Alex Anthopoulos, we hardly knew you but are we ever going to miss you.
Since taking over the Blue Jays in 2010 from his then boss, JP Ricciardi, there have been a rollercoaster of emotions for both fans and players. “Ninja,” as he is fondly called by fans across Canada, for making moves that nobody saw coming and that were not leaked to the media.
Before even getting comfortable in his new job and surroundings, he was dealt with the difficult job of trading away fan favorite, and potential Hall of Famer, Roy Halladay. He traded Roy Halladay, Cy young winner and the only ace Toronto has seen in the last 10 years, for Travis D’Arnaud, Michael Taylor and Kyle Drabek. Immediately after acquiring Taylor, Anthopoulos flipped him for Brett Wallace, then top first base prospect. Although Drabek never lived up to his huge potential, Anthopoulos managed to acquire Brett Lawrie for Wallace, and the then Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey for D’Arnaud.
Outside the draft, Anthopoulos also built depth through international signings by picking up defensive maestro and prospect Adeiny Hechavarria as well as lefty Luis Perez, and the more notable international signings of Miguel Castro and 17 year old Roberto Osuna and Jairo Labourt.
After completing this monumental trade, Anthopoulos went back to business as usual and started building a farm system with depth, potential and perennial All Stars within their ranks. He drafted well within his years in charge of the Blue Jays, picking up Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, D.J. Davis, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, Kevin Pillar, Justin Nicolino and Jeff Hoffman. These draft picks gave the Blue Jays depth and leverage in trades and gave fans the hope of a fruitful future.
After years and years of building up talent in the drafts and mediocre at best records in the MLB, Anthopoulos decided it was time for his team to make a big push and to start winning.
Fast forward to 2012, shockwaves were transmitted across the baseball world and across the country of Canada. The Blue Jays had acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio from the Miami Marlins and going the other way were top prospects Adeiny Hechavarria, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani and Jake Marisnick, as well as backup catcher Jeff Mathis and shortstop Yunel Escobar.
This changed the complexion of the Blue Jays and pushed them from being a .500 team to a playoff team. Anthopoulos was not done yet. He then signed free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera and traded for the Cy Young winner in R.A. DIckey for two more prospects that Anthopoulos drafted and groomed in Noah Syndergaard and top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud. This turned the Blue Jays into World Series favourites by everyone in the industry.
The 2013 season did not go how the Jays envisioned it. They started off with an extremely slow start with bad pitching, defensive blunders and Jose Reyes getting injured in April. Everything that could go wrong for the Blue Jays, went wrong. They finished the year with a 74-88 record, 14 games under .500. The big trade looked like a huge bust, Josh Johnson was not pitching like himself and was frankly brutal. J.P. Arencibia, the one-time top prospect was hitting under .200, and R.A. Dickey was in no way close the Cy Young pitcher he was the year earlier. Anthopoulos’ job was on the line after those moves failed to work, as dealing the organizations’ top prospects was regarded as a massive mistake. The Blue Jays were back to the basement of the division, where they were exactly a year back.
In the offseason after the dismal season of 2013, which left fans upset and angry about the lack of results after all the big moves, Anthopoulos went back to work. He released the once prized prospect J.P. Arencibia and signed Dioner Navarro as his replacement. That was the most significant move of the offseason as the Jays went with the same roster hoping the year before was a one time fluke.
Prized prospect Marcus Stroman was the bright spot in 2014 and his rise to the majors gave fans hope and pride again for the future. At the All-Star break, the Blue Jays were in it and were hoping for a bolt at the trade deadline, with the addition of a player via trade. Anthopoulos decided to stand pat. Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen were the most vocal players in showing their disappointment for the lack of moves. Fans wanted the GM fired, two years after making those huge moves. The Jays ended up not making the playoffs, and AA’s lack of moves at the deadline were widely criticized. The city was disappointed and the players were devastated.
Going into the 2014 offseason, tensions were high and Anthopoulos went to work. His job was unofficially on the line, depending on the results of the 2014 season, and he began to try to turn the teams’ fortunes around.
