When your dirty linen has been held up to public embarrassment, the last thing you need is to get the band back together. You need someone new, someone to take you onward and presumably upward. You also need someone who has done the job before. Alex Anthopoulos is the absolute right hire at the absolute right time. He could well be the Braves’ best acquisition (non-player division) since Stan Kasten lured John Schuerholz from Kansas City.
The organization that drafted Chipper Jones only because Todd Van Poppel insisted he was headed to college might have gotten a similar break. These abashed Braves wanted Dayton Moore to ride, likewise from K.C., to their rescue. They wound up with someone more suited to the task. Whew.
Monday’s introductory session began with CEO Terry McGuirk apologizing. “The past few months have been the toughest in the history of the Atlanta Braves franchise,” he said. “We have not lived up to our standards.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he announced that team president John Hart had been shunted aside and would – “immediately” was McGuirk’s word of choice – become a senior adviser.
Then the new broom got to speak. In his first utterances as the Braves’ executive vice president/general manager, Anthopoulos was everything you’d hoped he’d be – optimistic, expansive, fulsome in his praise for the talent he inherits. When he took over as general manager in Toronto in 2009, he had contracts to offload (most prominently Vernon Wells’) and a farm system to rebuild (he doubled the Blue Jays’ number of scouts). That’s not the case here.
Said Anthopoulos: “The talent level, the work that’s been done here is tremendous. It’s very incredible to see what they’ve done. ... The foundation is certainly here to have winning teams for a long time.”
Then: “This is one of the premier jobs in sports. There’s no question we certainly have big expectations going forward.”
Anthopoulos is 40. He was a big-league GM at 32. He grew up watching the Braves on TBS from Montreal. (“The Expos’ games weren’t on,” he said.) He made mistakes with the Blue Jays. He also lifted them to the playoffs for the first time since Joe Carter’s home run. He left because Mark Shapiro had been hired as president and his inherited GM didn’t like the new vibe. He left $10 million over five years on the table to go work as a lesser light for the Dodgers, maybe the smartest front office in baseball.
Anthopoulos is big on advanced analytics. He’s people-savvy enough to have run the Blue Jays’ scouting department. He saw enough in John Gibbons to rehire him as Toronto’s manager, four years after J.P. Ricciardi had fired him. (Gibbons is still managing the Jays, FYI.) As amiable as Anthopoulos appears, he can be a bulldog. The genesis of his most famous deal was his desire to pry pitcher Josh Johnson from the Marlins; it wound up being a five-for-seven swap that also brought Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle and John Buck to Canada.
This was Braves GM Bobby Cox on the new man: “Home run.” Had Cox met Anthopoulos before Monday? “No,” he said, “but I know Paul Beeston. He says this guy is incredible.” (Beeston was a Blue Jays exec when Cox managed there; indeed, he’s the guy Shapiro replaced.)
Two years after walking away from Toronto, Anthopoulos is his own boss in an organization possessed of baseball’s top-ranked farm system. Assuming MLB allows the Braves to play baseball after its investigation is complete – also assuming its investigation ever is – there’s room to move in National League East. (Bryce Harper will be a Yankee soon.) Said Anthopoulos: “The young talent that’s here is as good as you’re going to get in the game.”
Anthopoulos flew from Houston to meet with the Braves between Games 5 and 6 of the World Series. He and the brass dined in-house, literally. They didn’t dare venture into the Battery; dinner was served in the SunTrust Club in, of all places, SunTrust Park. “I was open-minded going into it,” Anthopoulos said. “Then I was blown away. My wife said she’d never seen me so excited.”
He had to wait two weeks until the Braves finally decided their lust for the prodigal Moore would prove unavailing. The belief here is that Royals owner David Glass did the Braves a favor by not granting them permission to interview his GM. Moore has worked 11½ seasons in Kansas City.
Yes, Moore’s Royals made the World Series twice and won it once. Those, however, marked their only playoff appearances and two of their three winning seasons under him. The bottom is about to fall out in K.C. – their best players are free agents, and they have no prospect ranked in the top 100 – and that’s Moore’s work, too.
For what the Braves have become and where they need to go, Anthopoulos is the better hire. Asked to describe himself, he said: “Creative. Resourceful.” That’s exactly what’s needed to save the Braves from themselves. The Braves Way, whatever it is, had run its course. The 1990s were great, but they’ve been gone a while now.
Schuerholz was not present for Monday’s session. Neither was Hart. (Baseball’s GM meetings are ongoing in Orlando.) This was a new day, and this team is in the hands of a new man. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t do well.