Track Record: 12 notable moves from Alex Anthopoulos' time as Blue Jays GM
With Alex Anthopoulos taking over the Atlanta Braves’ front office as their new general manager and executive vice president, FOX Sports South looks back at his notable trades, draft picks and signings from his time with the Toronto Blue Jays.
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Dec. 16, 2009: Traded away Roy Halladay
Alex Anthopoulos sat in Toronto’s general manager’s chair for a few weeks before making his first major splash, trading a franchise legend in the late Roy Halladay. The 2003 American League Cy Young winner and five-time All-Star ranked first in franchise history in winning percentage, second in wins and strikeouts and third in innings pitched when Anthopoulos, who had watched Halladay excel for years as assistant GM under J.P. Ricciardi, traded his best player to a contender.
Halladay facilitated the deal by agreeing to a $60 million contract extension with the Phillies, netting the Blue Jays prospects Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Taylor. Though the return never panned out — former top prospect Kyle Drabek only pitched 180 innings in his big-league career, d’Arnaud and Taylor became a future trade pieces — the deal, at the end of the day, was to give a potential Hall of Famer a chance to win a World Series at the end of his career.
June 7, 2010: Drafted Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard
The Blue Jays doubled the size of their amatuer scouting staff when Anthopoulos took over and, in hindsight, his first draft class showcases the ability to identify talent.
Toronto's 2010 draft class is headlined by two of the top young pitchers in baseball, Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez, future big-leaguers Sam Dyson, Dalton Pompey, Danny Barnes and Chad Green and the haul's would-be crown jewel: future MVP Kris Bryant, who did not sign out of high school.
Sanchez emerged as a 23-year-old All-Star for the Blue Jays in 2016, but Syndergaard broke out as perhaps the most talented young starter in baseball ... in New York City.
Dec. 16, 2010: Re-signed Edwin Encarnación
During Anthopoulos' six-year tenure in Toronto, only three players hit more home runs than Edwin Encarnación: José Bautista, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. The fact that the Dominican slugger developed into a middle-of-the-lineup terror north of the border, however, involved a significant amount of luck.
The Blue Jays allowed Encarnación to be claimed on waivers by Oakland after the 2010 season, but he was non-tendered a month later and Anthopoulos re-signed him, later tacking on an extension during his breakout 2012 campaign.
With Encarnación and Bautista anchoring the lineup, Toronto scored 4,540 runs from 2010 to 2015, the fourth-highest mark in baseball.
Jan. 21, 2011: Traded away Vernon Wells
Shedding $90 million looked far too easy in the form of the Blue Jays-Angels blockbuster centering around Vernon Wells. If "Experience Offloading Expensive Outfield Contracts" was on Atlanta's checklist during its GM search, Alex Anthopoulos did not need a reference.
The Blue Jays pounced when the Angels missed out on signing Carl Crawford and even scored some talent (Mike Napoli, who was traded four days later, and Juan Rivera) along the way. All of this took place right before Wells' production fell off a cliff — he never hit close to league average after leaving Toronto.
Based on the draft history to date and with the benefit of hindsight, a rotation featuring Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman would have been a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Stroman has been healthy for three big-league seasons and posted at least three wins above replacement in each, carrying a league- and park-adjusted ERA that sits 14 percent better than average entering his age-27 season.
(Toronto's third-round pick in 2012, athletic outfielder Anthony Alford, also emerged as a top-100 prospect and broke into the majors last season.)
Throw in defensive wunderkind (and late-round gem) Kevin Pillar, Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, Anthony DeSclafani and the 2010 class and that's a decent first three years of drafting for Anthopoulos' front office.
Nov. 19, 2012: Traded for Jose Reyes, Mark Beuhrle and Josh Johnson
The Blue Jays-Marlins trade offered the first clear sign that Anthopoulos believed his franchise was ready to compete in the AL East.
By landing big-leaguers Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio (a familiar name to Braves fans) and sending Adeiny Hechavarria, Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis and Anthony DeSclafani to Miami, the Blue Jays cashed in some of their prospect capital as the Marlins hit the reset button.
In retrospect, it was likely an overpay. Reyes and Buehrle put up good numbers in Toronto — Buehrle, the veteran left-hander, helped get the team to the ALCS in his final season — but Johnson's health completely fell apart, only pitching 81 innings in a Blue Jays uniform.
Meanwhile, the prospect package churned out quality young players — although not all in a Marlins uniform. Hechavarria and DeSclafani have each posted three-win campaigns, Marisnick could have been starting in the Blue Jays' outfield in 2018 and Alvarez has shown the ability to hold down an MLB rotation spot.
Good news: Reaching the playoffs for the first time in 22 years eases any lingering regrets.
Dec. 17, 2012: Traded for R.A. Dickey
One month after loading up on MLB talent in the Marlins deal, Anthopoulos swung for the fences by trading for the reigning National League Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey. The problem: He traded a future superstar who would have fit the team's actual competitive window.
"I think he doesn't get the credit, the respect, that he deserves because of his age, because of what he does throw," Anthopoulos said of Dickey at the time. "I understand, it's so rare, but there's just so much overwhelming data and evidence that points to him continuing to have this success."
