Most times the Anthopoulos Speaks! posts we do around here involve transcribing a lengthy series of Anthopoulosian ramblings and occasionally trying to shoehorn them into some broader context, or simply unburying them, letting his comments stand alone. Times seem to be changing for Alex Anthopoulos, though– not to mention the media, who have caught on to the value of the verbatim translation racket– and in his latest round of chatting with the media there appear, to me, at least, to be more small details that need to be isolated and picked at, like the diseased bones of the weakest runt in a flock of antelope. Or… something.
The GM spoke to reporters following Sunday’s game (or perhaps before, I don’t fucking know). A transcript of it was provided later by, among others, Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star, and few of the comments marked an intriguing bit of departure from the typical Anthopoulos fare, and allow us to try and peer a little more deeply into the inner workings of 1 Blue Jay Way. Maybe.
The most striking thread that ran throughout the talk was Alex’s repeated emphasis on the fact that, in the overall, he mostly feels very good about the core of the club he’s put together.
Now, obviously any GM’s glowing assessment of his own club needs to be taken with a grain of salt the size of Lot’s wife, but it’s certainly not as crazy and distorted a view as a lot of the fans agonizing through these last injury-plagued weeks might think. And rather than debate the accuracy of his statements or how surmountable a task filling the club’s holes at DH, second base, and in left field will be– Anthopoulos would suggest it’s a minor issue, pointing out that when they were at full health, despite these holes, they were one of the better offensive clubs in the Majors– I’m far more curious about who these sorts of comments are designed to speak to.
Is it a gentle nudge at the disaffected casual fan when the GM proclaims that he thinks “we have the makings of a championship calibre team in the bullpen and from an offensive standpoint,” or is it, perhaps, the opening salvo in a campaign to convince Rogers that the time to take the reins off– the time to let him show that he can be as successful on a big budget as he has been while constrained by payroll parameters– is now?
I’m reminded of the recent chat at the Star by Richard Griffin in which he suggested that Anthopoulos wanted Yu Darvish, but couldn’t guarantee his employers that the Japanese import was going to be good– a necessity, Griffin says, for the corporate overlords, the implication being that they were holding strong on the notion they’re not in the venture capital business when it comes to baseball.
Is it possible Anthopoulos is doubling down on the roster he’s constructed and preparing to insist to ownership that they really are ready for the next step? Is he, perhaps, trying to create a contrast between himself and ownership– a much needed one, if some of the seething vitriol I’ve read lately from the ultra-negative suckholes that follow this club is any indication– and attempting to recapture some of his leaking goodwill with a view to another financially constrained and ultimately disappointing season in 2013?
I’m not sure either suggestion is true, but if it’s the latter, it wouldn’t be the first time Alex has tried to paint himself as boxed in by the now-infamous “payroll parameters.” Yet the wishful part of me wonders if we really aren’t right now in the midst of weathering the worst of the storm, and that the days of the austerity demanded of himself by Anthopoulos– austerity that, we can be almost entirely certain, was a major plank in the sell-job he did when campaigning to take over for Ricciardi– may be finally, mercifully coming to an end.
Eventually, if Rogers was going to run this franchise with anything resembling sanity or seriousness, there was going to have to be some kind of next gear of investment in the Major League payroll. With the audience numbers up, the core pieces farther along, and a pipeline of talent working its way up the minor leagues, needing a much shorter bridge to span the gap between what’s here now and what’s coming, we’re reaching the point where the kinds of moves it will take to add the pieces necessary for that next step look much more palatable, financially.
“I’ve always felt that if you want to take free agency, for example, you don’t want to build a team based on free agency,” he said, echoing what a sentiment he’s used since the beginning of his tenure to defuse the sorts of outlandish hypotheticals– the let’s get Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish kind of stuff– that easily tempt fans, but don’t make a whole lot of practical business sense, especially given the nature of this particular ownership group, and would be extremely difficult to execute even under the best of circumstances– especially as MLB’s lone team in a “foreign” market.
He continues, however, by saying that “if you’re finalizing your roster with one or two free agents, for the sake of argument, and you’re overpaying one or two out of 25 guys, the overpayment makes sense relative to the other part of the payroll as a whole.”
Now, with the talk of a “championship calibre” offence and bullpen, it may seem like this is Anthopoulos saying that he’s ready for that kind of finalization of the roster, but I don’t think it’s quite so easy to parse the words that way. After all, there is the acknowledged hole in left, and the unmentioned ones at second base and DH, plus the fact that Alex makes no bones about how the rotation is almost entirely in flux.
“I think everyone can do the math,” he says of his starters. “I think we’re just going to try to upgrade the rotation any way that we can. It’s not going to be forced and it’s not going to be with a [specific] number [of acquisitions] in mind. Right now the only guys under guaranteed contracts are obviously Romero and Morrow. Everyone has options or is a free agent, arbitration eligible and so on. From a rotation spot, the only guarantees are those two. Everyone else has really got to earn their way in.”
Answering follow-up questions he’s even more emphatic, saying that neither JA Happ nor Henderson Alvarez– the two most likely current candidates to fall in behind Romero and Morrow– has a guaranteed spot next year. “If we start saying five spots in the rotation are guaranteed and we promise everybody those five and then go out and sign a free agent, or make a trade or two to add a starter or two,” he says, “we have to call guys back and say, we’re going back on our promise and I don’t want to do that.”
He goes as far as suggesting the possibility of the minors for Alvarez, and the bullpen for Happ, all of which is music to the dissatisfied fan’s ears– as is the fact that he also made clear that they’re “not in the market right now for going after prospects, guys that are years away. That doesn’t mean we won’t take someone if they can be put in a trade, but it’s not going to be the focus for what we’re trying to do.”
I’ve seen, especially this year, a lot of fans try to put Anthopoulos in a box, suggesting that obvious tenets of his early-on philosophy– accumulating prospects and picks, years of control, and refusing to overpay for assets– were indelible parts of his being, rather than simply being necessary for the particular phase of team-building he was in. It’s fantastic to hear him make clear that he’s not this kind of monolithic caricature, and that he’s ready to take some of the resources he was surely promised– and let’s not forget, he very likely wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t feel that ownership was committed to doing right by him and his vision, much the way it’s been speculated that his top lieutenant, Tony La Cava, turned down Baltimore last summer over a lack of autonomy over staffing– and make the next step.
Part of what I’ve felt has held Anthopoulos back from lobbying harder for major expenditures has been the fact that he saw how it became his former boss’s undoing, as Rogers tightened the purse strings once they saw that the big contracts they allowed JP Ricciardi to sign were failing to produce the desired results. Perhaps Anthopoulos believes he’s now entering a safe zone, a place where the odd, inevitable big money misstep can likely be masked by the vast depth that’s starting to come through the system.
Even if that were true, however, his comments indicate in no way that a major off-season will definitely come to fruition.
“In free agency, you’re targeting a certain player, and I think where you make the mistakes is when you target someone, if you don’t get that player, you start settling,” he explains, true to his usual, austere, conservative form. But again we can ask ourselves, who is the audience for this statement: the fans who need to be tempered in their excitement, or perhaps the clubs and agents he intends to be dealing with over the next five months?
It could be either, it could be both, but at least he’s actually saying something along those lines to someone, and though his comments may simply be setting up a PR win for himself and the front office when Rogers ultimately recoils from the requests he makes this winter, that there seems a genuine chance he’ll actually be able to pull off shoring up the rotation while maintaing the strong offence and bullpen he already has in place is a tremendous silver lining for what has been a dreary few weeks.