Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos joined the Red Sox  Hot Stove Show on Thursday night to discuss his extremely busy start to the offseason. He discussed the decision to pull the trigger on a blockbuster with the Marlins that netted Josh Johnson , Mark Buehrle  and Jose Reyes , the move to sign outfielder Melky Cabrera  to a two-year, $16 million deal and the move to hire John Gibbons  for a second-term as Toronto manager.
Interestingly, he cited a pair of Red Sox power hitters on multiple occasions during the interview while he explained some of the motivations that have guided Toronto’s ambitious decision-making this offseason.
Asked if he was concerned that Reyes will earn $66 million between 2015-17 over the last three years of his contract (with a $4 million buyout also looming on a $22 million option for 2018), Anthopoulos cited the eight-year, $160 million deal between Ramirez and the Red Sox from 2001-08 to explain his comfort level with the contract.
“The example I can use is that Manny Ramirez , for years everyone thought may have been overpaid when he was having [MVP-caliber] years for Boston at $20 million. Maybe he was worth [$16 million] at the time or [$14 million] or [$17 million], but Boston at the time would rather have the player than not have the player. I think that’s what it comes down to with us,” said Anthopoulos. “I think he’ll be 34 in the last year of the deal. There’s no question it’s obviously a higher salary. I think that’s part of what makes it available. But I think with the way the game is going and you project how things are going to move, I think revenues are clearly starting to climb. You look at some of the TV deals. … I do think the needle is starting to move on some of these players and where the contracts are going. And I do think our payroll is set up to handle that type of contract.
“That’s the only large contract that we have that’s for five years starting in 2013. We don’t have any seven- or eight-year deals. Might Jose Reyes at the time be worth $14 million or $18 million or $17 million? Absolutely. It certainly can happen. But there is a certain point in time where you’d rather have the player than not have the player. Because it’s a premium position player — shortstops are such a scarce commodity to begin with, then you add in the fact that he’s a leadoff hitter, by themselves a leadoff hitter is so hard to find. Then you bring in the component of stolen bases, contact ability, doesn’t strike out much. Does have, I think, actually pretty good power for a smaller guy. You look at the ballparks he’s been in with the Mets and Marlins and now coming over to our ballpark, I think the power will play up a little bit more. And probably more important than anything else, I think the energy that he brings will rub off on his teammates, and I think that [Emilio Bonifacio] is the same way. We really wanted to try to get more high-energy players on this roster.”
Ramirez again emerged, in concert with longtime lineup partner in crime David Ortiz , in discussing why the Blue Jays thought that the timing was right to pull the trigger on a considerable financial commitment to the roster by making the deal with the Marlins.
“I think two key players for us are Edwin Encarnacion  and Jose Bautista, they’re two guys that are 30 and 31 years old. They’re in the prime of their career. I don’t know the next time if ever that as a GM I’m going to have two 40-home run hitters in the middle of a lineup,” said Anthopoulos of Encarnacion, who is coming off a 42-homer campaign and who is signed through 2015 (with an option for 2016) and Bautista, who has averaged 41 homers a year over the last three seasons and remains under contract through 2015 with an option for 2016. “They’re both under control for the next four years in the prime of their careers. We have to take advantage of that. As great as some of these young players are, I don’t know that they’re going to get up here and be impactful big league players in time to take advantage of those guys being in their primes. If it’s three or four years from now, they’re already gone. We’ve got to take advantage of having two premium middle-of-the-order power hitters. They’re so hard to find. I think of obviously Manny and Ortiz all those years in the AL East. That was an incredible combo, and I think Bautista and Encarnacion have a chance to be comparable to those two.”
Highlights from the interview are below. To hear Anthopoulos’ interview in its entirety, click here .
On the genesis of the Marlins deal: We had asked about Johnson last summer and asked about him again earlier in the offseason. I didn’t get the sense that Miami was real motivated to do anything. They were still working through some things, hiring a manager and so on. … On my way to the GM meetings, I reached out to [Marlins president of baseball operations] Larry Beinfest to ask him if we could talk about Johnson. … [Beinfest is] very direct. He already knew what he would want from us. The price was very steep. So I said, ‘If we have to give up these types of players to get a guy like Johnson, we’re certainly going to need to expand the deal. Guys obviously like Reyes, Buehrle are guys we’d have interest in. I’d just need to talk to ownership about the dollars involved. I made a call to our CEO that night about potentially adding the other two. He said it would take a day or two and he’d see if he could get the approval. From there, Larry and I just continued to talk. It moved pretty fast. We got it done in about five or six days.
On the importance of keeping the trade talks under wraps: One-hundred percent there’s a competitive advantage [in keeping talks quiet]. I’ve seen it happen where teams jump in, try to slow things up, confuse things, maybe get ahold of things, start writing articles, one side can be influenced, an owner can be influenced, and it doesn’t allow you to really do your work. … [The Marlins] are pretty aggressive and they’ve made moves early in the offseason. They’re very direct. They know what they want. I know Larry will make a move, he’ll move fast, he won’t shop it and call around. From that standpoint, I felt like this is a great opportunity for us. It addresses a lot of our needs. There was major value for us in getting it done early in the offseason because it gives us clarity from a payroll standpoint from the other holes we need to fill and allows us to more clearly take advantage of the next two months of the offseason.
The hardest thing I find sometimes is you have too many options and too many alternatives and you become paralyzed. Before you know it, the offseason really starts to gain steam and you’re into December, and you haven’t made a decision because you know that if you make one decision it eliminates five more. So all those things added up, this was the perfect deal for us, the players were the right fit for us, the contract lengths, obviously we were able to handle the salaries. Giving up the young players was hard to deal, but it didn’t hurt us too bad where we didn’t have any young players left. So this was something we really had to pursue and go after.
