Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Anthopoulos Method

Today's Keith Law released his Top 100 Prospects List (Insider Req'd) as well as his Top 10 by organization. The Top 100 included five Jays minor leaguers with one even ranking in the Top 10, but that isn't really what this post is about. Instead may I point you to the farm system rankings (Insider Req'd) that Law posted on on Wednesday . In his post Law praised the Jays aggressiveness in the draft and international free agency and eventually ranked them at #3.

This ranking got me thinking because throughout the Ricciardi era the Blue Jays were never really considered to have a "good" farm system by any means. In fact the year before present GM Alex Anthopoulos took over J.P. Ricciardi had led the Jays to the #18 spot on Law's 2009 farm system rankings and at #19 on Baseball America's version. In the few years since the overhaul AA has managed to bolt the Jays from middle of the pack to a top end with potential for more. Specifically Law states in his write up "They are the organization most likely to be No. 1 on this list next winter."

In 2009 when Alex Anthopoulos took over as General Manager as the Blue Jays he had a bit of a head start for the farm system and that would be Roy Halladay. At the time Halladay did boast the 9th highest fWAR in baseball, but Anthopoulos was still limited in his destinations. For one thing Roy Halladay wanted to go a contender and for another in order to obtain maximum value Anthopoulos had to be trading with a team that was assured an extension with Halladay. These two filters and the fact that AA likely didn't want to trade the ace within the division really limited the destination to Philidelphia.

Despite all odds against him Anthopoulos impressively managed to get in return three prospects ranked in Baseball America's 2010 Top 100 with Kyle Drabek at #25, Michael Taylor at #29, and Travis d'Arnaud at #81. Of course later that year Taylor was swapped for Brett Wallace and at the trade deadline in 2010 Wallace was swapped for current Blue Jays prospect Anthony Gose.

The development of the prospects since the trade has had its highs and its lows. Drabek may have had a poor showing in the big leagues last year, but he still has the talent to be a solid starter. To go along with him are d'Arnaud who ranked in the top 10 on Law's 2012 list and and whom he said could "... turn out to be real impact player acquired by Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade" and Gose whom ranked just out of Law's Top 50. If Drabek regains form and d'Arnaud and and Gose develop as expected this trade could look eerily similar to the one that got the Braves Mark Teixeira. In that trade the Texas Rangers obtained three current Rangers in Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and Matt Harrison, as well as now Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Beyond the Roy Halladay trade Anthopoulos had to create a new direction for the club. He overhauled the entire draft and international free agency strategy that had been left by Ricciardi and for good reason. During Ricciardi's tenure 75% of the players drafted in the first five rounds were college players and only two [Edit: players drafted in the first round] in the eight years were from high school. One of those two players, Travis Snider, one of only two Blue Jays players to make the Top 10 in Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects during Ricciardi's tenure.

Since then Anthopoulos has changed it such that over 75% of the players drafted in the first five rounds have been high school players essentially reversing the trend. This means that rather than the safe college picks of the past the Jays are pushing for high end talent. Much of this change was due to an increase in emphasis on draft spending as evidenced by the roughly $3.7 million that the Jays spent in Ricciardi's last year and the average of $11.3 million that they have spent in the two years since.

To go along with the trade talent infusion and the higher draft spending the Blue Jays spent a load on international talent. During Ricciardi's the Jays had a presence in Latin America, but were not spending to the extent the Jays have in the past two years. In 2010 the Blue Jays spent $2.8 million on Venezuelan right hander Adonys Cardona and in 2011 they spent $3.00 million on Roberto Osuna two of the higher profile international signings in the past two years. As well in 2010 the Jays spent $10 million over four years for Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

The emphasis on Latin American talent has surely developed a brand of sorts in the Latin American market. With the new CBA in place and it capping the amount that can be spent on players in International free agency it was important for the Jays to develop themselves in the market as a team that a player wants to be on. That means that in the future when two teams are offering same or similar bonuses the Jays may have established themselves a slight advantage.

