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June 13, 2014

Pebble Hunting

Alex Anthopoulos' Amazing Offseason

by Sam Miller

As the 2013 season concluded, Alex Anthopoulos’ chair in Toronto was, per reports and common sense, wobbly. “He needs a winning season in 2014 or he will likely be fired,” wrote Richard Griffin, in an article that suggested opposing teams had cracked his tactics, putting the Blue Jays in a disadvantageous position on the trade market. Now, of course, the Blue Jays are the class of the AL East, the most improved team (by winning percentage) in baseball from a year ago, and as likely to make the playoffs as the Tigers are. Clearly, Anthopoulos had a tremendous offseason. Clearly, he’ll be in contention for executive of the year. Anybody who foretold his dismissal clearly didn’t see this incredible act of General Managing in the winter of 2013-2014. Let’s review the seven key moves that Anthopoulos made:

7. Signed Tomo Ohka
Ohka hadn’t pitched in American professional baseball since 2009, but after shoulder surgery in 2011 he began to rely on a knuckleball. The Blue Jays took a flier on him in December, invited him to spring training, then released him. He’s now pitching in the independent Atlantic League, where he has 13 strikeouts and 25 walks. But while Ohka isn’t contributing directly to the Blue Jays’ pennant run, Mark Buehrle has cut his ERA in half and has the American League’s 10th-best WARP. He has allowed more than two earned runs only twice, and the Blue Jays are 11-2 when he starts. Because of this, Anthopoulos’ efforts at strengthening the Blue Jays’ rotation clearly worked.

6. Signed Dioner Navarro
The Blue Jays’ catchers last year were terrible at the plate, hitting .194/.235/.348 with the AL’s worst OBP, third-worst OPS, and second-worst True Average. Most of that rot came from J.P. Arencibia (.194/.227/.365) and Josh Thole (.175/.256/.242), so Anthopoulos non-tendered Arencibia and replaced him with Navarro, who had been (by True Average) the National League’s best-hitting catcher in 2013. He’s been a bit of a mess at the plate this year, but Thole, sweet Thole, has been much improved. Only one AL catcher has a higher OBP than he does in 50 plate appearances or more. Thole’s VORP as the backup catcher has been all by itself a nearly one-win upgrade for Toronto. Because of this, Anthopoulos’ efforts at strengthening the offense from the catching position clearly worked.

5. Came darned close to getting Ian Kinsler in a trade. Really darned close!
Boy, Kinsler sure would have been a nice fix for the Blue Jays at second base, where in 2013 the club was somehow just as bad as at catcher: .216/.258/.297 cumulative line. Anthopoulos pulled off quite the coup in nearly getting Kinsler, though. Kinsler invoked his no-trade clause, so he's not actually on the team, but that was really an impressive near move. Steven Tolleson, though, is, and the minor-league free agent is hitting .280/.333/.500. That’s quite an upgrade over 2013 Emilio Bonifacio, who was traded last summer (and who has also been quite an upgrade this year over 2013 Emilio Bonifacio). (They’ve also benefited from the presence of Juan Francisco, which has allowed Brett Lawrie to slide to second base at times; but Francisco was signed just after the season started, so, unfortunately, Anthopoulos can’t claim him as part of his spectacular 2013-2014 offseason, and neither will we.) Because of this, Anthopoulos’ efforts at strengthening the second base position clearly worked.

4. Re-signed Munenori Kawasaki.
Kawasaki nearly got away from the Blue Jays, who declined his $1 million option in November and expected him to return to Japan. But far from conceding the season, the Blue Jays fought, struggled, and clawed, and eventually re-signed Kawasaki in December. Huzzah! Kawasaki, who hit .228/.326/.308 last year, is hitting .250/.308/.333 this year. But last year he batted nearly 300 times, and this year he has batted just 14, spending most of the season in Triple-A. Because of this, Anthopoulos’ efforts at getting the absolute most positive production out of Munenori Kawasaki clearly worked.

3. Claimed Brent Morel off waivers.
The Blue Jays were not getting enough power production out of the middle of the order, and Morel—who hit eight home runs and slugged .553 in September 2011—seemed like he might help. He has helped! The Blue Jays waived him and lost him to the Pirates in February, but look at how much more production the Jays are getting out of the middle of the order:

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Related Content:  Toronto Blue Jays,  Alex Anthopoulos

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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I get the point of the article, but taking the opposite argument the signing of Navarro was actually big because of his defense. Navarro is only an average defensive catcher you say? I'll agree with that, which puts him light years ahead of J.P. Arencibia who got worse as the seasons went on and didn't know how to call a game.

It was ironic to see J.P. still complaining about how unfair the Toronto media was to him while with Texas and hitting under .140 and then a few days later get sent down. Unless he gives his head a shake he won't make it back. Don't blame others, look in the mirror and work harder.

I still think the lack of a true 2B is going to come back to haunt the Jays. Francisco has more holes in his swing than swiss cheese and Lawrie's better at 3B.

Jun 13, 2014 04:57 AM
rating: 4

This should be mandatory reading for all Blue Jays fans, particularly those who call in to the Jay's post-game radio show.

Jun 13, 2014 05:12 AM
rating: 1
Greg Ioannou

What makes you imagine that the Jays fans who call in to the post-game show can read?

Jun 13, 2014 08:56 AM
rating: 7
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I'm glad I didn't make it to the end of this whole snarky article. If you don't like Anthopolous or have some other beef, a paragraph ought to be sufficient. The Blue Jays performance should be celebrated, and all parties who are involved deserve some of the credit.

Jun 13, 2014 08:57 AM
rating: -11
Greg Ioannou

If you didn't make it to the end of the article, you missed the entire point of it: "We’re always on the lookout for the next market inefficiency, but Alex Anthopoulos seems to have found it just before last winter: Having lots of good players on the roster, and waiting for them to play as well as, or perhaps just a bit better than, they should."

Jun 13, 2014 08:59 AM
rating: 7
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Yes, like Greg said! I suppose the article should speak for itself but I apparently didn't do a good enough job of making the point, which is that AA built this roster wonderfully a year earlier, and everything great that the Blue Jays are doing would have been just as possible in his wobbly-chair season. He done real good!

Jun 13, 2014 09:18 AM

It seems to be like AA is taking a page from Brian Sabean's notebook, which is that even above-average cores can be hit or miss for unforseeable reasons. Injuries happen, underperformance happens, but those aren't always reasons to reshuffle the deck. Talent is talent.

Jun 13, 2014 12:57 PM
rating: 2

So what you are saying is, BP was right about the Jays in 2013 after all? Two thumbs up guys.

Jun 13, 2014 13:43 PM
rating: 0

Sometimes you're the windshield; sometimes you're the bug.

Jun 13, 2014 18:33 PM
rating: 0

This is priceless! Kind of like Joe Morgan applauding a foulout to the right side of the infield?

Jun 13, 2014 19:24 PM
rating: 0

I read the first paragraph. then I went back and read it again because I felt like I'd missed something.

"That's a weird paragraph construction...but ok...let's read number 2...huh. That doesn't make sense. Is he taking the piss out of the Blue Jays? Ok, next one...hrm, maybe he's had a sudden stroke. Maybe it makes more sense further in..."

By number 5 I'd figured out the point was that Anthopoulos' offseason was great precisely because he didn't do a ton of stuff and make a lot of deals. Good article, and a great point, considering in seasons past Anthopoulos has been very active in making deals.

Jun 14, 2014 09:48 AM
rating: 0
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