The season is not even over, and already the musical chairs are in motion. The Tigers and Red Sox hired new general managers. The Brewers and Angels are looking for new ones. The Phillies and Mariners could make changes, and surely one or two surprise openings will emerge.
Amid this volatile climate, the contract of Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos expires at the end of October, according to major-league sources.
If the Jays are not careful, they could lose an executive who almost singlehandedly has revived baseball – and baseball business – in Toronto.
Rival owners surely notice the spikes in the Jays’ TV ratings and attendance since Anthopoulos’ moves at the nonwaiver deadline. The owners of the Jays, Rogers Communications, surely notice as well, but for almost a year now, Rogers’ plan has not exactly been clear.
It is not known whether the Jays are talking to Anthopoulos about an extension. It is known that they want a club president to replace the outgoing Paul Beeston. They talked to the Orioles’ Dan Duquette and White Sox’s Ken Williams about that job last offseason, and according to sources interviewed Dave Dombrowski, whom the Red Sox hired as president of baseball operations on Tuesday night.
Could Anthopoulos, a native Canadian, have met the same fate as the Red Sox’s Ben Cherington, who stepped down rather than remain GM under Dombrowski? In theory, the answer is yes. The timing, though, was not right. The Jays did not want to take such a drastic step, sources say, and Dombrowski previously had worked for Red Sox owner John Henry with the Marlins, accelerating their discussions.
Still, the questions remain: What will happen to Anthopoulos? And could Anthopoulos opt to become a free agent rather than continue working for an ownership that has little knowledge of baseball and seemingly little direction?
The Jays would be foolish to find out.
Before last offseason, Anthopoulos had not exactly distinguished himself as GM; the Jays had averaged 79 wins in his first five seasons. But in November, Anthopoulous signed free-agent catcher Russell Martin and traded for third baseman Josh Donaldson. Then, at the deadline, he traded for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left-hander David Price. And now, look at this team.
The Jays trail the Yankees by one game in the AL East and lead the Angels by 3 ½ games for the first wild card. Remember, they have not reached the postseason since 1993, the longest drought in the majors. But according to Fangraphs, they now stand a 92 percent chance of making the playoffs and 43.7 chance of winning the division.
Those numbers alone, however, do not begin to describe what is happening in Toronto.
Before the Tulowitzki trade on July 27, the team’s average attendance was 28,722. Since July 30, the day of the Price trade, the team’s average attendance has been 39,915, a whopping increase of 11,193 per game – with, of course, accompanying increases in the sales of concessions and merchandise.
The difference in the Jays’ television ratings is perhaps more astonishing – and probably more meaningful to Rogers, a media company that relies on cable and wireless subscriptions for the bulk of its profits.
According to Rogers, 3.14 million people were tuned in to Rogers Sportsnet last Friday night when Tulowitzki engaged in his classic game-ending battle with Yankees closer Andrew Miller. That’s almost nine percent of the population of Canada, which is approximately 35 million.
The Jays-Yankees game that night averaged 2.03 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in Sportsnet history, surpassing even Maple Leafs hockey games. Since the deadline, Jays broadcasts are averaging 1.27 million viewers, raising the season average to a record level for the club.
How much did all of Anthopoulos’ moves cost the Jays? Not as much you might think. The salaries of Tulowitzki and shortstop Jose Reyes, one of the players who went back to the Rockies, were essentially a wash for 2015. The addition of Price increased the payroll by about $5.7 million, and Anthopoulos also added outfielder Ben Revere and relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe. But even with all that, the Jays’ payroll remains below the league average, $146 million.
Meanwhile, Tulowitzki is under control for five more years, Martin for four more and Donaldson for three more, protecting the Jays even if sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion depart as free agents after next season. The team is in a flexible enough financial position to re-sign one or even both; the team’s only major long-term commitments are to Tulowitzki and Martin.
Pitching, of course, will be an issue; Anthopoulos has parted with a dizzying number of potential young starters in his many trades – Noah Syndergaard, Anthony DeSclafani, Daniel Norris, Jeff Hoffman, Justin Nicolino, Jesus Tinoco. But just when you think the Jays are out of prospects, they seem to come up with more.
This is not a club that needs to overhaul its baseball operations the way the Red Sox did. This is a club that needs a team president who will focus more on business and updating the Jays’ home ballpark, Rogers Centre. Beeston said recently on a radio show that the facility will cost between $200 million and $400 million to upgrade.
Find that guy, and leave the baseball to Anthopoulos. The Jays are sitting on a hot free agent. And they’re in danger of letting him slip away.