Alex Anthopoulos has a long title, it is Vice President, Baseball Operations & Assistant General Manager for the Blue Jays. This year Alex has been talking to the media a lot, he appears regularly on the Fan590 and also sat in for some innings with Jerry Howarth on the radio broadcast over the weekend in Atlanta. As JP Ricciardi has taken a step back from the microphone Alex Anthopoulos has stepped up to take his place. We did not know Alex was going to be this popular last January when we first approached him but we hope this interview fills in some of his background which includes time with Les Expos. Also Alex explains what his job entails at diffeent points of the season.
But first this interview needs some context. Batters Box originally contacted Alex January to do the interview, Alex promptly agreed, so we got started and Alex answered the first few introductory questions. Then Bart Given left the organization and Alex's workload increased and the second round of questions went unanswered until this last weekend. Some of the questions and answers have been overtaken by events, or might appear old, and I am not sure if Alex answered some of them in February or last week.
But despite that uncertainty we do have questions and answers and things to talk about and Batters Box thanks Alex Anthopoulos for taking the time to answer given his heavy workload this time of the season.
BB: Please describe your responsibilities (you can either give one list or split it into a logical format such as off-season and in-season)
AA: I guess I would take you through a calendar. January is typically when arbitration starts to "ramp up". Facing an exhange/filing number deadline of January 20th, most clubs and agents begin negotiations on all arbitration eligible players the first week back after the New Year. Each year that I've been in this role, J.P. Ricciardi has expanded my responsibilities and allowed me to be the lead negotiator on several cases. Andrew Tinnish, our Assistant Scouting Director is also invaluable in this process as he does a lot of research and assists our lawyers in preparing our cases should we go to a hearing. February signals the beginning of Spring Training which is equally as busy. This is normally the time of year that we're finalizing our contracts for our pre-arbitration eligible/"0-3" players. March, we're in full fledged Spring Training mode and also monitoring players that may be available at the end of the month (out of option players, minor league free agents with "out clauses" at the end March, "blocked" players, etc.). I try to keep in contact with other Assistant GM's and Club Personnel to monitor what their needs may be in addition to brainstorming with them. All of this is done with Tony LaCava who I work very closely with and we both report everything back to J.P. Once the season starts we get into a basic routine for 6 months. During the day, there are numerous administrative tasks such as managing the budget, communicating with our doctors and trainers regarding injuries, fielding phone calls from player agents on issues that run the gamut (I would need an extra page for all the different things that may come up), communicating with my colleagues on other teams regarding trade possibilities, available players, etc, communicating with our major league coaches on player personnel issues, communicating with our scouting departments regarding the amateur draft in addition to current minor league players, reviewing our minor league game reports and discussing any issues that may arise with Dick Scott and Charlie Wilson, being down on the field for Batting Practice and interacting with the media, and finally watching the games and having post game discussions with Cito and various staff members. Once the season ends, the front office will attend Instructional league to evaluate our younger prospects. While we are there, we will also have various "off-season" meetings to plan for free agency, the GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings. The off-season also involves various staffing issues (hiring, changes, etc) in addition to the submission of the budget for the following season. After instructional league, the next important dates are the GM Meetings in November and the Winter Meetings in December. Throughout these months I'm handling numerous tasks with respect to budgets, preparing for free agency and talking to opposing clubs personnel.
BB: Can you describe how your role meshes with Tony LaCava's?
AA: There is no better complement in my role than to have someone like Tony LaCava that I get to work with and learn from. Tony oversees our Pro Scouting Department and also works closely with Marco Paddy, Jon Lalonde and Dick Scott when it comes to our Latin American Scouting, Amateur Scouting and Player Development. My role focuses more on the Major League team while Tony is stretched across all facets of the organization. That being said, Tony and I speak numerous times each day and are constantly communicating with respect to trades, waiver claims, organizational philosophies, etc. I handle the contractual, rules, budgetary aspects but at the same time, Tony is very inclusive when it comes to our Pro, Amateur and Latin American involvement. Since Tony travels quite a bit seeing our affiliates, players for the draft and players in Latin America, I'm constantly with the Major League team and assisting JP with the day to day operations of managing the 25 man roster in addition to the requirements of our training staff and major league staff.
BB: How did you get started with Les Expos?
