
Amongst waves of both praise and contract speculation, Alex Anthopoulos, general manager of the American League East Division Champion Blue Jays announced via conference call that he would not be returning to Toronto for the 2016 season.
“I don’t know if I’ve had to make a harder decision in my life. But I did what I felt I needed to do,” explained Anthopoulos on Thursday. “I didn’t feel this was the right fit for me going forward.”
The decision comes less than a week after the Blue Jays were knocked out of postseason action by the Kansas City Royals, who now lead the World Series 2-0 over the New York Mets.
Leaving the club shortly after his greatest triumph as GM should come as no surprise to those who have paid close attention to his often unexpected nature.
In the beginning, Anthopoulos’ meteoric rise to top spot in Toronto’s front office was one of question, as, at 32 years of age, the Montreal born executive didn’t come with nearly half the resume or star power that previous Canadian based general managers featured at the time of their appointment.
He wasn’t stolen away from the tightened grip of George Steinbrenner, and he didn’t begin his career in an Exhibition Stadium ticket booth. Joining the Blue Jays by way of the ill-fated Montreal Expos, the Blue Jays “Boy Wonder” wasn’t one of Billy Beane’s number-crunching “Moneyball” henchmen, or the son of a trailblazing Brooklyn Dodgers GM.
Instead, what the former Olympic Stadium mail room attendant brought to table during his tenure at 1 Blue Jays Way was a sheer sense of determination and willingness to take his share of calculated risks along the way.
With regards to professional baseball, the sharp eyed executive was raised by scouts and used his on the job training to establish a unique perspective with regards to the draft and MLB waiver proceedings
When he was handed the reigns from J.P, Riccardi following the end of a disappointing 2009 campaign, Toronto’s farm system had been depleted heavily via trade, the clubs finances were strapped and what remained in high ceiling prospects had arguably all been rushed through the system with intentions of finding a homegrown impact player.
Over the coming years, Anthopoulos would build his organization from the ground up, adding additional scouting with intentions of solidifying his farm system and then using the gains to deal from a position of overall strength.
Did it work?
Well, it’s impossible to predict the future as far as prospects go, but its hard to imagine the Blue Jays reaching the postseason this October without having prospects such as Adeiny Hechavarria, Miguel Castro or Daniel Norris to deal for proven major league talent.
In trades, occasionally, he swung and missed --think Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco, Mike Aviles/Yan Gomes for Esmil Rogers and others-- but in a game that revolves around failure, whiffs are bound to happen both on the diamond, and in the executive suites.
Like his 2015 offence, when he connected --taking calculated risks on extending Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, or drafting Marcus Stroman, or depleting some needed pitching depth in addition to a Gold Glove calibre third baseman for Josh Donaldson -- the results were unquestionable.
In signature style, the flurry of moves at the 2015 trade deadline was a testament to his persistence within the market, a character trait that, if anything else, he will be undoubtedly remembered for in the years that follow his time with the Blue Jays.
Originally, thought by some to be the main successor for Paul Beeston when his contract ran out this fall, Anthopoulos was taken out of that equation when team ownership formally named Mark Shapiro as the incoming President and CEO last August.
Without firsthand knowledge of Anthopoulos and Shapiro’s relationship, it’s hard to comment on whether or not his arrival signaled the end of the Double-A’s tenure in Toronto.
With that in mind, reports indicating Anthopoulos’s apparent “scolding” for trading away a sizeable part of the organizations future at the deadline are likely to be either fabricated or heavily exaggerated, as Shapiro doesn’t come with a reputation that would suggest otherwise.
“This decision is solely mine,” said the out going executive. “Mark (Shapiro) gave me every opportunity to return”.
Anthopoulos turned down a multi-year contract extension from the Jays ownership group. As it stands there are no openings for any general manager positions across major league baseball, but it’s early.
Regardless of how it all played out behind the scenes, Anthopoulos, who led the Jays to a 489-483 record during his tenure, will not be with the Blue Jays as the organization heads into what some are calling one of the most important off-seasons in franchise history.
In an ironic twist, Sporting News named Anthopoulos, who is now without a big league job, as the 2015 recipient of the Executive of the Year award during his phone conference with the media on Thursday afternoon
He is the third Canadian to be credited with the honor, joining fellow Montreal’er Calvin Griffith (1955) and Chatham Ont.’s Doug Melvin (1996).
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