MLB Hot Seat – Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays have to make a series of decisions at the conclusion of this season and the first one will be what to do with general manager Alex Anthopoulos. For the first three years of his reign, he received a pass mostly because he wasn’t former GM J.P. Ricciardi. In what was considered a fresh start, the Blue Jays didn’t play much better under Anthopoulos than they did when Ricciardi was the GM. They were mostly mediocre and were never contenders. The focus seemed to be on stockpiling youngsters, staying relatively competitive at the big league level and waiting for the chance to bolster Jose Bautista and the other power bats.

After the 2012 season, a 73-89 disappointment, manager John Farrell was traded to the Red Sox to be their manager and the Blue Jays began a massive reconstruction by acquiring Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins for a large chunk of their farm system. They then acquired reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets for even more prospects and signed Melky Cabrera. Finally, Anthopoulos rehired the same manager who had run the team in the midst of Ricciardi’s tenure, John Gibbons. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked.

Anthopoulos runs the club without the outspokenness, bluster and controversy that seemed to follow Ricciardi around like the stink of a weekend bender, but he hasn’t had any more success than his former boss. In fact, the argument could be made that he’s done worse. Anthopoulos is a frenetic tinkerer who doesn’t seem to have a plan. They dealt with the Ricciardi hangover, built up the minor league system, hired and fired a couple of managers and decided to spend a lot of money to go all in for 2013. They’re in last place.

What now? They can make more trades, free agent signings and bring in another manager and different coaches, or they can fire Anthopoulos and let the new GM plot a course.

If the Blue Jays make a GM change, the call will be for Tony LaCava to get the job. Would it make sense to bring in another GM who worked under Ricciardi and Anthopoulos? The Blue Jays didn’t interview anyone when they elevated Anthopoulos to replace Ricciardi. Safe in the “anyone but Ricciardi” theory, they went with the next guy. They can’t do that again no matter how impressive LaCava is.

Some 35-year-old with a spreadsheet and a degree from MIT making grandiose proclamations isn’t going to fly again. It has to be a totally different approach from the past decade.

Once the question shifts from, “how do we take the next step?” to “what now?”, it’s over. Anthopoulos is on the hot seat because he’s the only one left to blame and there’s no other move the Blue Jays can make that combines the sense and simplicity as firing the general manager.




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Blue Jays’ Hot Streak Saves Them From Painful Decisions

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Ballparks, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The Blue Jays were facing a series of harsh choices if they’d continued down the road they were on. With GM Alex Anthopoulos having cast his lot by acquiring veterans with hefty contracts Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson; by trading for R.A. Dickey and giving him a long-term deal at age 38; for gutting the farm system; for rehiring the same manager the team had fired in John Gibbons, Anthopoulos’s job was clearly in jeopardy if the Blue Jays would up with 90+ losses. The new GM would’ve undertaken a new rebuilding/retooling project with a different strategy. The fans’ enthusiasm for the club would also have waned if they started over again following a failure of this magnitude.

They were never as bad as they were playing when they were eleven games under .500 on May 10th. Of course, the same holds true for this eleven game win streak. Accumulated not against terrible teams but against the Orioles, Rangers and Rockies, this hot streak has given them some wiggleroom not to do anything drastic in terms of clearing out players at the trading deadline, but instead adding players who can assist them for a playoff run.

When a team makes the series of bold maneuvers that the Blue Jays did this past winter and they immediately fall flat, there aren’t many options available. Their hands were essentially cuffed. It was either this team will get itself straight or they’re all done for in Toronto. That the team somehow reeled off this win streak is a rarity among teams who have pushed all their chips into the pot as the Blue Jays have and got off to a disastrous start, but it’s happening. Two months is generally not enough to come to the determination that the entire thing has to be torn down especially where there are proven players on the roster, but the frustration with so many years of mediocrity and the constant frenetic tweaking on the part of a GM who was a member of the mostly failed regime of former GM J.P. Ricciardi would have created a groundswell to do something else with someone else. The what and who are irrelevant, it would simply be a change for its own sake. And don’t think that firing Anthopoulos would’ve yielded a move to the next in line, the respected Tony LaCava. In that kind of situation, clubs generally move in an entirely new direction, presumably with an older, veteran GM who thinks in an old-school manner.

If it had gotten to July and the Blue Jays were sitting 10 games under .500 and 12 games out of playoff position, a “For Sale” sign at clearance prices could easily have been posted outside the Rogers Centre. As it stands now, they may not make a serious playoff run. They’re still only two games over .500 and the season hasn’t been saved nor have the moves haven’t been validated yet (ironically, they were also two games over .500 a year ago to this day and their current win streak has been due to unsung players like Adam Lind, Chien-Ming Wang and Munenori Kawasaki), but they’re able to make baseball moves to get better and try to win for 2013 rather than play out the string, get rid of money, placate the angry crowds and fickle circling media to start all over again.

