Blue Jays' Anthopoulos Discusses Offseason Moves, Being Canada's Team, Future Of WBC
Prior to a blockbuster trade this offseason, Blue Jays Senior VP/Baseball Operations & GM Alex Anthopoulos was not exactly a household name among baseball fans. But he orchestrated MLB’s most talked-about move of the winter, trading with the Marlins for a package of players whose salaries would drive the Blue Jays’ payroll over the $100M mark. Anthopoulos recently took some time to talk about the club’s big trade and the satisfaction he has gotten from it, as well as his thoughts on the World Baseball Classic.
Q: What has it been like for your team to be the media darling of baseball this offseason?
Anthopoulos: I’ve said this a few times -- I’d rather we’re not in a position where we have to make a trade. I’d rather we’re in a position like Detroit, where we’re coming off an appearance in the World Series, you’ve re-signed pitcher Anibal Sanchez, added a free agent in rightfielder Torii Hunter and you’re done. That’s because they’re an outstanding team and they didn’t need to do as much work. When you lose 89 games and you plan on getting better, you’re going to have to be active. I think some of the attention is a little overblown. We had more work to do than anyone else in the division because -- other than the Red Sox -- we lost the most games in the division. So we’re the two teams in the division that had to add the most payers -- which makes sense.
Q: What kind of satisfaction did you get from the Marlins trade and picking up some other big names in free agency?
Anthopoulos: We don’t have any. Everybody makes trades thinking it’s going to make your team better, but until you start playing games -- hopefully winning games and being the contending team you plan on being -- you have no idea. You’re just holding your breath and hoping things work out. But we haven’t even played a game yet. We haven’t lost a game -- which is great -- but we also haven’t won a game. There’s a huge element of “wait and see.” We gave up a lot of good players in these trades and they were not easy trades to make, because there was a lot of talent we elected to part with. There was certainly calculated risk on our part, and that’s why I think the next seven months will tell the tale, and the next few years as well.
Q: How much lobbying did it take to get ownership to up your payroll to the $120M range?
Anthopoulos: Blue Jays President & CEO Paul Beeston is the one that deals with ownership in that respect, but I’m in constant communication with him. I keep him abreast of all our discussions and what we’re doing every step of the way. It’s daily with us. Our ownership has always said that for the right deals and the right players, we’d be able to up the payroll. But we never felt like we had the right opportunity. We felt like this was the right opportunity.
Q: As a GM, what is your strategy and how has it changed since you took the job in ‘09?
Anthopoulos: I think everyone’s strategy is the same, right? Everyone is trying to win. But I think every strategy is contingent upon your market. The strategy for the Blue Jays might not be the same one for the Mariners or the Indians or the Yankees. It’s based on your ownership, market size and resources. For us, when you look at the years in the early ‘90s when we won the World Series, we were the Yankees. We had the No. 1 payroll in the game and highest attendance. This was the first organization to ever draw four million fans. Not only to draw four million fans, but to do it two years in a row. Everyone knows that we are the only team in Canada. From that standpoint, we’re a large market club and that’s why the upside is so appealing. We didn’t have to guess what a successful franchise or a winning product would do from a revenue generating standpoint. We’ve seen the results. We’re clearly trying to get back to that point where we can be a contending team and do it on an annual basis. And with that, we expect revenues to climb and support a strong payroll, but at the same time not deviate from our roots and continue to be active and commit a lot of resources to scouting and player development. But I think you have to really tap into the upside of Toronto and Canada and the market that we have. And the way you do that is to win.
Q: Beeston has talked about smart and stupid money. How do the Blue Jays differentiate between those two?
Anthopoulos: Paul is big on the length of deal. We don’t have contracts longer than five years. That’s just a policy. Will it change one day? Sure. But it starts with Paul and I agree with it. The length of contract is what he thinks can give you issues. Ultimately, there will be good signings and bad signings. No club expects that when they get into a contract for it to not work out, but ultimately, some of them don’t. Clearly the longer term you have, the more crippling it can be to a franchise. So like anything, anytime you’re signing a player, you want it to work out. But if it doesn’t, it’s compounded by the fact that it’s a very long, eight, nine, ten years. That takes a long time to get out from underneath. So that’s why we have our cap at five years and we’ve adhered to it.
Q: Was there anyone you looked to for advice when you took over as GM?
Anthopoulos: I looked to everybody and I still do. I love to solicit advice or opinions from anybody. It could be the CEO, it could be the GM, it could be the janitor. Good ideas can come from anywhere. There are so many lists of things, there’s no black and white way to do it. Obviously you’ll talk to people who have been successful but I think everyone has their own route and way of doing it. When you look at the baseball playoffs from last year, you’ve got large market clubs, small market clubs making it. You try to take a little bit of every one and create your own style and your own way. But getting advice is a never a bad thing for me, you can get from anybody, inside or outside of sports.
Q: What is your idea of an effective business model?
Anthopoulos: Clearly it starts with winning. With our franchise, we are a large market and we can generate more than a lot of other clubs because of our upside. I think Paul has talked about this as well. We don’t necessarily want to make money and we don’t want to lose money. Everything we do make we want to put into the team -- infrastructure, payroll -- things like that. If you can operate and break even and have success all at the same time, that would be ideal. If you ask Paul about it, it’s to be that playoff and World Series contending team and to break even as well.
Q: What is your goal when you wake up every day?
Anthopoulos: When I first got the job, A’s VP & GM Billy Beane told me that you’re never going to get caught up. There’s always something to do. You can always work. There’s always time you can spend at the office doing something. And he’s right. After three years of doing this, he’s 100% right. When you look at it from a calendar standpoint, you ask yourself, “What do you have coming up next and what do you have to handle?” Rather than try and get too convoluted and say, “I’ve got 80,000 things to do and maybe 10,000 need to be done in the next nine months,” just worry about what’s coming up next on the calendar. Whatever’s first on your plate is what needs to be accomplished.
Q: What are your thoughts on the World Baseball Classic?
Anthopoulos: From a fan’s standpoint, it’s great. The games seem so intense. In a perfect world, all the best players from each country are playing. Every single player. No restrictions. But from a GM’s standpoint, that’s not a realistic thing. It’s great to see all this talent on one team representing their country and to see the passion. It’s so good for the sport. And I probably say this past iteration, I probably enjoyed it more than I have in the past. From a fan standpoint, I think it’s a great tournament. But how do we come up with a way that we can still protect the clubs and the players and their health? I don’t know what the solution is. But ultimately, it would be even better if every player would be playing in the tournament.
Q: What is a business story in baseball you are keeping an eye on this season?
Anthopoulos: I think the Cubs putting all kinds of money to change the ballpark and the infrastructure. You look at what the Red Sox did with Fenway Park years ago, and now they’ve added the green monster seats and have done a lot of things to really expand and grow the brand. It sounds like the Cubs are doing the same thing. That’s what I’m curious to see. How it evolves over time because obviously, with that franchise and the people there, that will be fun to watch because I think they’ll do a great job. I remember watching Red Sox games as a kid and now you look at how Fenway Park and the Red Sox brand has been transformed -- all in a positive way. It took them to a whole other level that you didn’t even know existed. The Cubs obviously are an iconic franchise and I think they’re going to take it to a whole new level that we haven’t seen. It will be fun to watch it evolve.