3

Alex Anthopolous’ trades made the world a better place

Everyone would do the 2015 trade deadline over again without a second thought. Bringing in David Price and Troy Tulowitzki set the stage for the underachieving first-half Blue Jays to go on a historic run to the ALCS. If you wouldn’t, well, I don’t really want to hear what you have to say. You’re probably a boring and miserable sap. 

But what about the deals that led up to that blockbuster deadline, though? The controversial R.A. Dickey and Miami Marlins deals that preceded the disastrous 2013 season? Yep, I would do them all again.

AA started his tenure as Blue Jays general manager in October 2009 after J.P. Riccardi was fired. He had a terrible task to deal with right off the hop. He had to deal franchise icon Roy Halladay who requested to only be traded to a contending team. Despite the small scope of possible teams to deal the future Hall of Famer to, AA managed to pull back a great haul of prospects. He got two top-50 prospects in Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor and another Top-100 prospect in Travis d’Arnaud. Nobody from the Halladay deal ended up working out for the Jays, but still, given the circumstances, this was a good return. Sometimes prospects don’t pan out. That’s baseball.

The Jays performed well in AA’s first season thanks largely to a completely-unexpected breakout season by Jose Bautista. A utility player who bounced all over the league before joining the Blue Jays in 2008, Bautista randomly exploded for 54 homers in 2010. Nobody saw this coming, but Bautista’s breakout gave the Jays a new icon to build around with Halladay gone.

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

After the 2011 season, AA pulled off his first totally-out-of-the-blue deal that we would eventually become accustomed to. He sent franchise icon Vernon Wells and his horrendous contract to the Anaheim Angels in exchange for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Now, it would have been a fucking incredible deal if he had held on to Napoli, who went on to have some really effective seasons, but he flipped Napoli to Texas for reliever Frank Fransisco. Regardless, dumping Wells was huge because it allowed him to ink Bautista to a five-year, $65 million deal soon after. I think it’s understated how wild of a risk that was. Despite hitting 54 bombs in 2010, Bautista had been a random bench player his entire career. Taking that gamble was certainly something.

Another big part of AA’s tenure in Toronto was expanding the organization’s scouting staff. AA, who worked his way up the organization in the scouting department, doubled the organization’s scouting staff to 54 in various areas. This helped him to quickly stock the system with high-calibre prospects. Between 2010 and 2012, AA drafted Aaron Sanchez, Dan Norris, Noah Syndergaard, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Sean Nolin, and Kendall Graveman, quickly giving the organization one of the best farms in all of baseball.

It was with this glut of prospects AA was able to execute some of his wildest trades. During the 2012 off-season, he shocked the world by acquiring Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio from the Miami Marlins. The Jays were all in. They had to capitalize on the window that late-bloomers Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion had opened for them. Soon after, he went and acquired reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets in exchange for Syndergaard and d’Arnaud.

The moves blew up and the Jays sucked ass in 2013. That didn’t stop AA from going hard, though.

After the 2014 season, it was clear this team had potential. The 2014 Blue Jays had a six-game lead on the American League East in early June but imploded during the dog days of summer for a wealth of reasons. There was a lack of depth, their defence was poor, the bullpen was bad, and so on. Still, this team was too good to give up on. And, after giving up the farm in previous deals to contend, AA couldn’t pull out.

Prior to the 2015 season, AA pulled off is best deal. He somehow, someway convinced Billy Beane to give up Josh Donaldson — four years of an MVP-calibre player, nonetheless — for Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto, Sean Nolin, and Kendal Graveman. Soon after that, he made the biggest free agent splash in franchise history by signing Russell Martin to a five-year deal worth $82 million.

The team still had flaws. They were hovering around the .500 mark heading into July despite owning a run differential that suggested they were one of the better teams in baseball. I remember prior to the trade deadline thinking the Jays should blow it up and rebuild around young pitchers like Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. They could deal a year-and-a-half of Bautista and Encarnacion for a massive wealth of prospects and go from there.

But AA was ALL IN. And thank fuck for that! He had the wildest trade deadline ever, acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe, and Ben Revere. The team pulled it together and dominated baseball for the rest of the regular season. They broke their playoff drought, Jose flipped the bat, and got edged by the Royals in the ALCS.

So, why this oral history of AA’s moves? What I’m getting at is that I would do it all over again for that 2015 run. Even knowing what I do now, knowing they come up short against Kansas City, I would do it all over again. The Florida blockbuster, the Dickey deal, all of it. Because that’s what AA was about. He was about taking risks and making a big trade. At the very least, he injected excitement into the organization and made it fun to follow the Blue Jays.

You can argue that he missed pretty hard on some of his deals. Like, dealing Mike Napoli for Frank Fransisco, giving away Noah Syndergaard, dealing a the farm for old, underachievers from the Marlins. But for all the misses there were home runs to make up for it. Bautista’s contract, acquiring Donaldson, signing Martin, and so on. Regardless, what those bad or questionable deals did do was set a framework for him to continue to be aggressive into the 2014 off-season and the 2015 trade deadline and ultimately put together the best Blue Jays team seen in franchise history.

Good on you, AA. You’ll always be a Blue Jays legend for your ability to say “fuck it!” and make moves like a goddamn bad ass.

    • Teddy Ballgame

      Yeah, and I’d also hold up the 1987 team above the 2015 version as well. Just so stacked and so consistent…no matter how 1987 ended up. Fernandez doesn’t get injured, I’m sure that’s a World Series champ and probably a 100 win team.