Less than a week after coming within one inning of forcing Game 7 in the American League Championship Series, the Toronto Blue Jays have parted ways with chief architect Alex Anthopoulos.
Outgoing Jays president Paul Beeston, an unabashed backer of Anthopoulos, said in a statement Thursday that the team's popular GM and senior vice-president of baseball operations was leaving.
"After an exciting 2015 season, Alex Anthopoulos has reluctantly and regrettably decided that he is not going to return to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club for 2016," said Beeston. "Alex has done an unbelievable job and positioned us well for the future. He can take great pride in his past and while we do not know where his future is taking him, we do know wherever he is going, he will be successful."
Anthopoulos, then assistant general manager, took over as Toronto's GM in 2009 after J.P. Ricciardi was fired.
He earned kudos for a string of moves this season that produced a thrilling 93-69 campaign and a return to the playoffs after 22 years. Fans across the country followed the Jays' wild post-season run.
In a city where success on the sporting front has been few and far between, Thursday's divorce was shocking in the wake of that playoff success. The sudden news also comes during the World Series, a time where Major League Baseball usually likes to keep the focus on the field.
Anthopoulos, 38, turned down a five-year contract extension, apparently because of a difference in vision with incoming president Mark Shapiro, a former Cleveland Indians executive who is replacing the retiring Beeston.
Unlike Beeston, Shapiro is a president immersed in the baseball side — and one who clearly has his own views on how to run a club. Shapiro and Anthopoulos don't appear to be on the same page.
Neither Beeston nor Anthopoulos would comment on the GM's contract status this week.
"That will be addressed at the appropriate time," Anthopoulos said Monday at his season wrapup news conference.
The departure comes less than a month after travelling Blue Jays fans chanted "Thank You Alex" as he watched the Jays clinch the AL East pennant in Baltimore.
"Alex has done a terrific job as GM of the Blue Jays over the past six seasons, and we would have loved it if he stayed with the club," Edward Rogers, chairman of the Toronto Blue Jays, said in a separate statement.
"Like the fans, we too are disappointed he has chosen not to accept our five-year contract offer, but we wish him the very best. Alex leaves behind an outstanding front office team and coaching staff that played a key role in shaping the team's great run this season. They will continue to operate in leadership roles next year as we look to build upon the team's success. We remain committed to putting a winning team on the field and look forward to many more exciting seasons for the Blue Jays."
Still, the departure of Anthopoulos raises questions over the future of his handpicked team.
Manager John Gibbons is on a rolling contract — 2016 is already in place with another year set to be added Jan. 1.
Ironically his split with the Jays came days after his finest moment, with the club one inning away from forcing Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
"I do think we've turned a corner as an organization," Anthopoulos said Monday. "I think we're in a position to win for a long time."
He helped end the team's playoff drought by retooling in the off-season and then showing some impressive sleight of hand before the trade deadline.
Signing Canadian catcher Russell Martin and trading for third baseman Josh Donaldson provided an upgrade on and off the field. Then the deadline acquisitions of David Price, Ben Revere, Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins helped the team to a remarkable second-half surge.
Along the way, Anthopoulos said he made a conscious effort to acquire a certain kind of player.
"We walked away from a lot of players that were talented and productive that didn't fit what we were trying to do. I don't know that as a GM I would have done that a few years earlier," he said.
"I was probably so caught up on value, contractual status, salary, things like that. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from some things if you don't adjust."
Anthopoulos told reporters he was finally getting the hang of things as GM. The Blue Jays new management apparently disagreed.
The 2015 championship run came at a price. Toronto gave up some of its top prospects, as it did in trades in previous years with the Mets and Marlins.
But nobody complained as playoff baseball returned to Toronto.
Anthopoulos started with Toronto as a baby-faced executive. A beard eventually hid the baby face and he proved to be a canny GM.
He kept things close to his chest, unlike former GMs who shared information with select reporters. And he managed to shed salary and acquire talent while working within the lines of an organization that watched payroll closely and rejected contracts longer than five years, not to mention in another country.
At spring training, Anthopoulos would engage with reporters but selectively. While he enjoys talking about the game, he does not like to be the centre of attention.
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