Alex Anthopoulos looked like boy wonder to baseball fans last winter after remaking the Toronto Blue Jays' roster and jacking the opening-day payroll to $117-million (all currency U.S.) from $75-million in 2012.
With the Blue Jays entering Friday's game in New York with a 17-24 record compared to 23-18 at the same point in 2012, the same fans are now questioning the general manager's experience and abilities via radio, social media and newspaper websites, not least the decision to rehire John Gibbons as manager.
Anthopoulos accepts the barbs, but scoffs at the criticism of the manager.
"He's been outstanding," Anthopoulos said of Gibbons. "We're all open to be criticized, that's sports, no matter who it is. But when I look at what the [individual player] performances have been, and what John has done keeping games close … a lot of times we just needed to get that big hit. We were hitting .210 with runners in scoring position. Will we do that the entire year? Probably not. We were just doing it at the same time as when we were not getting quality starts from the rotation."
In an interview, Anthopoulos at first resisted addressing the subject of what went wrong in the first quarter of the season, because early numbers can be magnified beyond reasonable scope and performances tend to even out, especially with veteran-loaded rosters such as Toronto's. To his point, on Wednesday and Thursday, the Jays gained 1 1/2 games in the American League East standings, and in that light, overcoming an eight-game disadvantage over the remaining 121 games hardly seems a monumental task, presuming players perform to average career standards.
"Rarely have we had the whole team clicking on offence, defence, pitching," Anthopoulos said. "We didn't have anything going right collectively. It all adds up. Sometimes you can make errors and it doesn't impact the outcome of the game, so it's not a story. When you make errors and it leads to losses, it becomes an issue, especially when you're struggling. It's just the reality of sports that everyone looks for a reason. Is it the GM, the manager, the trainers, the players, the injuries? That's fair."
Eight pitchers on the 40-man roster are on the disabled list, seven due to arm strains or postsurgical recovery. Is there a problem with the training or medical staffs?
"We have looked at this," Anthopoulos said. "We have had the same medical staff the last 10 years and in terms of total DL days we were 14th in all of baseball [last season], middle of the pack. … The last year and a half has been a bit of a stretch."
Will he be a buyer or a seller as the trade deadline approaches in July?
"The all-star break is still two months away and a lot can change," Anthopoulos said. "Last year at this time we were leading the league in starters ERA, and agents were calling, saying our guys [at Triple-A] Las Vegas were never going to get a chance. Then in four days, we lost three starters to injuries. … That's why all we have to do early on is basically ride it out. We know that if the talent is there, it should balance itself out. You just don't want to dig yourself too big a hole."
Anthopoulos has made 40 trades since being promoted to GM after the 2009 season, and he's active on the waiver wire. The blur of activity leads to questions about organizational strategy. Exactly what kind of team is he trying to build, and how much money is Rogers Media prepared to spend?
"Sometimes it's predicated on the talent available to you," Anthopoulos said. "I don't think there's a blueprint. Traditional teams have power on the corners, speed up the middle. But if you have Vernon Wells hitting 30 home runs when in his prime in centre field, you might carry [light-hitting, speedy] Reed Johnson in left. … Ultimately you want a deep rotation, deep bullpen, deep offence. Everyone wants the same thing, it's just who's available to you."
An economics major at McMaster University, Anthopoulos has seen fans respond to off-season roster changes by buying tickets. Total attendance to date is 639,513. At the current pace of 30,453 per game, season-long attendance would increase by 489,000 over 2012. The trick is to keep them coming.