Toronto Blue Jays: Why Alex Anthopoulos should be on the hot seat

Major League Baseball unveiled its top 10 right handed pitching prospects on Wednesday. Coming at in #3 was Noah Syndergaard from the New York Mets organization.

The Mets acquired Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud from the Toronto Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade in December 2012. In a Jan. 12 Q&A with Steve Serby of the New York Post, d’Arnaud called Syndergaard “an amazing pitching prospect.” Multiple sources report Syndergaard is the Mets’ top overall prospect, with d’Arnaud as No. 2. Trading Syndergaard and d’Arnaud away is one of several reasons why Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos is a good candidate for the hot seat.

Toronto Blue Jays

Alex Anthopoulos (Photo Credit: Gail Burton/Canadian Press/AP)

Anthopoulos took over the GM role for Toronto after the 2009 season when the Jays canned his predecessor, J.P. Ricciardi. Ironically, Ricciardi is now the special assistant to Mets GM Sandy Alderson.

No one said it was easy to win at the big league level, but since 2012, four of the five AL East teams have qualified for the postseason. The only team which has not is Toronto, as it hasn’t played meaningful games in October since winning its second straight World Series title in 1993.

After how much noise the Blue Jays made last offseason, expectations were high for a return to the playoffs, only for the club to finish last place in its division with a 74-88 record. He has hardly been a quiet GM. In one of his first moves on the job, Anthopoulos dealt Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies for d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor. Taylor was then flipped to the Oakland Athletics for Brett Wallace, who was dealt to his current organization in July 2010 for Minor Leaguer Anthony Gose. Gose has had a little bit of time with the Blue Jays so far, but nothing too worthy of note. d’Arnaud is now the second best prospect for the Mets, while Drabek was once considered a prized prospect for the Phillies, but he has had his share of injuries and struggles when pitching. Halladay won the NL Cy Young in his first season as a Phillie in 2010, becoming the 5th pitcher to win a Cy Young in both leagues. He threw the 20th perfect game in Major League history against the then-Florida Marlins. Then in his postseason debut in game 1 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, Halladay threw another no-hitter, becoming the first NL pitcher and only second in history to toss a no-no in the postseason. Halladay also finished second to Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL Cy Young voting in 2011.

Along with the Halladay deal, one of his other earlier moves was shipping Brandon League and a minor leaguer to the Seattle Mariners for Brandon Morrow. Morrow would have pedestrian numbers in 2010 and 2011 before having a solid 2012 campaign in 124.2 innings pitched. However, Morrow went back to mediocre stats in 2013 in just 54.1 innings pitched.  On the other hand, though League has since been traded to the Dodgers, he was an All-Star closer for the M’s in 2011. In the coming months, Anthopoulos would make other moves worthy of note.

In January 2011, Anthopoulos sent three-time All-Star Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. To be fair, Wells has been declining ever since leaving Toronto, but the next day after acquiring Napoli, Anthopoulos shipped him to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. Francisco spent one season in Toronto and struggled before going to the Mets and having even more difficulties. Rivera spent roughly half of 2011 with the Jays before the team designated him for assignment and sent him packing to the Dodgers.

Napoli, meanwhile, found himself setting new career highs in a Rangers uniform in 2011. He batted .378 collectively from July until the rest of the season. The Rangers made it all the way to game 7 of the World Series before bowing out to the St. Louis Cardinals. Had the Rangers won, Napoli looked like the consensus World Series MVP with 2 home runs, 10 RBI an a .350 batting average.

He was busy again in July of that season. Anthopoulos got Edwin Jackson in a four-player deal with the Chicago White Sox. He then sent Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Colby Rasmus and three relief pitchers. Rasmus has been serviceable with Toronto, but Jackson, Dotel and Rzepczynski helped St. Louis win its 11th and most recent championship that year. In Rzepczynski’s case, he struggled against the Phillies in the NLDS, but in a combined nine appearances against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS and Rangers in the Fall Classic, he blanked opposing batters, allowing just one run in those nine times in relief. So Anthopoulos’ trades made an impact on both World Series participants that year.

Then in the very next month, he sent Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson. Johnson spent the rest of 2011 and all of 2012 with Toronto before joining the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. Meanwhile, Hill won a Silver Slugger with the Diamondbacks in 2012. He also made some history. Hill became the first player since Babe Herman to hit for the cycle twice in one season, and his two cycles came eleven days apart and at the time, it was the two most recent instances in which somebody achieved the cycle. The last time the latter accomplishment happened was when John Reilly hit for the cycle twice in a seven game span in 1883.