AA: Like most young people trying to get into baseball, I started contacting all teams about getting an internship in Baseball Operations. Similarily, like most young people, I found it very difficult and had a lot of doors slammed in my face. Nevertheless, I kept calling/ emailing teams until I finally was given Jim Beattie's direct phone number in his Spring Training offices. After calling and hanging up on him the first time I heard his voice (telling myself I was crazy to be calling a GM directly), I called a second time and finally started speaking with Jim. He was very gracious as I explained to him that I was a 23 year old man from Montreal that would love the opportunity to perform any duty, free of charge, to the Montreal Expos for the 2000 season. Jim explained that they didn't have anything available at the time but that I should email him my resume and he would be sure to forward it along to the appropriate people in the organization. Several months passed with no word from any teams. There was one instance where the Florida Marlins interviewed me for a community relations internship, awarded me the position, but then promptly rescinded it a few days later once they realized they would have issues getting me a visa. It was now April, and thinking that my window for the 2000 season had closed, I started looking for a "real job" and applied to Fidelity Investments in Toronto. The following week, on the same day that Fidelity offered me a full time job in Toronto, a Baseball Operations Assistant from the Expos called me and offered me the position of coordinating the players's fan mail over the weekends with no monetary compensation. At 23 years old, the decision was an easy one for me. So, my career began. I spent my weekends coordinating the player's fan mail and spent my evenings attending Expos games, sitting in the Scout Seats and trying to learn more about my passion- scouting and evaluating players. From there, I was offered a media relations internship and then finally was offered another internship in International Scouting that would take place in Florida at the end of the season.
BB: And did you leave the Expos when they left Montreal? Did you have an option to go to Florida? How did you get hired by the Jays?
AA: When the move was made from the Expos to the Marlins, I was still working for the Expos in International Scouting. Being a Canadian, with the same visa issues I had encountered earlier, I was unable to go to Florida to work for the Marlins. As such, I had to start over again and had an opportunity to meet with Omar Minaya one his first few days in Spring Training. He hired me as a Spring Training intern and when Dana Brown was hired as the Scouting Director, we developed a relationship in Spring Training and he decided to hire me as his Scouting Coordinator.
I was hired by the Jays through Jon Lalonde. When I was working for the Expos in Florida, I paid my own way to MLB's Scout School in November 2001. Consequently, Jon Lalonde was also attending on behalf of the Blue Jays that same year. Jon and I struck up a friendship at scout school and stayed in touch over the years that we both worked as Scouting Coordinators. Once he was promoted to Scouting Director at the end of the 2003 season, Jon called and asked if I would be interested in taking on his previous position of Scouting Coordinator with the Blue Jays. Having run into previous issues with visa's in the past, and knowing that the Expos would ultimately leave Montreal, my move to Toronto was a no brainer. Though it was difficult to leave so many people that treated me well with the Expos, I knew it was a move I had to make.
BB: How much input do you have into free-agent signings and trades?
AA: J.P. is very inclusive when it comes to roster construction. Though he has the final say on all personnel moves, he is very receptive to any ideas and thoughts I may have with respect to signings and trades. Naturally, there are times we agree and times that we disagree, but the one constant is that there is always a level of respect. Myself, JP and Tony debate decisions all the time, but everyone has an equal voice/say and everyone respects the fact that when it's all said and done, it's J.P. role to decipher the information and make the decision that is best for the organization.
BB: When the 25-man roster is set at the end of spring training is that a group decision (JP, Tony, Cito and yourself) or is it a JP or Cito decision?
AA: It is a group decision with J.P. and Cito ultimately having the most influence. Cito being the manager and being comfortable with his roster, and J.P. being the General Manager and being responsible for the performance of the team.
BB: If Travis Snider makes the team will he be the left-fielder?
AA: Should Travis make the team, I would expect Cito to use the outfield in the same manner he did last September. In discussing with Cito, he liked the Angels model of rotating all of 4 outfielders between the 3 outfield spots and the DH spot so everyone could stay fresh over the course of the 162 game season.
BB: Adam Lind was working out at first base last September, will that continue this year?
AA: Adam played a lot of first base in college and the thought with him taking some ground balls at first was simply to make him more versatile. Should Kevin Millar make this team, in addition to already having Jose Bautista on the team, I wouldn't imagine Adam getting too many opportunities at 1B. We always strive to make our players as diverse as possible so that they can contribute to the team should injuries occur. We continue to have Joe Inglett take some ground balls at SS, but similar to Lind, he most likely won't see too much playing time at that position.