Alex Anthopoulos, with pressure on him as high as ever, went on to sign Russell Martin, the Canadian catcher, with leadership, personality and All Star numbers. His clubhouse presence was the thing that Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays valued more than anything. AA’s theory changed from acquiring just talent, to acquiring talent with great personality.
This move shocked Blue Jays fans as they already had a more than capable catcher in Dioner Navarro, but it also showed that he was going for it, trying to find the best player at each position. His next move, arguably the best he’s ever made as GM of the Blue Jays by pretty much stealing away the best third baseman in baseball, Josh Donaldson, in a shocker of a trade. Anthopoulos traded Canadian and fan favorite Brett Lawrie, as well as three other prospects, for the best third baseman in baseball. He acquired Donaldson at a time when he was under contract for another 4 years, which made this deal even more of a steal. Anthopoulos showed the baseball world he was going all in. He then acquired Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ and made Saunders the left fielder of the future and excited the fanbase even more.
The 2015 season started in the worst way possible, as opening day starter and ace Marcus Stroman tore his ACL just days into spring training and Michael Saunders tore his knee by running over a sprinkler. Hands went in heads and the season looked in jeopardy again.
The Jays then went on to play good enough baseball in the first half to stay in a playoff position, boosted by an eleven game win streak. At the break, they were two games out of a wild card position and eight back from the New York Yankees in the AL East. The biggest question was whether Anthopoulos would make a move at the trade deadline and go for it. That question was answered with a deal nobody saw coming. The nickname of “ninja” really made sense when he traded Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro, for the best shortstop in baseball, Troy Tulowitzki, and reliever LaTroy Hawkins. The news sent waves throughout the baseball world and the country of Canada. The Blue Jays had acquired Troy Tulowitzki. Those sentences resonated throughout Canada. This was the first time it looked like the Blue Jays were all in. It showed the belief Anthopoulos had in his team. It was a definite spark to the team who went on to win eleven straight games and put them right into the title race. He wasn’t done there.
Two short days later, Anthopoulos had done it again. He pulled of a massive trade and got exactly what the Blue Jays needed. He got a perennial all star and a former Cy Young in David Price. He traded Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt and acquired the ace he needed to light a fire in the hearts of Canadians everywhere. They were overjoyed and excited to have so many all stars in the same lineup for a Canadian team. He got a star player as well as a clubhouse presence which he was looking for. Signs filled the Rogers Centre saying “Thank You Alex” as well as “ANTHOPOULOS FOR MVP.” He changed the team and sparked the city.
The next day he acquired Ben Revere and Mark Lowe, which shored up his defence in left field and added to the depth of their bullpen. After these trades the Jays sold out 17 straight games and Blue Jays fever was in full effect. Hats, Jerseys, flags, and Toronto was in a sea of blue every day. These moves transformed a franchise and sent the Blue Jays to their first division title in 22 years. There wereAnthopoulos chants in Baltimore, the day they won the division just to thank him. AA was a god in Toronto. He was lauded as the saviour.
The Jays fell two games short of a World Series berth but stole the hearts of an entire nation. There was pride in wearing blue, everyone talked about the Blue Jays and the city was in full fandom. From being athletes, the Jays players turned into celebrities. Playing in Canada was fun again.
Shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs, Anthopoulos was out of a job. His contract was up at the end of the year and he declined a potential contract extension for reasons unknown. New management is the safe bet on why the man who changed a franchise, brought life into a city and made people fall in love with the sport, was out of a job.Anthopoulos stated his love for Toronto and his love for the job but a new deal could not be agreed to.
Wherever your future takes you Mr. Anthopoulos, the city of Toronto and the country of Canada, thank you for your service. We appreciate all your hard work and for bringing love and belief in the Blue Jays again. Thank you for doing everything in your power to make our city a winner and our country a winner. You are welcome in Toronto anytime and will never have to pay for coffee again. You changed our franchise and all we have now is the words thank you.
Cheers to you, you are a Blue Jay forever.