The news late last night that the Braves are hiring Alex Anthopoulos — now confirmed; he’ll be introduced at a press conference in Atlanta later today — came as quite a surprise. Now that I’ve had a couple of hours to think about it, it’s striking me more as a coup.
The Braves are in deep with the league over rules violations in connection with the signing of international players. They are still likely facing big penalties for that and, for the time being, remain in limbo. While there were some noises coming out of Atlanta about who, possibly, might take over as the next general manager, they were decidedly muted. The big potential move — luring Dayton Moore back to Atlanta from Kansas City — was blocked by Royals owner David Glass who would not grant the Braves permission to interview him. The remaining names bandied about as a replacement GM were less-than-inspiring. Dan Jennings? Ugh. It appeared as if Atlanta was going to enter this week’s General Manager Meetings with placeholder GM John Hart at the helm. Given that he was likely to be pushed aside eventually, the Braves offseason looked pretty bleak.
Anthopoulos, however, is a top notch hire that a team in turmoil should not, all things being equal, have been able to make. He’s young — 40 — but experienced, having served as the Blue Jays’ GM for seven years after being hired in his early 30s. He’s a forward-thinking guy who values cutting edge analytics but his background is scouting and he expanded Toronto’s scouting roster during his tenure. He always seemed open to anything when he was their GM, having improved the Jays via the draft, via free agency and via some pretty audacious trades. He’d still have that job if it was not for what appeared to be philosophical differences with Jays president Mark Shapiro, who seemed to have been brought in to impose austerity measures by club ownership. Anthopoulos was offered a five-year contract extension, rejected it and resigned on the very same day he was named Executive of the Year by his peers.
His tenure with the Blue Jays was not perfect, of course. Like all executives there was good and bad. The good: trading for Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, which helped the Jays reach the playoffs. He unloaded Vernon Wells’ seemingly un-unloadable contract. He signed Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The not-so-good: trading Roy Halladay away for what turned out to be an underwhelming haul (though it was thought to be better at the time). Dealing Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey was not so hot either. Stuff happens.
The Braves are definitely a team that could do well with his vision, however, even if it sometimes leads to a misfire. The club has been run, basically, by the same men for several decades. Bobby Cox, John Scheurholz and John Hart haven’t been the only men to sit in the GM chair in Atlanta over the past 30 years or so, but either they or guys they picked to be there (i.e. Frank Wren, John Coppolella) were, and they’ve all had tremendous input into what the GM has done or hasn’t done at any given time. Two of them are living, breathing Hall of Famers and team legends, after all, so you could never ignore their presence, even if you wanted to.
Anthopoulos, however, appears as though he’ll have final say. Hart will remain president of baseball operations in title at least until his contract is up at the end of the year. In reality, though, Anthopoulos will be in charge, answering only to team CEO Terry McGuirk and no baseball operations people. He was unlikely to take the job if he didn’t have final say. He’ll be the first young executive with final say over the team’s direction since . . . heck, since Ted Turner bought the team when he was in his late 30s.
It’s still a bad time for the Braves. They’re likely to face stiff sanctions once MLB is done with its investigation, losing draft picks and possibly even a prospect or two who is already in their system. They’ll be dealing with these bad times, however, with a smart, able, and well-respected guy at the top of the org chart. Someone who, for the first time in decades, is not beholden to the old men who, however much success they had in Atlanta, were not the men who should’ve been leading the club into the future.