Alex Anthopoulos operates under what is essentially a contradiction when it comes to the public demands on his private dealings.
The Toronto Blue Jays general manager wants people to know how he thinks, but not what he does; to understand his intentions, yet be blind to his actions.
From his chair, it all makes total sense. Working in such fashion keeps opposing GMs unsure of what he’s up to, while the misinformation his tightly enforced shroud of secrecy creates is something he gladly exploits.
But a reminder of the downside to that approach comes Monday when the Texas Rangers visit the Rogers Centre and send to the mound Yu Darvish – the Japanese sensation signed, sealed and delivered to the Blue Jays back in December by rumour and innuendo, if not reality.
Hitting town with a 3-0 record and a 2.42 earned-run average in four starts so far, the sight of Darvish will no doubt send many fans back to the darkest moments from their winter of discontent, when the Blue Jays, hemmed in by their policy of not commenting on published reports, allowed hype to build and the belief that they would land him to set in, only for the Rangers to ultimately win his negotiating rights.
The ensuing reaction was a toxic mix of anger, disappointment and resentment, and nearly five months on, Anthopoulos remains as cryptic as ever as to what really went down.
“This is just part of the way we do things, these are the unfortunate things that are going to happen,” he said Sunday when asked whether he worried about backlash from fans before the winner of the Darvish posting was announced. “There are other components that I’m trying to work through as well from a strategy standpoint – negotiations, trades. We read what every other club is quoted as saying. We try to use that to our advantage. I think clubs do the same with us. So I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to mislead. Sometimes I’m better off not saying anything at all, because I think lying is worse.
“I tried to say what I could. Maybe I should’ve repeated (that the club had payroll parameters and wasn’t likely sign any high-priced free agents) 40 times. Maybe I should’ve reminded everybody more often. Maybe it was on me. Maybe I wasn’t emphatic enough.”
Perhaps, but even within that reasoning there remains enough wiggle room for the Blue Jays to have submitted a bid for Darvish – something a source worth believing told sportsnet.ca back in December that they did in fact do – without Anthopoulos breaking any of his policies.
While the Rangers won the posting process for Darvish with a bid of US$51.7 million and subsequently signed him to a US$56-million, six-year deal for a total package that would likely have blasted the Blue Jays’ parameters, Anthopoulos could very well have bid significantly lower in case no other team ponied up the big bucks and the price for the negotiating rights slipped.
If the Jays bid around US$20 million and signed him to the same US$56-million, six-year deal the Rangers did, the total commitment over six years of US$13.3 million annually is much more in tune with the club’s payroll structure.
That scenario was unlikely but possible, and as Anthopoulos is fond of saying, he likes many players, but only at a certain price. No harm then in submitting a lower-end blind bid for Darvish based on their own valuation, just like there’s no harm in calling on Prince Fielder and asking if he’d take five years.
A bid on those terms makes complete sense, because the Blue Jays would gladly take Darvish, or countless other players for that matter, at their price.
Either way, Anthopoulos won’t say anything for certain, and though team president Paul Beeston says of the team’s silence on Darvish, “that was our position at the time, we might do it differently next time,” he’ll likely face some resistance on that from his GM.
Maintaining the status quo gives Anthopoulos the space to essentially tell fans, “if you read the signs, you would have known,” while at the same time maintain the misinformation about the Blue Jays that serves him so well.
“When things that are out there, not put out there by us … we can use those things to our advantage, one way or the other,” said Anthopoulos. “There are two big trades, in both the (Roy) Halladay trade and the (Vernon) Wells trade, that there were things that were out there that were false, that people just ran with. We used them to our advantage.
“I had GMs tell me, ‘Well, I know this, this, this, this.’ It’s because they read it and my response was, ‘Look, I’m not going to get into that kind of stuff, but if you want to think that way, you can go ahead and do it.’ So from that standpoint, rather than lament the fact or chase rumours or try to correct everything, let’s take whatever’s out there and try to use it to our advantage.
“I hate that I have to be so cryptic, but there’s absolutely an element of strategy and there’s an impact on the ability to make trades or signings, or things like that.”
The advantage of working clandestinely with trades is obvious, but in a confidential bidding process with the winner gaining an exclusive negotiating window?
By having other clubs believe he was in on Darvish, Anthopoulos may have created more urgency on the part of potential trade partners such as Oakland with Gio Gonzalez or San Diego with Mat Latos out of concern the Blue Jays might be removed from the picture.
At the same time, anyone else really interested in Darvish might be prompted into upping their bid to ensure they beat the Blue Jays, and the more their opponents spend, the better.
As the restraint shown by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox last winter showed, even the biggest spenders eventually run into their own payroll parameters and have to draw the line. The more teams that max out the more opportunities there may be in future markets for the Blue Jays.
So ultimately, it’s up to everyone to make up their own minds, because Anthopoulos has too much incentive to maintain the contradiction and keep us all trying to read the tea leaves.
“I had a GM ask me about the Darvish scenario before it was done,” said Anthopoulos. “I said, ‘I don’t see us being really big on free agents, fitting everything into our payroll and so on.’ I think the comment was, ‘You’re a worse sandbagger than I am.’ I’m not sandbagging. That’s just the way it is.”
Shi Davidi is the MLB Insider for sportsnet.ca. Come back to read his insight and opinion regularly.