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Rethinking the GM, Part I—American League East

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Maybe it’s time to rethink how GMs are hired instead of lauding owners for adhering to stats; for placating media demands; for listening to fans; for doing what they think will be well-received and garner them some good coverage while hoping that it’s going to work in lieu of hiring the best person for the job and all it entails. Some people may have sterling resumes, extensive experience, a great presentation and charisma and then fail miserably at one or another aspect of the job. Just because a GM was great at running another club’s draft, running the farm system or was a valuable jack-of-all-trades assistant doesn’t make them suited to do the big job.

With the struggles of GMs from both sides of the spectrum like the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik, who built his club based on stats; and the Royals’ Dayton Moore, who rebuilt the entire Royals farm system into one of baseball’s best, after-the-fact and self-indulgent criticisms from the aforementioned factions of stat people, media and fans are essentially worthless. Zduriencik’s bandwagon has emptied since his first overachieving season as Mariners GM in 2009 when the team, which he had little to do with putting together, rose from 61-101 to 85-77 due to luck and performance correction rather than any brilliance on his part. Moore is a veritable punching bag for the Royals collapse from 17-10 after 27 games to 21-29 and sinking.

Instead of ripping the GMs for what they’ve done, perhaps it would be better to look at each GM and examine how he got the job without a retrospective on the moves they made and the teams they’ve built. This isn’t as flashy as dissecting his decisions as GM, but it’s probably more useful to those doing the hiring in the future. In short, was the hiring a good one in the first place and was the decision made based on factors other than putting a winning team together?

If you think it’s so easy to put your individual stamp on the job of being a Major League Baseball GM, then walk into your boss’s office today (if you have a job that is) and tell him or her some of the things you say on blogs and message boards and tweets to Keith Law: “This is how it’s gonna be, and I’m gonna do this my way and you better just give me full control…” On and on. Then, after you’re done, go get your resume ready to look for a new job. It doesn’t work in the way people seem to think it does and the audacity of someone who’s working the stockroom at Best Buy telling experienced baseball people how they should do their jobs needs to be tamped down a little. Actually, it needs to be tamped down a lot.

Let’s go division by division. First the American League East with subsequent postings to be published discussing all of the other divisions in baseball.

Boston Red Sox

Ben Cherington was the next-in-line successor to Theo Epstein when Epstein abandoned ship to take over as president of the Cubs. He’d worked in the Red Sox front office going back to the Dan Duquette days and was a highly regarded hire. His first season was pockmarked by the aftermath of the disastrous 2011 collapse, the interference of Larry Lucchino and John Henry and that he was overruled in his managerial preferences for someone understated like Gene Lamont in favor of Bobby Valentine. Now the team has been put together by Cherington and they’re trying to get back to what it was that built Epstein’s legacy in the first place.

New York Yankees

Brian Cashman walked into a ready-made situation when he took over for Bob Watson after the 1997 season. He’d been with the Yankees since 1986 working his way up from intern to assistant GM and barely anyone knew who he was when he got the job. His hiring inspired shrugs. He was known to George Steinbrenner and Cashman knew what his life would be like functioning as Steinbrenner’s GM. He was taking over a team that was a powerhouse. Little was needed to be done in 1998 and his main job during those years was to implement the edicts of the Boss or steer him away from stupid things he wanted to do like trading Andy Pettitte. If the Yankees had hired an outsider, it wouldn’t have worked because no one would’ve been as aware of the terrain of running the Yankees at that time as Cashman was. He’s a survivor.

Baltimore Orioles

Whether the Orioles would’ve experienced their rise in 2012 had Tony LaCava or Jerry Dipoto taken the job and been willing to work under the thumbs of both Peter Angelos and his manager Buck Showalter will never be known. Dan Duquette was hired as a last-ditch, name recognition choice whose preparedness in the interview was referenced as why he got the nod. Duquette has never received the credit for the intelligent, gutsy and occasionally brutal (see his dumping of Roger Clemens from the Red Sox) work he did in laying the foundation for the Red Sox championship teams or for the Expos club he built that was heading for a World Series in 1994 had the strike not hit. He’s a policy wonk and devoid of the charming personality that many owners look for in today’s 24/7 newscycle world in which a GM has to have pizzazz, but he’s a qualified baseball man who knows how to run an organization. Suffice it to say that if it was LaCava or Dipoto who was the GM in 2012, more credit would’ve gone to the GMs by the stat-loving bloggers than what Duquette has received. All he’s gotten from them is silence after they torched him and the Orioles when he was hired.