On whether he was concerned that the Commissioner’s Office might veto the deal: No. We had some people in our office who would not have done the trade. So I had no doubts that it was a very fair deal. It was hard. It was hard to give up a lot of those young players. I understand the reaction in South Florida and the reaction of some of these guys who signed. But when you take all of that component away, if there hadn’t been a new stadium, I think from a baseball standpoint both teams got what they wanted. We know that a lot of these players are going to be very, very good. The only saving grace is that for now they’re in the National League  East, so they don’t have to come back and haunt us for an immediate time.
But I wasn’t concerned that it wasn’t going to get approved. I think it was a very good baseball trade. We had a lot of debate internally about whether we should do it, but ultimately, I made the decision. I think another component to making this deal for us was the position of our team.
On what qualifies as fair expectations for Melky Cabrera, whom the Blue Jays signed to a two-year, $16 million deal: I think you look at last year, I don’t think anyone’s expecting a 900-plus OPS and the season he had there. We’re looking at someone that we think can do what he did in 2011 with the Royals. What we like about him is, one, he improves our defense in the outfield and he protects us at all three outfield spots. It’s very rare that you can get a good hitter that can play all three outfield spots. Most guys who can play center can’t play right because the arm strength isn’t there and they play center and left. He brings the arm strength, he’s obviously good enough to play the three outfield spots. I don’t necessarily see him as an everyday center fielder, but if we had to play him there for a month or two we certainly could. The other thing I liked quite a bit about him is he doesn’t strike out much. We had a lineup that was very high in strikeouts. Those front-of-the-rotation starters would just dominate us, strike out 14 guys. We just couldn’t get anything going. We couldn’t even manufacture runs because we couldn’t put the ball in play. This is someone who can at least put the ball in play because he does have good contact ability. On top of that, he does have some pretty good foot speed. He can run fairly well and steal some bases. He’s not a burner, but he can do some of those things. Lastly, like I talked about with Reyes, he’s a high energy player. I think again, the more of those guys you can have over the course of a six-month season on the field, it just impacts the entire club. He’s not someone that we need to come in and carry the load. We look at him as a two-hole hitter between Reyes and Bautista. But those other things he brings with the switch-hit ability, he’s just going to be a great complement to the lineup. He’s going to lengthen the lineup. We were a team that never had issues scoring runs even last year. But to solidify it, to tweak it, add some more contact ability, solidify ourselves defensively, that makes a lot of sense. We’re the ones who pushed for a two-year deal, strictly looking at what the free-agent market looked like at the end of ’13, we weren’t real excited about what the options were going to be. So we thought having Melky here for two years and having that stability with Colby Rasmus and Bautista made sense for us.
On whether the changing blueprints for the Red Sox and Yankees influenced Toronto’s decisions this winter: We never react, and I don’t think we can. We never react to what the other teams are doing. One, they’re incredibly well run. We all know the resources that they both have. They’re always going to be good teams. The Red Sox had a rough year, but I think we all were expecting them to be a great team coming into the season. I don’t see why they won’t bounce back. If anything now, we just want to get better. It was not fun last season winning 73 games. I told our staff, we had a town hall meeting at the end of the year, I spoke to all of our staff in the stadium to kind of talk about what the offseason will bring. I just told them I don’t want to live through what I just lived through, with 73 wins and having lost 89 games. It makes for a long summer. I defintely don’t want to go through that again. We’re always motivated as a front office to turn things around, but probably more so than ever, because it’s not a fun way to spend our summer. We do feel we have a lot of talent. We have a good team. We just needed to make some tweaks. Right now, if we had to open the season with what we have, we feel OK about it. We’re definitely not flawless, but we still have two months to try to continue to get better.
On the hiring of John Gibbons as manager, which might be perceived as a ‘head-scratcher,’ given his .500 record in his previous stint as Blue Jays manager and the fact that he had confrontations with both Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly : From a lot of people who don’t know him, I expected that — maybe criticism, head-scratcher, didn’t make the playoffs, didn’t win the World Series . And when you look at him finishing at .500 while he was here, that was back when the American League  East was basically ruled by the Yankees  and the Red Sox winning 95-plus games each year — just great teams. The payrolls were significantly higher than where Toronto was. The talent level was significantly higher than where Toronto was. I think it was a pretty incredible achievement, with what he had to work with, to be .500 at that time. Also, some of the run-ins with the players, Shea Hillenbrand had issues with the Red Sox, he had issues with the Diamondbacks and that’s, what he did when he was here, I want a manager to react like that. It’s not something you want to let slide. Ted Lilly, guys have been shown up before when they take the ball from the guy on the mound. It happened with Cito Gaston here, David Wells threw the ball down the left-field foul line when he was getting pulled. Cito pinned David Wells up under the tunnel up against the wall by his throat. We’ve seen it with Lou Piniella and so on. That’s not who Gibby is as a human being. I think you’ll hear a lot of former players say that about him.
Taking all that away, players love playing for him. He connects with them. Staff loves to work for him. He’s a very good in-game manager. I don’t know that there were barely any times that we questioned the moves he made in-game. He’s as good as anybody I’ve seen handling a bullpen. I just think that the won-loss record overall was a reflection of the talent that we had. It was good but not good enough. I thought he did a tremendous job when he was here. I wasn’t going to concern myself with how it looked or somebody that didn’t know him. I was going to go with what I felt was right. I wasn’t concerned about PR splash, trying to get the fans excited. Fans care about one thing and it’s winning. If I think this is the guy who can help us win the most games, that was the decision I was going to make.