BB: If Kevin Millar makes the team then either John McDonald or Joe Inglett could be on the bubble. Is there any thought of Aaron Hill playing shortstop again, at least as a backup?
AA: Ideally, we would like to have Aaron stay at one position the entire season. That being said, and following up on my previous answer, the fact that Aaron has experience playing SS certainly works in our favour. Should we need him to fill in at the position in the event that all the SS's on the roster are injured, it's comforting to know that he's capable of playing there. Troy Glaus from a few years ago is a good example. Though he was our everyday 3B, a need arose for us to play him at SS.
BB: The Jays have two young catchers, Brian Jeroloman and JP Arencibia, who are competing for backup jobs to Rod Barajas. How do you feel about young players being backups in the major leagues?
AA: I think young players can ultimately be backups in the major leagues. It ultimately depends on who the starter is. If it's a stituation like it was in Montreal years ago with Michael Barrett and Brian Schneider, it can work. However, at some point a decision needs to be made as to who will be the everyday catcher. If the player is backing up someone like Russel Martin who plays 140+ games a season, then that certainly wouldn't be ideal as your younger catcher will not get a chance to develop through playing time. With respect to Jeroloman and Arencibia, we still feel both of those players would benefit from additional minor league at bats, so our preference would be for both to start the season in the minor leagues.
BB: Brett Cecil has had his innings limited the last two seasons, is he under an innings restriction for 2009?
AA: Ideally we would like to have Brett keep his innings around the 150 mark.
BB: Casey Janssen is coming back from labrum surgery. Labrum surgeries often impact velocity. How hard is Janssen throwing this spring and how concerned are you with giving him a starters workload as he comes off an injury and a couple of years in the bullpen?
AA: Casey's velocity this spring was up to 93 so he has certainly regained his prior form. We are certainly going to monitor Casey's workload this year and will constantly evaluate it as the seasn progresses.
BB: Has Dustin McGowan started throwing yet? Any reports on his progress?
AA: Dustin is feeling great and is now throwing up to 120 feet. We're hopeful that he could be back before the end of the season.
BB: The Jays appear to have an abundance of bullpen arms even before the new bodies brought in over the last few weeks. Did the team actively try and deal from its bullpen strength over the winter? If yes, were any deals close?
AA: We didn't actively try to deal anyone but rather we always kept our options open and listened to what other teams may have had to offer. Having one of the better bullpens in baseball the past few years, there has been steady interest in many of our relievers.
BB: Many fans were surprised when Gregg Zaun was not offered arbitrations last winter. The Jays would have picked up a draft pick and most fans thought he would turn it down as he did not want to be a backup. If he did accept the Jays needed a backup anyway. What was the key issue that persuaded the team not to offer arbitration?
AA: With Gregg coming off of a salary of close to four million dollars there was too great a risk for the organization to offer and have Gregg accept. Looking back on the fact that he received a one year two million dollar guaranteed contract, we felt as though we made the right decision.
BB: The Jays new AAA team is in Las Vegas in the PCL, a hitter friendly league. Will this make the Jays more likely to leave pitching prospects in AA before coming to Toronto?
AA: Not at all. Though the PCL is a more hitter friendly league we feel as though it may not be a bad thing for our pitchers to experience that type of environment. Playing in the American League East, we feel as though if our pitchers can learn to pitch deep into games, irrespective of how many runs they may have allowed, it should better serve them in places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
BB: Going back to your Expo years is there much difference in how clubs operate "behind the scenes", i.e. in the GM's office?
AA: Absolutely. Every GM and organization has their own way of doing things. Each GM in baseball have their own unique leadership styles in addition to their own philosophies and processes.
BB: Castillo Perez and Joel Carreno missed spring training due to visa issues. Are they now in North America and will we likely see them in Lansing anytime soon?
AA: Castillo Perez is still working on resolving his visa issues. Joel Carreno is in North America and is currently pitching in extended Spring Training. No determination has been made as to where and when he will be moved to another level.
BB: Has Jeremy Accardo got his consistent splitter back?
AA: We're encouraged by the progress he has made with both his split finger fastball in addition to his slider.
BB: Finally, do you have any under the radar players you think are set for a breakout year in 2009?
AA: This is a more difficult one to answer as I think we expect improvement from all of our players each year. Besides, having read Batter's Box from time to time, you guys are so well informed of our minor league system that I have a hard time imagining any of our players are "under the radar". :-)
Thanks again Alex.