Another blockbuster came with the Miami Marlins in November 2012. He sent Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and four Minor League prospects to Miami for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio. Reyes wasn’t that bad for Toronto in 2013, but he played in just 93 games. Buehrle would have a 98 ERA+, the second worst of his career and a 1.345 WHIP, which was of the highest he has ever had in 14 seasons. Johnson was once of the best young pitchers in the game. In 2013, he had a 66 ERA+ and 1.660 WHIP in 81.1 innings pitched. On the other hand, Alvarez provided fans with a no-hitter on the final day of the 2013 season against the Detroit Tigers.

He sent Buck along with d’Arnaud and Syndergaard to the Mets in the Dickey deal. Buck spent a mere 101 games in a Mets uniform before he was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates to be Russell Martin’s backup behind the plate.

Before his struggles in New York, Buck looked like an NL MVP candidate in April, slugging 9 home runs and knocking in 25. In his first season in Toronto, Dickey did not look like the Cy Young winner he was from the year before. He may have won a Gold Glove, but a 97 ERA+ and 1.237 WHIP are two of a handful of categories in which his numbers declined from 2012. Unless Dickey rebounds in 2014, this is looking like another deal in which Anthopoulos may have got the short end of the stick.

D’Arnaud had a small taste of MLB time in 2013. He wasn’t overly impressive, but is still considered one of the best catching prospects in the game along with Austin Hedges in the San Diego Padres organization. Meanwhile, Syndergaard could give New York a very nice pitching trio for years to come. Mets fans are going to have to wait until 2015 to see Matt Harvey back in action, as he’ll miss all of 2014 after having Tommy John surgery, but did finish in 4th in NL Cy Young voting last season. So for now, all eyes are on Zack Wheeler, who looked promising in 100 innings pitched in 2013. Syndergaard is likely to see time up this year and started the 2013 All Star futures game for Team USA at Citi Field. A trio of a healthy Harvey, Wheeler and Syndergaard looks promising.

Anthopoulos signed outfielder Melky Cabrera in the offseason. Cabrera’s name was marred with controversy after being suspended for 50 games in August 2012 due to a positive drug test. The eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants deactivated Cabrera for the rest of the season. Granted, Cabrera wasn’t necessarily downright terrible for Toronto last season, but like Reyes, saw limited action. He played in a total of 88 games in 2013.

Granted, Anthopoulos has been very bold. It’s hard to accuse him of being inactive or not trying to get the Blue Jays back to the playoffs, but the results have not come. His acquisitions as mentioned above have either struggled, dealt with injuries or both. Meanwhile, those he dealt away have prospered elsewhere. Since he took over, six Blue Jays have made the All Star team. Only two of those Anthopoulos acquired: Buck in 2010 and Steve Delabar in 2013. Buck left Toronto to go to the Marlins after 2010 and was traded back to the Jays and soon flipped to the Mets in the 2012 offseason. Anthopoulos got Delabar in a trade with the Mariners and looked very good to earn a trip to Citi Field, but dealt with injuries and a poor second half.

Toronto has the talent. They have a pair of big boppers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista has been an All Star every single year of the 2010s decade. He finished 4th in AL MVP voting in 2010 and 3rd the next season. Encarnacion has hit a combined 78 home runs and has had 214 RBI in the last two seasons. However, they were Ricciardi acquisitions. Anthopoulos has had some who have done things of note, but haven’t produced at an Encarnacion or Bautista level. The people he has made a move for need to be more consistent or stay healthy.

Anthopoulos has been extremely busy in his time as GM. However, the results need to come with it. On the bright side, the 2013 Jays did win 11 straight games from June 13-23, which tied its franchise record the team set back in 1987 and again in 1998. However, the team failed to capitalize on that despite high expectations. In a March 30 ESPN predictions write-up, 20 ESPN correspondents picked Toronto to win the AL East. An additional 12 picked them to clinch one of the two AL Wild Card spots. Three of them had the Jays winning the pennant, while Stephanie Bell of ESPN Fantasy picked them to go all the way.

2014 could be a make or break year for Anthopoulos. Toronto’s players need to step up and this team needs to start winning. Yes, they have a tough division, but critics are going to get down on them for not overcoming such competition. The Blue Jays don’t necessarily have to do what the Red Sox did in 2013 by winning the World Series this season after a last place finish the year before, though that is what they are certainly hoping for. However, something’s got to give. 2014 is going to be Anthopoulos’ fifth season on the job. If things don’t start turning around, a change may need to be in order.

  • Joe White

    Sure seems like he’s been pushing all the wrong buttons but most of all just maybe too many buttons. Hard for an organization to develop with that type of turnover.