Under The Bleachers: Increased Stakes, Increased Uncertainty In Toronto

Less than a week after the Toronto Blue Jays were eliminated from the American League Championship Series by the Kansas City Royals, Alex Anthopoulos turned down a multi-year extension to remain the club’s general managers, creating a great deal of uncertainty for the Blue Jays heading into the offseason.

To some extent, this isn’t surprising – Toronto hired former Cleveland general manager and executive Mark Shapiro to replace outgoing president Paul Beeston, which officially took place on Monday, and Shapiro has zero ties to Anthopoulos. When a deal wasn’t figured out before the postseason began, this became a very real possibility.

That still doesn’t mean that this isn’t surprising, as Toronto’s success this season and the deals Anthopoulos made during his time in charge put this team in a position to be contend this year and going forward.

And now things are weird in Toronto.

Anthopoulos, who was named the Sporting News’ Executive of the Year while he was on a conference call with select media Thursday afternoon discussing his departure, shaped the team that won the American League East this year and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

Not only is there an empty general manager’s office at the moment, but Anthopoulos’ departure calls into question the future of all of the outgoing executive’s chief lieutenants and current manager John Gibbons, who was very much an Anthopoulos guy.

This ratchets up the pressure on Shapiro, who was similarly named Executive of the Year in both 2005 and 2007 while serving as the general manager of the Indians. Cleveland had solid overall success under his stewardship and though they’re in the midst of a partial rebuild, their upside is clear.

By no means is he going to come into Toronto, tear down what Anthopoulos built and look to start fresh from square one, but after the city and the country fell in love with this team as they made big moves, got hot and reached the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades, whoever comes in to replace Anthopoulos and the direction this team takes under this new management group need to continue the progress that was made this season or else the fans are going to revolt against the new guard.

Is that fair? Of course not – Shapiro is the man who will ultimately have to answer for the team’s success and failures, so bringing in a group that shares his vision and direction for the club makes perfect sense. Additionally, it sounds like they made Anthopoulos a hefty offer to stay on board, so it’s not like he was simply told, “Thanks for everything, now pack your things and go” as some people likely feel right now.

But this puts him under the microscope even before he’s held his first press conference as club president and drops the incoming GM in the crosshairs from Day One because the holes on this club are obvious and if this new group doesn’t fill them right away – and do their best to retain two key internal free agents on the Blue Jays, pitchers David Price and Marco Estrada – they’re instantly going to be looked at as the bad guys.

Here’s some food for thought though: Shapiro was successful in Cleveland and the Jays are in a position to succeed right now, so as much as Anthopoulos leaving feels like a stinging blow now, maybe wait and see what happens before casting judgment on this situation.

If he brings over Terry Francona to manage this squad, hires a talented general manager that gets things done in the offseason and the core of this team remains intact for Opening Day, yesterday’s news won’t be such a big deal.

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