Blue Jays fans have been skeptical about the Cleveland Crew since the moment Mark Shapiro took over from Paul Beeston. A lot of that had to do with timing. Thanks to a magical trade deadline orchestrated by Alex Anthopolous, the Jays were on the verge of ending their two-decade playoff drought. It made the architecht a hero in Toronto.
Shapiro came in as an outsider from an organization which, to be blunt, wasn’t admirable. Nobody wanted the Blue Jays to become the Cleveland Indians, and one of Shapiro’s biggest calling cards was his ability to save money for ownership. With Anthopolous at the height of yore in Toronto, most of us simply wanted him promoted into Beeston’s old gig as President. At the very least, Jays fans wanted him to remain general manager.
But Shapiro and Anthopolous didn’t jive, as made apparent by this story about Shapiro scolding Anthopolous about his aggressive deals. AA would ultimately jump ship immediately after his team broke the playoff drought. He spent a year as a guy in the Dodgers organization and then grabbed a gig as the general manager of the Atlanta Braves.
The situation for AA was fascinating. The Braves were loaded with prospects and were soon going to have a bunch of money to spend on the club. The team had also just moved into a massive, taxpayer-funded mega park, so expectations for a major financial investment were rightfully very high.
In his first season at the helm, AA was pretty conservative. He made a creative payroll-related deal with the Dodgers, dumping two years of Matt Kemp for a bunch of washed up soon-to-be free agents. The goal there was to open up financial flexibility for this off-season. He brought in an old pal in Jose Bautista to help fill the void while the organization manipulated top prospect Ronald Acuna’s service time by stashing him in Triple-A for the first few weeks of the season. Otherwise, there weren’t any big, wild AA splashes like we expected to see.
The team ended up playing really, really well thanks to performances from young players like Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, and Sean Newcomb. The Braves made the playoffs, which compounded angst in many Jays fans who believed AA could have done something similar here. But there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface in Atlanta. Braves fans are pissed at the level of investment that the front office has made this off-season. Most of all, though, they’re pissed that the front office seems to think the fanbase is stupid.
Craig Calcaterra, an excellent writer for NBC Sports who has an iron in this fire as a Braves fan, straight up said the Braves think their fans are idiots. This comes from an interview Jeff Schultz did with Anthopolous and Braves Chairman (basically their Ted Rogers) Terry McGuirk in The Athletic.
Talking Chop, the Atlanta Braves SBNation page, absolutely carved the Braves’ front office for not following through on their promises to open their wallets this off-season. Here’s a very convenient timeline put together by Talking Chop breaking down how the organization has spoken about its plans to invest in the on-field product of the team.
From 2014: “Really, as far out into the future as I can see, I see us raising payroll every year,” Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Yes, part of that thought comes from the optimism and the lack of uncertainty that the new world brings to us.”
From 2016: “We are at the low end of the (payroll) spectrum at the moment,” Braves CEO Terry McGuirk said. “We are not afraid at all to go to where it takes to be a championship team. The sequencing of that is very important to us.”
From 2018: “There will be very few teams that have as much to spend in the marketplace next winter as the Atlanta Braves,” McGuirk said. “The opportunity to spend is there, but it’s going to be done judiciously and sequentially when (general manager Alex Anthopoulos) says it’s time. (…) We’re going to let these young players come up, but we’re going to supplement whenever it’s time to put the pedal to the metal. We feel like we have the capacity to do it.”
As of right now, the Braves have only made $31 million worth of investments this off-season and they call came right off the hop. The Braves brought back a familiar face in Brian McCann on a one-year deal, they re-signed free agent Nick Markakis after his first-ever All-Star nod in 2018, and they bought low on Josh Donaldson, which was met to some angst that he was yet another one of Anthopolous’ Blue Jay Boys.
The $31 million added this winter puts the Braves on pace to head into the 2019 season with a smaller payroll than the one they had last season. That’s obviously not quite on par with the sentiment “there will be very few teams that have as much to spend in the marketplace next winter as the Atlanta Braves” that was said back in 2018. As a result, Anthopolous had to spew some PR bullshit in order to try to cover things up.
Q Schultz: All we heard about the Braves’ move to SunTrust was that it would drive a higher team payroll. Fans contend that the team promised as much. Terry, you said the team would have money to spend. But it has been a relatively quiet winter. Please explain.
Anthopoulos: Did we promise we were going to spend more money, or did we promise we were going to have more flexibility? Nobody is ever going to say, “We have to spend ‘X’ amount.”
It’s interesting to follow what AA is up to in Atlanta because many of us love to play the hypothetical situation game. What if AA was in charge here? Would the team have rebuilt quicker? Would AA have pushed them over the top? Would he have caved into Rogers and cut payroll too?
The Braves did everything right, loading up prospects and building themselves an incredible farm system while convincing their fans the investment would come when everything was ready. Well, now everything’s ready, and the investment isn’t there. To be clear, I don’t blame AA for that.
What this does indicate, I think, is the extent to which front offices are at the whim of the ownerships they work for. We view AA from his time here as a bad ass who made all these wild moves to make the Jays relevant again, while in Atlanta, he’s a mouthpiece for an ownership group who spent tax money on a stadium and now refuses to put it back into the team. The guy who many of us believe would never have allowed the Jays to slide into this ugly period that they’re currently in is playing a role in another franchise failing to kick open a championship window with a financial investment.
Now, this whole thing isn’t just about me pointing out that AA has himself a bad PR situation in Atlanta to poke fun at all the FUCK CHEAP SHATKINS people around these parts. The Jays are going to have themselves a very similar situation to Atlanta sooner rather than later (hopefully). Mark Shapiro has made the promise that the money will be there when the team is ready to contend and he’s going to have to face this kind of questioning too.
As Jays fans, all we can do is hope that our situation doesn’t become the same as Atlanta’s. If Shapiro and Ross Atkins can learn anything from what Anthopolous is going through right now, it’s not to make promises you can’t keep.