Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos talks philosophy, analytics, big trades


New Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos is known to wheel and deal.

Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays GM from 2009-15. His first major move was trading fan favorite Roy Halladay to signal a retooling phase.

In his tenure, Anthopoulos revived a lackluster franchise with a trade resume that reads like an All-Star roster. While assistant GM, the team acquired pillars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. As GM, Anthopoulos added Mike Napoli, Colby Rasmus, Octavio Dotel, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.

He dumped Vernon Wells on the Angels when Wells arguably had baseball’s worst contract. He dealt away Noah Syndergaard, Daniel Norris, Napoli and Reyes, among others.

But the aggressive trader reputation isn’t necessarily a badge Anthopoulos wants to wear.

“I think there’s definitely been transactions with big names,” he said. “So I understand it. I’d say I guess I don’t really qualify myself as anything. I like information. You want to have your finger on the pulse, a sense of what other teams are doing. Look, if we can get better by not making trades and having our own players, great. It’s just an avenue to get better. There were certain times that transactions presented themselves, and we’d make the team better.”

The Braves’ rebuild is at the point of identifying foundation players versus assets. That doesn’t guarantee Anthopoulos will make a splash, but he won’t hesitate if opportunity knocks.

“Any way we can get better. I know it kind of played out that way and looked that way (in Toronto), but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s going to be a predictor of what’s going to happening going forward,” Anthopoulos said. “The circumstances there were totally different than here. But if the right deal presents itself, we certainly won’t be afraid as an organization to do it.”

The Dodgers’ front office featured seven former general managers, including Anthopoulos as vice president of baseball operations the past two seasons. They gave Anthopoulos freedom to operate, which he sees as a huge asset for his transition back to the GM seat in Atlanta.

“It helps a ton just because you can hit the ground running,” he said. “I’m not far removed from dealing with all these GMs. I still got to do it in L.A. So I have a pretty good sense of the landscape, the relationships, knowing who you’re dealing with. Knowing the tendencies and how people like to do things, how they like to operate.”

Anthopolous had been with Toronto since 2003 before becoming GM. He knew everything about the franchise. He won’t have that luxury now, but his past experience and relationships help lessen the transition’s difficulty.

“The learning curve’s going to be the Atlanta Braves organization for me,” he said. “The role of general manager, you’re always evolving. But that’s not necessarily the learning curve. I’ve done the job. I’ve experienced it. But learning the organization, which I didn’t have to do in Toronto since I’d been there so long, that’s going to be a challenge I haven’t gone through before. That’s something where I don’t know what to expect, but certainly we’re going to work as tirelessly and fast as we can to get up to speed.”

Experience comes through mistakes. When one trades as often as Anthopoulos, there are bound to be regrets.

“Way more than one,” Anthopoulos said. “I do that a lot. Could be signings, trades. I think that’s how you get better. I get pretty obsessive about learning from each missed opportunity, every failure. It’s not that I’m glass half empty, I just want to take something from it.”

Anthopoulos doesn’t relive wins. He studies losses.

“I won’t ever actually look back at any successes as a learning point because they were successful,” he said. “I’ll look more at things we didn’t capitalize on or things that didn’t work out.”

One instance was Cuban free agent Aroldis Chapman in the 2009-10 offseason, whom Anthopoulos feels he let slip away.

“I was getting married, and we were going through the negotiation, and we didn’t have enough information,” he said. “Seeing him in spring training the next year with the Reds, I agonized over it. You beat yourself up, you talk with your staff, ‘What are we going to learn from this that we missed on this guy?’ Not that we didn’t make an offer, but we ultimately weren’t aggressive enough to get him. We weren’t as prepared as we needed to be.

“So that led to signing (shortstop) Adeiny Hechavarría. We did have the information we needed, and we were so thorough on Hechavarria to make sure our process was air-tight. So things, transactions that didn’t work out, if the process wasn’t right, I do think you can take something from every transaction.” 

Anthopoulos’ most notable success was acquiring Donaldson from the A’s. Donaldson won the 2015 AL MVP with Toronto. Anthopoulos gave insight into the franchise-defining deal.

“At the end of 2014, we talked about, as an organization, changing some things and going after a certain type of player, a certain mentality,” he said. “Guys that can play through things, guys who are tough. Donaldson … he’s a great player, but that ‘games played’ column was unbelievable. We’d had a lot of injuries the past few years and there’s a type of mentality that player brings that can rub off on other teammates. It’s hard to quantify that type of stuff.” 

Anthopoulos, when making his eminent trades, searches for players who better those around them.

“I believe wholeheartedly there are players who can make other players better,” he said. “So we went out that season and we got (catcher) Russ Martin, we got Josh Donaldson. There’s a certain type of player we were going to target from that day forward, and those were some of the things we learned from getting Donaldson and Martin. There was a certain theme there to that team.”

Expect a defensive focus with the Braves. Anthopoulos felt inconsistent defense prevented his Toronto teams from peaking.

“Defensively, we weren’t as good as we needed to be,” he said. “We took off 2015, our run differential was outstanding. Our defense was the issue. As much as people talked about adding Price, tightening up defensively is what made the run for us.”

With an analytical background and having worked with the Dodgers, one would assume Anthopoulos heavily values numbers. But in sports’ ever-changing battle between analytics and human elements, he’s striving to find a happy medium.

“It allows you to merge what you’re seeing with your eyes subjectively with data,” Anthopoulos said. “Especially some of the statcast information right now. Everyone’s still wrapping their arms around it, but I’ve been amazed at just what we’re able to quantify and how we’re able to implement it from a developmental standpoint, from an acquisition standpoint, from a positioning standpoint as well. 

At a time evaluation will make or break the Braves’ four-year investment, Anthopoulos will use every tool.

“There’s just only so much we can do with our eyes,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s not important, and the human element’s not important, but the more objective data that we can get and help to inform the decisions we make, the better off we’re going to be. So I don’t look at it as one or the other, I look at it as a ball of information. 

“From one transaction, if it’s 80 percent analytical, 20 percent scouting, great. If it’s 80 percent scouting, 20 percent analytical; there will be a cause and effect. There will be a reason for all those things. We definitely are going to pull all the information, go through it and come to the best conclusion that we can.”


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