A month ago, the Blue Jays were not a particularly fun team to watch. The losses came in bunches, the starting pitching was inadequate, our new imports were either ineffective or injured (Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, etc.), and fans were growing frustrated. This prompted fans to question the roster construction, Gibbons' tactical decisions, and more. Alex Anthopolous has been long lauded as a savvy general manager, but the beginning of the 2013 season gave way to credibility and loyalty losses abound. To be clear, I'm not writing this because I think Anthopolous has been a savior. He's made mistakes. Among his mistakes are not being prepared for Aroldis Chapman, to which he freely admitted. The Napoli-Francisco trade can be seen as another. What I'm here to do is appreciate some of the good work Alex has done, relative to his peers.
After Eric Thames was recently designated for assignment, I got to thinking about how major league teams identify potential under-valued assets. As we know well on this site, Steve Delabar (of the throwing program said to increase velocity) was traded to our beloved Blue Jays for the aforementioned Thames on July 31st of last year, and has gone on to be a productive member of an impressive bullpen.
This prompted me to go back and look at some trades of the last 24 months or so, and do a little retrospective on the value a team received and/or lost because of the transaction. What I found was that most trades were a wash, but I did see a pattern form. Over the last couple years, there have been two organizations whose incompetence became visible as I gleaned through generally pedestrian trades: The Seattle Mariners, and the Colorado Rockies.
I don't mean to disparage any true Toronto Blue Jay purists by what's about to follow, but truth be told, my appreciation for Alex Anthopolous begins and ends with two other general managers: Jack Zduriencik of the Seattle Mariners, and Dan O'Dowd of the Colorado Rockies. I don't mean to throw stones at either club's front office, but I found their trade trials to be exemplary of the type of transactions that do not accumulate assets within the organization.
Being from Vancouver, I've been blessed with many things: geographical beauty, relatively temperate weather, and some very "green scenery". One thing we haven't been privy to in this fair land is a bevy of championships in major sports. The NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB's collective efforts have been completely and utterly fruitless. The Seattle Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl. The Seattle Mariners have never won a World Series. The Vancouver Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup, and lastly, the Seattle Supersonics, Vancouver Grizzlies, and Portland Trailblazers have combined for 2 NBA championships (Portland 1977, and Seattle 1979) in a combined 99 NBA seasons. If it feels like I'm painting a depressing picture, then color me depressed. To baseball fans feeling the championship blues, their collective hopes fell on the mr.Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners.
When Zduriencik took the job as Mariners GM in the 2008 offseason, he didn't have very big shoes to fill. Bill Bavasi, Zduriencik's predecessor, has been known to make a bad trade or five. In 2006, he traded away Matt Thornton to the White Sox for Joe Borchard, Asdrubal Cabrera to the Indians for Eduardo Perez, Shin-Soo Choo to the Indians for Ben Broussard, and Rafael Soriano to the Braves for Horacio Ramirez. To make matters worse, in a last-ditch effort to save his job, Bavasi traded away all-star Adam Jones, starter Chris Tillman, reliever George Sherill, and reliever Kam Mickolio for Canadian Erik Bedard. How he managed to completely dismantle a perfectly promising minor league system still confounds me to this day.
Zduriencik came to the Mariners with the promise of building through the draft. His days in Milwaukee as head scouting director were very impressive, and his ability to identify amateur and minor league talent while in Milwaukee was his calling card to the job in Seattle. His first successful trade came on January 20th, 2009, when he traded for his eventual closer (and only person ahead of Hank Aaron in the baseball almanac) David Aardsma. Aardsma went on to close 69 games over the 2009-2010 campaigns, representing what would be one of very few trades that one could consider a net gain.
In three fateful weeks in December of 2009, he traded for Cliff Lee for once promising prospects (notably two Canadians: Tyson Gillies, and Phillippe Aumont), traded away Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and a washout outfielder by the name of Johermyn Chavez, and signed Chone Figgins to a 4-year, 35$ million dollar deal, which started and ended disastrously (lovingly, I share to you this article from managing editor of Fangraphs Dave Cameron giving his stamp of approval of the signing).
Cliff Lee was entering his last year under contract before free agency, and given his desire to play elsewhere, Zduriencik and co. traded Lee to division rival Texas on July 7th, 2010 for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and one of the most ethically vapid men in the sport: Josh Lueke. What's especially interesting about this trade is that they traded within the division, to a team tied atop the division with the Los Angeles Angels by only 3.5 games. This trade constituted a failure in being able to acquire an impact talent, something that would become somewhat of a commonality in his next transactions.
Fast forward another year, and the Mariners traded away another left-handed pitcher, the once coveted Erik Bedard. Bedard, and 2005 1st round pick Josh Fields were traded on July 31st in a three team deal for Urban Youth Academy alumni Trayvon Robinson, and another outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang. Robinson was on the cusp of being designated for assignment, but instead was flipped to Baltimore for middling middle infielder Robert Andino. Further compounding Zduriencik's lack of asset management was his August 2011 trade of Doug Fister, now prominently featured in the Detroit Tigers ridiculous rotation, as outlined by Fangraphs managing editor Dave Cameron. The Mariners received LOOGY Charlie Furbush, flame out prospect Francisco Martinez (recently DFA'd), middle reliever Chance Ruffin, and Casper Wells (DFA'd in favor of defensive stalwart Raul Ibanez).
The 2011 off-season for Jack started strong when John Jaso came over via trade from the Tampa Bay for the already mentioned Josh Lueke, and he went on to post a 143 wRC+ in 107 games. Eight weeks later, Dzuriencik then flipped sensational rookie starter Michael Pineda, and promising young arm Jose Campos for perennial top prospect Jesus Montero and swing-man Hector Noesi. Montero floundered in his season and a half with Seattle, forcing Jack to send him down to AAA Tacoma, where he was found to have a torn meniscus in his left knee requiring surgery. Noesi has struggled mightily, to the point where even a rebuilding Seattle team can't find a spot for him to pitch,
As I already detailed, Steve Delabar, controllable through 2017, was flipped at the deadline for the beloved Eric Thames and his hulk-ian biceps. Another loss for Jack Z and company.
The 2012 offseason begins by Zduriencik trading away Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, which I consider a wash. They are both free agents at the end of the 2013 campaign, and while Vargas has recently hit the disabled list with a blood clot requiring surgery to fix, he had been the most productive member of a terrible Angels rotation. Morales, on the other hand, has posted a mediocre 116 wRC+ as a 1B/DH.
Next, John Jaso and his impressive .397 OBP was thought to be expendable (completely thoughtless given Jesus Montero's terrible defense and forthcoming transition to first base), and was traded in favor of oft-injured, and position-less Mike Morse, once a farmhand of the Seattle Mariners with only one year of control remaining before impending free agency. Even given the fact that recent draftee Mike Zunino has surfaced in the major leagues, trading away John Jaso for Mike Morse constitutes another mishandling of assets.
Jack Dzuriencik was supposed to be a draft-oriented general manager, and the majority of his blue-chip draftees (Dustin Ackley, James Paxton, Danny Hultzen) have struggled, though he has had success with some other picks (Nick Franklin, Carter Capps, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino).
As a settler of the great Northwest, I've been subjected to many franchises and many general managers demonstrating a level of competence that is flatly and bluntly insufficient, and Dzuriencik is no different. It's situations like the Mariners, that makes me appreciate Alex Anthopolous.
*I didn't intend for this to be so long, but if you made i this far, I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy part two: Dan O'Dowd and the Colorado Rockies.
GO JAYS GO!