Tampa Bay Rays

For all the talk that Andrew Friedman is the “best” GM in baseball, it’s conveniently forgotten that he is in a uniquely advantageous situation that would not be present anywhere else. He has an owner Stuart Sternberg who is fully onboard with what Friedman wants to do; the team doesn’t have the money to spend on pricey free agents nor, in most cases to keep their own free agents unless they do what Evan Longoria has done and take far down-the-line salaries to help the club; and he’s not functioning in a media/fan hotbed where every move he makes is scrutinized for weeks on end.

If he were running the Yankees, would Friedman be able to tell Derek Jeter to take a hike at the end of this season if it benefited the club? No. But if it got to the point where any Rays player from Longoria to David Price to manager Joe Maddon wore out his welcome or grew too costly for what he provides, Friedman has the freedom to get rid of one or all. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else, therefore his success isn’t guaranteed as transferrable as a matter of course.

Toronto Blue Jays

After the rollercoaster ride on and off the field that was having J.P. Ricciardi as their GM, they tabbed his assistant Alex Anthopoulos as the new GM. There were no interviews and no interim label on Anthopoulos’s title. He was the GM. Period. Anthopoulos was a solid choice who had extensive experience in front offices with the Expos and Blue Jays. He’s also Canadian, which doesn’t hurt when running a Canadian team.

Should the Blue Jays have done other interviews? If the former GM is fired because his way wasn’t working, then that’s not just an indictment on the GM, but on his staff as well. No one in a big league front office is an island and if the prior regime didn’t succeed, then interviews of outside candidates—just to see what else is out there—would’ve been wise. It’s like getting divorced and then turning around marrying one of the bridesmaids. Anthopoulos still might’ve gotten the job, but it would not have been done with such tunnel vision.

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Dan Duquette And The Orioles Are A Fit

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Because Dan Duquette’s tenure with the Red Sox is judged in through the prism of hindsight and what happened after he left, he casts the shadow of the old school, miserable, paranoid, press-loathing baseball executive who would’ve been better-served to function in the 1970s when few outside an organization even knew who the general managers were.

In reality, the 1994 Expos—well on their way to the World Series when the strike hit—were largely constructed by Duquette; the Red Sox championship teams wouldn’t have been championship teams without the foundation laid by Duquette during his tenure.

Yes, it ended badly.

Yes, he treated the organization as if it was a closed, dictatorial society where even the slightest bit of information being leaked out risked one being fired.

Yes, he epitomized the governmental functionary—a policy wonk—more comfortable away from other humans.

But it was Duquette who had the nerve to let both Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn walk away from the Red Sox—amid media and fan firestorms—and was right in both cases, especially when he said Clemens was in the twilight of his career.

Perhaps it was the perceived slight that sent Clemens on the road to PED use and skidding down to the depths of a questionable career conclusion, perjury and embarrassing personal revelations, but Duquette’s assessment was dead-on target.

Duquette traded Heathcliff Slocumb for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe; he signed Tim Wakefield for nothing; acquired Pedro Martinez; and put together a team that was highly competitive and unlucky in that they continually ran into the Yankees in the midst of their late 1990s dynasty.

The new age GM who’s handsome, well-spoken and skillful at turning phrases designed to say absolutely nothing is part of a mutually beneficial relationship between the media and the GM. The media writes stories with an “insider” tack, shunning criticism for those who are of like mind and provide information; the GM gets his message out to the masses to frame the story the way he prefers.

Duquette was not good at that.

But there’s nothing wrong with having Duquette do the GM work of finding big league or near big league ready players to fit into the Orioles rebuild. His drafts with the Red Sox were terrible and he’s awful with the media, but installing a draft guru type to handle the draft; letting manager Buck Showalter be the organizational frontman; and Duquette doing what he did with the Red Sox—decide which players are on the downside and to make savvy trades—is a reasonable delegation of duties.

The top-down strategy of a GM being in charge of the entire show is trendy, but that doesn’t make it the singular way to work.

The Orioles have whiffed in trying to go “new school” with Tony LaCava and others who’ve turned them down, but it could be that they’re better off going old school with Duquette because his time as a baseball executive is far better than he’s ever been given credit for.

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Don’t Expect Miracles From Theo Epstein

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The Cubs paid a lot of money and are going to send undetermined compensation—a prospect or prospects—for the right to hire Theo Epstein while he still had a year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox—Boston.com Story.

Only hindsight will tell whether or not this is a wise move.

In similar fashion, the Red Sox were set to hire Billy Beane from the Oakland A’s after the 2002 season and send a young infielder named Kevin Youkilis to the A’s for the right to do so.