To land Dickey, Anthopoulos sent Noah Syndergaard, catcher Travis d'Arnaud, John Buck and another minor-leaguer to New York. And while d'Arnaud developed into a solid MLB catcher, the loss of Syndergaard truly hurts. Compare Dickey's four seasons in Toronto to Syndergaard's three seasons in New York so far (per FanGraphs):
Dickey: 5.4 WAR
Syndergaard: 10.9 WAR
Throw in the four years of control remaining for one of the top pitchers in baseball, d'Arnaud's production and the fact that Toronto did not win the AL East for another two seasons ... and it's a high-profile misstep.
Oct. 28, 2014: Selected Justin Smoak off waivers
Claiming Justin Smoak, a former first-round pick, off waivers from the Seattle Mariners did not pay dividends until long after Anthopoulos refused Toronto's five-year contract extension offer.
After two quiet years, Smoak turned in his first career All-Star campaign in 2017 by hitting .270/.355/.529 with 38 home runs. Only 26 players posted a higher weighted runs created plus last season.
Nov. 18, 2014: Signed Russell Martin
Let the record show that the largest free-agent contract Alex Anthopoulos handed down during his Blue Jays tenure went to a 32-year-old catcher who ranks as one of the game's best pitch-framers. The Blue Jays spent $82 million over the course of five seasons to out-bid the Cubs and Dodgers for Russell Martin's services, and a major reason — besides the career-best .402 on-base percentage and 4.9 WAR in 2014 — was his ability to make the pitching staff better.
"The way we saw it, this is a guy who can make 12 guys on our roster, the bullpen and starters, better—and we also have a wave of young starters," Anthopoulos said of the move back in 2015. "He's going to be around for all of them."
Anthopoulos inherits another top-of-the-line framer in his absolute offensive prime in Tyler Flowers, who is entering the final year of his contract.
Nov. 28, 2014: Traded for Josh Donaldson
Six days after inking Russell Martin to his lucrative contract, Anthopoulos reeled in the franchise centerpiece.
History may not view the Josh Donaldson blockbuster quite as starkly in Toronto's favor — Kendall Graveman has been a reliable MLB rotation piece and shortstop Franklin Barreto became a top-50 prospect who broke into the majors at 21 years old last season — but considering the 2015 AL MVP award, two ALCS appearances, 111 home runs and the fact that only Mike Trout and Kris Bryant posted a higher WAR among position players since the trade was finalized, the Blue Jays got everything they could have hoped for out of Donaldson.
Landing a superstar who produces like a superstar will never cause a GM to lose any sleep.
July 28, 2015: Traded for Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins
There's a reason Alex Anthopoulos was named Sporting News' 2015 Executive of the Year.
In the span of nine months, Toronto acquired Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Marco Estrada, Devon Travis, Michael Saunders, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price en route to its first playoff appearance in two decades.
That club control could, in turn, prove problematic. The Blue Jays now owe Tulowitzki $58 million (including his buyout) over the next three seasons. Once one of the game's preeminent stars, he's hit six percent below league average since joining Toronto and he played in just 66 games in 2017.
The deal did help the Blue Jays offload approximately $50 million for Jose Reyes' contract, which amounted to its own financial albatross in Denver, but it cost three of their better pitching prospects — though former first-rounder Jeff Hoffman, who turned in a decent rookie season at Coors Field, is the only one worth noting at the moment.
There's plenty of question marks here. It remains to be seen if Tulowitzki can stay healthy and put an end to his dramatic decline and/or whether Hoffman can keep improving in Colorado.
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July 30, 2015: Traded for David Price
With veteran pitchers Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey in place, Marcus Stroman (torn ACL) missing most of the season and Aaron Sanchez just getting his first taste of the majors, Anthopoulos left nothing to chance.
Two days after landing Troy Tulowitzki, he finished his ALCS-priming shopping spree by landing another former Cy Young winner, David Price.
"We really haven't had a true No. 1 since Roy Halladay was here," Anthopoulos said of the Price trade. "You kind of forget what it was like, the innings, the expectations of winning day in and day out.”
Typically averse to rentals, Toronto went all-in. And Price delivered, posting a 2.30 ERA and striking out nearly 30 percent of the batters he faced in a Blue Jays uniform. After just 74 1/3 regular-season innings, he led the team in WAR. (The standout left-hander did, however, struggle that postseason.)
The Detroit Tigers' return centered around Daniel Norris, the Blue Jays' top prospect and former second-round pick. The 24-year-old righty has been a solid contributor in the Tigers' rotation for two-plus seasons now.
The trades Anthopoulos was able to make — both good and bad — underscored his front office's ability to stockpile prospect talent particularly pitching talent, moving the likes of Norris, Noah Syndergaard, Kendall Graveman, Anthony DeSclafani, Jeff Hoffman and Joe Musgrove to land MLB standouts.
Some deals worked; some didn't. The flexibility to make those moves, though, was predicated on Anthopoulos' ability to stockpile talent through the draft and international free agency — and his willingness to be aggressive when he and his staff deemed it appropriate.