LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – While still a relatively young general manager, Alex Anthopoulos is experienced, sharp and confident enough to know he needn’t come to his new Braves organization and immediately start moving the furniture around, much less tossing pieces into the street as if he knows best or to show he’s The Man.
He’s not changing the manager for 2018, after the Braves announced last month they would pick up the option on Brian Snitker’s contract, and he plans no changes this winter to the revamped coaching staff that was announced just last week.
Anthopoulos made those points and others Tuesday, a day after he was introduced as the Braves’ new general manager and upon joining his industry colleagues on the second day of baseball’s GM Meetings at the posh Waldorf Astoria Orlando.
“No, you’re not going to see any of that (coaching-staff changes) at all,” said Anthopoulos, who signed a four-year contract that came with full control of baseball operations and the title of executive vice president in addition to general manager. “The staff’s in place, the work’s been done. I want to get everybody an opportunity, too.
“Look, there’s a reason everything was done with the coaching staff, the hires they went through, the process. They were very thorough and again, I have all the confidence in the world in those decisions and how they made them and the individuals that did make them. I’ll have an opinion in time, but I also respect the knowledge that’s in place.”
The last time baseball’s GM Meetings were in Florida was 2015, when Anthopoulos received Sporting News’ Executive of the Year Award.
Anthopoulos, 40, served six years as Blue Jays general manager and built that team into an American League East division winner in 2015 before turning down lucrative extension offers and leaving when Toronto hired Mark Shapiro as team president, a move that would have reduced Anthopoulos’ control over baseball operations despite the raise he would have received if he stayed.
He went to the Dodgers in a newly created position as vice president of baseball operations, working under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and with general manager Farhan Zaidi in a crowded front office that was nonetheless quite effective and congenial.
After interviewing for the Braves’ job two weeks ago on a day off between games 5 and 6 of the World Series, Anthopoulos was excited about the opportunity and hoped he would get it, but said he forced himself not to think too much about it until he got the call Sunday from John Hart, who was still Braves president of baseball operations at that point – he’s since been shifted to an advisory role -- and who made the offer to Anthopoulos.
“That two-week period, I didn’t spend any time on the Braves -- I didn’t look at Atlanta, I didn’t look at houses or any of that kind of stuff,” Anthopoulos said. “I talked to them, I thought (the opportunity) was great, I told my wife I was pretty excited about the potential, but one, I didn’t think it was fair to the Dodgers at the time. I was working for them and we had a lot to do in the offseason. Plus, I didn’t think it would be good for me, for my mental state, to even think about it too much. So the best way was just to bury myself in work with L.A. So that’s what I did.
“You wonder when you’re going to hear. But Sunday afternoon I got the call, that I was their choice and if we can get a contract done. John Hart called me. Went back and forth with him a few times. I was ecstatic that he called, ecstatic that we were able to get a deal done. And then got on a plane the next morning really early. Told our kids that night late, and we’re here today.”
By Tuesday afternoon it had been Braves immersion for about 36 hours for Anthopoulos, with a couple of flights – Los Angeles to Atlanta at 6 a.m. Monday and to Orlando on Monday night – and not much sleep. But if he was exhausted, he didn’t show it. And if he was tired of talking about the Braves, he certainly didn’t seem that way. He’s been given the keys to an organization that has the top-rated farm system in baseball, and even pending sanctions from MLB don’t figure to change that or alter the Braves’ plans of being a contender sooner than later.
They’re three years into a major rebuild and now have most of the pieces in place for long-term success. As for the near term, Anthopoulos had discussions Tuesday with Hart, assistant GM Adam Fisher and director of player personnel Perry Minasian about the team’s 2018 needs.
“Yeah, we’ve talked about the bullpen and third base and things like that,” he said. “But it’s still fluid because you’re also trying to time it with some of the young players we have. We’re very excited about (third-base prospect Austin) Riley long term. (Riley’s performance in the Arizona) Fall League was great, people are very excited internally about him and what’s the time frame. Knowing at the same time, even if you do come up at some point, are you going to stay up? Guys have three (minor league) options for a reason; I mean, it might take a few years.
“So you try to figure out, do you go outside the organization and do something short-term? You have guys like (Johan) Camargo that did a nice job. So, those are things we have to answer and go through. We have to see what the options are, too. We’re not going to force anything.”