Beane backed out on the deal that was worth over $12 million and had some insane perks such as letting Beane spend a chunk of his time on the West Coast and run the Red Sox from there.

Retrospectively, it’s hard to see Beane having replicated the success enjoyed by Epstein and his staff with the Red Sox. Two championships; an annual contender with homegrown talent; and daily sellouts speak for themselves.

Now Epstein’s the man with the reputation.

But 5-years at $18.5 million? For a team president?

I’m dubious.

What’s Epstein going to do with the Cubs?

First he’s hiring trusted acolytes from the Padres and his days with the Red Sox including current Padres GM Jed Hoyer.

I wondered yesterday why the Padres were letting Hoyer go without compensation since he’s under contract through 2014, but they’re going to receive prospects from the Cubs as well.

I wouldn’t give up players for an executive, but this is the way business is being done today. Don’t automatically dismiss how good the prospects might be because few knew what Youkilis was before Moneyball.

If anyone’s thinking the Cubs are going to be a lean machine of inexpensive “finds” that the “genius” Epstein discovered using some arcane formula that he and only he knows, you haven’t been paying attention.

Back when Beane was set to take over the Red Sox, an important factor in his potential for success or failure is that the details of Moneyball and Beane’s strategies weren’t widely known because the book had yet to be published. He was operating from a personal strategy borne out of desperation that not all were privy to; now, everyone has the same stats and are, again, reliant on old-school scouting techniques; an intelligent manager; superior coaching; smart trades; good free agent signings; and luck.

Those who point to other clubs who’ve been successful on a budget aren’t delving into the requisite factors of a team like the Rays maintaining excellence without any money and a decrepit, uninviting ballpark—they’ve got a load of starting pitching from being so consistently terrible for years; locked up key components like Evan Longoria; and have been masterful at finding bullpen arms and putting them in a position to succeed with an altered approach and a superlative defense.

There’s a baseline of talent with the Cubs—just as there was one with the Red Sox when Epstein was placed in charge there. It’s not as deep nor as good, but they have some starting pitching with Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano (who’s a lunatic, but might be salvageable); they have Starlin Castro; and relievers Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

It’s not a barren wasteland and there’s no mandate to cut costs due to monetary constraints.

This whole series of events is a bit incestuous and reminiscent of the decried “old boys club” of yesteryear when former players or loyal executives were placed in the perch of GM rather than finding someone qualified to do the job with a breadth of experience in every aspect of running an organization.

Epstein, who wanted to leap from the Red Sox Hindenburg, got his out—and a lot of money and power—with the Cubs.

Hoyer is leaving a situation where he couldn’t spend big and is grabbing the Epstein ladder to be his top lieutenant and run the club on a day-to-day basis while Epstein acts presidential.

Another former Epstein assistant, Josh Byrnes, is taking over in San Diego.

This is a similar dynamic to that which was rebelled against with Moneyball—that “old boys club”. Outsiders have become insiders, except that now, it’s not a litany of former players and longtime employees, but young college graduates who cut their teeth as interns, crunched numbers and worked their way up; it’s reaching its logical conclusion with the failures of such names as Paul DePodesta, whose tenure with the Dodgers was a nightmare that cannot be conveniently laid at the feet of Frank McCourt as many set out to do in his weak defense.

Beane himself has become a punchline.

And that’s a far cry from what was essentially a blank check and contract that Red Sox owner John Henry used to lure Beane to the Red Sox.

In today’s world, a GM has to be savvy to finances, scouting, development and stats; he has to delegate; and he (or she—Kim Ng is going to interview for the Angels job) has to be able to express himself to the media, saying things without saying anything to get into trouble.

Epstein has all these attributes.

But so did Beane.

Could another GM candidate like Jerry DiPoto or Tony LaCava go to the Cubs and do essentially what Epstein’s going to do? What he did with the Red Sox? Spend money, draft well, make some trades that might or might not work out and cover up any free agent mistakes with more money?

Yes.

And could they do it at a cheaper rate than $18.5 million for Epstein; presumably another $5 million for Hoyer; and the prospects that are going to the  Padres and Red Sox?

Again, I say yes.

Time will tell if this was a smart move. Just as the Red Sox were fortunate that Beane backed out on them and they hired Epstein, the Cubs could see one of the people they had a chance to hire go elsewhere and become the man they think they’re hiring now, except another club will benefit from that unknown.

The Cubs got the man they wanted.

We’ll see if it works out or if they would’ve been better off to have had the negotiations come apart, leaving them to hire someone younger and with the same attributes that got Epstein the Red Sox job in the first place.

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