When Alex Anthopoulos replaced J.P. Ricciardi as the General Manager, I don't think many Jays fans were unhappy with the move. J.P. had promised to work with a long-term plan that would make the Jays future playoff contenders. However, that never happened, and J.P. made several win-now moves that didn't fit into the long-term plan that the Jays were supposed to follow on the route to success. J.P. also did not draft exceptionally well, going mostly with lower upside college players and few over slot signings. We don't know if his finances were restricted of course, but his later round picks were not successful at all, with one notable exception being Jesse Litsch. In his last two drafts he did make some promising selections in later rounds, like Drew Hutchison, and perhaps Ricciardi was simply limited by his budget. But you really can't argue with what his replacement, Alex Anthopoulos, has done to make us Jays fans forget all about J.P.'s mediocre tenure as GM. The sympathetic looking Greek Canadian, known affectionately as AA around here, has made some really good moves in his short period in charge. He has not only traded for some good talent, gamed the free agent compensation system for some extra draft picks and signed some promising international free agents. No, he's done more than that: he has created a framework for the Jays to build on to become long-term winners.
AA's trades have been nothing short of fantastic. The Halladay, Wells, Escobar, Morrow and Marcum trades have all netted us great talent and haven't deviated from the long-term plan. AA has not made any expensive free agent signings. The free agent signings he has made have been short-term deals with an eye on collecting a compensation round draft pick in the Rule IV draft, which also signals a commitment to the long-term plan. But even more important is that AA has set up a large scouting system which will probably help the club a lot in the long run. AA has used that scouting staff to identify some sleeper prospects, leading to surprising early picks like Noah Syndergaard, Jacob Anderson, Joe Musgrove and Jeremy Gabryszwski in the past two MLB drafts. What I find encouraging is that AA said in an interview (I don't remember with whom) that they were looking for pitchers who didn't just throw hard, but threw strikes at a good velocity. This is a philosophy that I think makes perfect sense if you look at some of the best pitchers in baseball, like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. They don't throw that hard, but they throw quality strikes over and over again. A lot of our pitching draft picks have been also reported to have solid offspeed offerings that can be thrown for strikes. Again, having command over multiple good offspeed pitches is needed to become a true ace.
The change in philosophy from free agent signings and college draft picks to building almost completely through the draft and international free agents with a few trades for even more high upside players sprinkled in, is a very positive one. Average players are not going to make this team beat the likes of Boston and New York in the AL East. No, we need a collection of good players and stars, and the road AA has taken is exactly the one that could lead to competitiveness in the toughest division in baseball. However, it has to backed up by money, and the fact AA has had the money available to spend on the draft, but also on guys like Chapman (the Jays were very much in the race), Hechavarria and Adonis Cardona. The more than $11 million the Jays spent on the draft last year would've been a record if the Pirates and Nationals hadn't spent even more. If the Jays keep spending this kind of money on the draft, I have great confidence in their future. If hard slotting is implemented, that could throw a wrench in their plans, obviously. Hopefully it isn't, and hopefully AA will keep getting his chance to collect extra draft picks through the compensation system.
Something we should remember when watching a Jays line-up with the likes of Corey Patterson, Rajai Davis, Jayson Nix and Juan Rivera is that "the era of AA" is still a few years away. Yes, Morrow and Escobar are already contributing, with Lawrie, d'Arnaud, Drabek and Gose all possibilities to become good players in the next few years. However, most of the farm system is still filled with Ricciardi era leftovers. Admittedly, there are some really tasty leftovers there, like Henderson Alvarez, Nestor Molina, Drew Hutchison, Moises Sierra and Jake Marisnick. But the full impact of the new regime will only be felt after the 2010 and 2011 high school picks reach the majors. There's a lot to like there already, with guys like Sanchez, Syndergaard, Murphy, Sweeney and Nicolino highlighting the 2010 haul. But by all means the 2011 haul should be even bigger and, depending on who signs, might make the Jays a very fun team to watch for many years. Do you have razor sharp confidence in the Jays' future?