Since John Coppolella was forced to resign Oct. 2 amid the MLB investigation into numerous alleged infractions in the international free-agent market and the draft, much of the offseason groundwork – doing background on available free agents, finding out which Braves players or prospects are most desirable to which other teams, etc. – has been done by Fisher and Minasian, who were hired in September. Anthopoulos has known Minasian since both were in Toronto, where Minasian was scouting director, but met Fisher on Tuesday.
“They’ve been working with John, obviously, and from what I’ve been updated on, they’ve been on top of it,” Anthopoulos said. “So that’s been a huge help. Those guys have been active, they’ve talked to all the teams, they know the landscape. Again, it’s been basically John Hart with those two, but they’re locked in, we haven’t skipped a beat as an organization. We know who’s available, who teams want, minor league free agency – we have not, as much as interviews have been going on and things like that, we’re ahead of it. I’m not, but they are and as an organization we are, and that’s great.”
What Anthopoulos was already aware of was bigger picture, i.e. the loads of young talent in the Braves system, some at the big-league level and much more coming up the minors.
“Lot of young power arms, upside arms; they just have waves and waves of those guys,” Anthopoulos said. “Obviously some impact bats with guys like (No. 1 prospect Ronald) Acuna, Riley, (catching prospect) Alex Jackson has really emerged – that was a great acquisition, a guy who looked like he was going to stall as a prospect. He’s just emerging. I guess I’d say this, the Arizona Fall League performances – (left-hander) Max Fried. I can’t wait to see him. I remember out of the draft everyone was extremely high on him. Then he had kind of a lost year developmentally, and to see him emerge back in the fall league. I’m anxious to get my eyes on these guys at spring training. And obviously just depth of arms.
“In Toronto we went after guys like that in the draft, we just felt that it was the currency to use, especially in the AL East in that ballpark, thought we were going to have to develop our own (pitching) and also from a philosophical standpoint, arms don’t get blocked. That was by design in the draft, we were going to draft the arms and trade for the bats.”
The Braves have followed a similar script in their rebuild.
“Look, John Hart and the baseball-operations team, in the years they’ve been here they did a phenomenal job,” Anthopoulos said. “They set this thing up so well and that’s a big part of what makes this a very attractive job. So I can’t say enough about the work that’s been done, the players they’ve acquired and the talent on the big-league roster – I know it didn’t necessarily show itself in the wins (total), but we all see a lot of really good players -- and then the talent in the minor leagues as well. So John Hart and the whole baseball operations team, those guys deserve a ton of credit for that.
“From that standpoint, we ultimately want to win but we want to win over the long term, so we’re not going to rush things, we’re not going to accelerate things. I need to get a better handle on what the timing might be, but the thought is when we finally get going, we don’t stop. I think everything’s in place with the ballpark, the resources, ownership, the young talent, the scouting and player development departments here have done a great job, clearly. So knowing that could potentially have a conveyor belt and just continue to run talent through, it’s going to be very exciting.”
Hart’s role was reduced from president of baseball operations to senior adviser as of Tuesday, when Braves CEO Terry McGuirk said that effective immediately, he no longer had a say in baseball operations. But for now, Anthopoulos is listening intently to advice from Hart, a longtime former GM who was the Waldorf Astoria on Tuesday, filling in the new man in charge, who greatly appreciated Hart’s presence.
“Obviously I’ve gotten to know John Hart pretty well throughout the interview process and spent a lot of time with him this morning,” Anthopoulos said. “He was outstanding as a resource and just getting his take on the team and the roster; he’s been great. So he’s going to be pretty important to help just get me acclimated and get me up to speed.
“I’m going to lean a lot on the people that are here. Obviously, spending time with John and Perry Minasian, and Adam as well, their input is going to be pretty important. And I know they’ve already had organizational meetings, they’ve met with everybody, they’ve got the full breadth of what everyone staff-wise believes we need to get done. So they’re going to be critically important.
“It’s going to take me some time. I have some opinions from the outside, but look, those guys are way more informed than I am, so it’s going to be very strong lean on them and again, just sitting with – I know Perry very well obviously, but sitting with John today and getting to know him more, I was really impressed. He’s a pretty valuable resource, his take on things. You don’t have all the success he had all those years and not be a pretty great baseball mind, so I’m pretty excited.”