On the whole with Anthopoulos the Blue Jays plan has obviously been to obtain high upside talent. You as a fan can consider this a good thing or a bad thing, but first realize this. Last year there were 46 players whose fWAR 5.0 or higher in the MLB, 67% of them were with the team that developed them. Of those 46 players another 20% were with a team that traded for them. That means a total of 87% of the top end players in the MLB were either developed as a prospect or acquired in trade through prospects.

In contrast, last season there were 244 players whom had a fWAR between 1.0 and 2.0. Those "role players" are the kind of players that are more often obtained through lesser draft and international free agent spending. They are also the same kind of players who can most often be bought on the free agent market for less than $10 million dollars.

That means to all of the fans criticizing Anthopoulos for his method should maybe step back just a little. Despite what you may believe Alex Anthopoulos is a smart man and he knows what he is doing. He has developed a system that may be hindered by the new CBA, but the farm system that he has spent millions of dollars on and the system that he has created will continue to pay dividends.

Because as was stated before the Jays farm system ranked at #3 on Keith Law's farm system rankings, with him also saying that "they are the organization most likely to be No. 1 on this list next winter." The reason? Behind this top end level of talent the Blue Jays have lies more players in the lower minors like Cardona and Osuna who in a couple of years could be in the same position that d'Arnaud and Hutchison are.

If you still aren't convinced consider this, a similar high upside system was employed by the Rangers in years past and well look at where they are now. Just some food for thought.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, MLB Draft History, ESPN


  1. Great post! If Drabek can straighten himself out and D'Arnaud & Gose play to potential that Halladay trade will be the corner piece of our next title.
    I'm excited about what we have in the minors and we as opposed to when we were pining over Mark Whitten, Alex Gonzales and GlennAllen hill, these new prospects seem more like Doc, Carp, Carlo and Shawn Green
    Exciting times

  2. Its a nice thought to think that the Jays could have gone all out for 2012, but are they really one player away?

    I'd guess they finish at least 10 games out of a playoff spot and no one player has been worth 10 wins since Barry Bonds in 2004 and I doubt CJ Wilson or even Pujols or Fielder would be able to push the Jays to the playoffs

  3. Yes AA is doing a good job but the team still needs a solid bat and at least 1 or more starters before they can contend. I think AA has developed a serious farm system that will pay dividends in the future but it may be two or three years away and we may not have a potent Jose Bautista by that time. The time to strike was this year. they should have signed CJ Wilson. The acquisition of seriously powerful and dependable starter would have made it easier for them to have signed other free agents regardless of the dreadful artificial turf

  4. Yes sorry what I meant to say in that sentence was "During Ricciardi's tenure 75% of the players drafted in the first five rounds were college players and only two *drafted in the first round* in the eight years were from high school"

    Travis Snider and Kevin Ahrens

  5. Fact Check:
    "During Ricciardi's tenure 75% of the players drafted in the first five rounds were college players and only two in the eight years were from high school."

    - Travis Snider (2006-1)
    - Kevin Ahrens (2007)
    - Justin Jackson (2007-1s)
    - John Tolisano (2007-2)
    - Eric Eiland (2007-2)
    - Kenny Wilson (2008-2)
    - Tyler Pastornicky (2008-5)
    - Jake Eliopoulos (2009-2, unsigned)
    - Jake Barrett (2009-3, unsigned)
    - Jake Marisnick (2009-3s)

    That's 10, not 2.

  6. Why do people keep saying the jays aren't one player away? They never set out to sign one player. They set out to get atleast 6! A catcher , a starting pitcher , a big bat and 3 bullpen arms. And they chose to go the cheap route on all those areas. To be fair I wouldn't have paid the asking price for a SP this off season especially with the B class talent going for A+ prices in trades. And they tried to sign a free agent bat but were snubbed because of turf/DH Issues. But with our solid looking bullpen we are a slugging first baseman and a top of the rotation starter away from getting a playoff shot ! And once your in the show anything can happen. Cardinals were a wild card team don't forget.