“We needed to accumulate as many assets as we could,” Anthopoulos said. “Ownership gave us significant dollars to spend in the amateur draft and Latin America. Young players and prospects are currency in this game.”
Then came a chance to spend that currency. The Miami Marlins wanted to shed expensive contracts. But they wanted a boatload of promising young players in return for their established stars.
“We might have given up two or three Hall of Famers, who knows,” Beeston says. “But that’s why the guy is good. When the opportunity presented itself, he was able to switch gears.”
A current insider puts it another way: “They stocked the shelf with prospects and then all of a sudden Alex woke up and said, ‘you know, having too many prospects is overrated.’”
Not everyone in the organization wanted to go ahead with the 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins, Beeston says. The Jays gave up five young players –pitcher Henderson Alvarez and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from the Jays, and prospects Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani.
Anthopoulos said that he wouldn’t have been able to make that trade even a year ago, but that he had learned to be decisive and trust himself, rather than always seeking consensus.
“I don’t want to have regrets and say I didn’t make the decision I wanted to make because I was scared or influenced by somebody else. Sometimes I have to remind myself, there’s a reason I’m in this position. Right or wrong, I’m going to live and die with my decisions. I hate talking that way – I-I, me-me – but my greatest regrets in this job are when I went against my instincts in making a decision. I’ve made plenty of mistakes with my instincts, but it’s easier to sleep at night when you knew that they were your instincts that were wrong.”
SWINGING THE DEAL
Beeston thought the team was set. Anthopoulos had signed free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, the National League’s batting leader until he was suspended for elevated testosterone levels, to play left field. He signed free-agent Maicer Izturis to play second. Everywhere you looked the team was solid, even stunning.
Anthopoulos said, “We can use one starting pitcher. We can really use an ace. I can get [R.A.] Dickey.” Dickey was a 38-year-old knuckleballer who had just won the Cy Young Award playing for the New York Mets.
“There is not a chance they’re going to trade him,” Beeston replied.
Anthopoulos reached back to his shrinking shelf of prospects, and handed over up the team’s top position-player prospect, Travis d’Arnaud, and a highly rated young pitcher, Noah Syndergaard. Dickey’s two-year contract would cost the Jays $25-million.
THE ARITHMETIC OF SUCCESS
For each big-name player a certain number of additional fans would come, Beeston told the Blue Jays’ board. The club’s budget had been headed for $100-million this season. He wanted to take it to $125-million.
“It’s a guess, it’s a feel,” Beeston says of the boost in attendance he projected. The board might not have bought his guess if it was just one player. “But it was player x, y and z,” he says.
“It was a matter of giving people a reason to come to the ballpark.”
The board gave him a hearing unlike the one accorded Brian Burke, then the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, by the Rogers and Bell directors at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“You can’t even compare the two,” an insider says. “When Burke spoke it was like listening to a scene out of Slap Shot,” the slapstick hockey movie. “Listening to Beeston and Alex speak was like listening to Moneyball . Beeston does a very good job in instilling confidence in the board.”
Saying yes to the plan was an obvious decision, the insider says.
“Starting from the top, Edward [Rogers], they were saying, ‘look we’ve got the money, let’s spend.’ If the team starts winning, you fill up the stands, people spend more money, there’s more people watching at home, more people listening on the radio, the more times the Rogers Centre is mentioned. It’s just such a domino effect.”
Most important of all to the owners was the timing. Beeston and Anthopoulos explained that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are not at their best. But those teams can spend their way out of their problems in the next couple of years. Now was the opportunity.
“Once we become competitive it becomes a self-sustaining model,” the insider paraphrased Beeston and Anthopoulos as telling the board. “You’ve just got to make a couple of tweaks here and there and you can have a competitive team for the next 10 years.”
“There’s smart money and there’s stupid money,” Beeston says. “We think this is smart money.”