The Atlanta Braves are hiring Alex Anthopoulos as general manager, the belief being that he will also serve as president of baseball operations. For a franchise that has had a terrible six weeks, this is a splendid move.
Two years ago, Anthopoulos was considered one of the best young GMs in a sport where most every good GM is young. He presided over the Toronto Blue Jays, who had just reached the ALCS. Three of his acquisitions – Josh Donaldson, who was the 2015 American League MVP, plus Troy Tulowitzki and David Price – were driving forces in that team. That fall, Anthopoulos rejected a contract extension and resigned.
The belief was that he felt his power had been halved by the arrival, as Jays president, of Mark Shapiro from Cleveland. In January 2016, Anthopoulos was named VP of baseball operations by the Dodgers, working under Andrew Friedman and alongside GM Farhan Zaidi and fellow VP Josh Byrnes.
With the possible exception of the Epstein/Hoyer/McLeod tandem in Chicago, the Dodgers’ front office is the smartest in baseball, and yes, by that I mean the most devoted to advanced analytics. L.A.’s long-awaited return to the World Series was the fruit of that brainpower. In sports, there’s a saying that speed never slumps. In front offices, smart never slumps.
I know a lot of Braves fans will be disappointed that the team didn’t make prodigal son Dayton Moore its poohbah. I would have been disappointed if they had. Having spent a lot of time pondering the team built by Moore in Kansas City, I’m not sure that three-year window of success would be transferable. I’m not entirely sure why it worked there.
Who in neo-baseball constructs a team that doesn’t draw walks and doesn’t hit for power? How exactly did a club reach consecutive World Series with Alcides Escobar, he of the career .294 on-base percentage, batting leadoff? Why, if Moore is so adroit, did it take from 2006 to 2013 to raise a team above .500? Why are Moore’s Royals expected to be the worst team in baseball in 2018?
I also believe the arrival of Moore would have played into the Braves’ worst instincts – namely, that the only way to build a franchise was the way John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox built it a quarter-century ago. In sum, the “Braves Way.” I’m not sure that way still works. That was a time before sabermetrics had nosed its data points into front offices. That was a time where not every organization was all that bright, and those that were – and the Braves of Schuerholz/Cox/Snyder were – had a clear advantage.
Every team is smart now. (Even Arizona, seeing as how Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart are gone.) Anthopoulos is among the best and the brightest in an industry now driven by the best and brightest. He started as an unpaid intern with the Montreal Expos. He became the Blue Jays’ scouting coordinator. He was GM at age 32. He wasn’t afraid to trade big names. Heck, he traded Roy Halladay to the Phillies and Vernon Wells to the Angels.
Not everything worked. In sports, not everything ever does. But the Jays were in a much better place when Anthopoulos left than when he became GM, which is kind of the measure.
It should be noted that John Coppolella, who resigned under pressure on Oct. 2, considers Anthopoulos a friend. Their backgrounds are similar. There’s a two-year age difference. Both are aggressive – in Coppolella’s case, aggressive apparently to a fault – and utterly unafraid.
Had Coppolella’s ouster led to the Braves looking back to the 20th Century as their Polaris, that would have been a mistake. Anthopoulos is very much a 21st Century man. He’s absolutely the guy I’d have hired.