Swagger back in Blue Jays Minor League system

When former Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos made his moves to put Toronto back in contention in the American League East, fans from coast-to-coast had no problem with it after missing the post-season for more than two decades - but it came at a cost.

By Rob Fai / Vancouver Canadians | April 10, 2018 6:16 PM ET

(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - Alex Anthopoulos is now three seasons removed from being the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and only now are his fingerprints beginning to fade from the organization's Minor League system.

Anthopoulos was the catalyst to a number of blockbuster moments while at the helm of the Blue Jays day-to-day dealings within Major League Baseball. When he first took over for J.P. Riccardi in 2009, he made waves when he was able to find a home for Vernon Wells and his larger-than-life contract as the Angels became a willing partner for the centerfielder's services. Not long after and Anthopoulos was dealing with the Phillies on a move that would send Roy Halladay to the city of brotherly love giving 'Doc' a chance to compete for a World Series.

He was young by GM standards, quiet and yet played the role loudly when it came time to pull off a deal. Fast forward to November of 2012 and Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on a deal with the Marlins that sent Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis and four (4) Minor League prospects in exchange for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonafacio and cash. It was a blockbuster deal for just a few days before Anthopoulos went out and got knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole in exchange for Triple-A standout catcher Travis D'Arnaud and some minor league pitcher that ended up being RHP Noah Syndergaard. The moves were a bold step forward as Anthopoulos by most accounts 'went for it' and yet the Blue Jays would stumble to a 74-88 record the following season.

Before we move forward, let's take a step back.

The Blue Jays had a three-headed monster growing within the Minor League system in LHP Justin Nicolino, RHP Noah Syndergaard and RHP Aaron Sanchez all who had pitched in Vancouver in 2011, and all who had been tabbed as future Major League arms. Within months of them getting used to wearing a maple leaf on their uniforms, 2/3 of the three-headed monster were out the back door with Syndergaard now a New York Mets pitcher and LHP Justin Nicolino one of the four arms that went to the Marlins in one of the biggest transactions in Blue Jays history.

There were still arms within the organization, Nicolino and Syndergaard were big arms that many assumed would one day become a part of the Blue Jays rotation.

Now, fast forward to the 2014 and 2015 seasons and Anthopoulos was at it again as the vultures within the media began to wonder and cackle about his job future as President Paul Beeston began to see his future become hazy with Rogers growing weary of spending to only achieve mediocrity.  

If this were a poker table, Anthopoulos was going 'all-in' with a last ditch effort to save his job and bring a playoff birth to Toronto (in no particular order). Canadian-born Brett Lawrie was sent to the Oakland Athletics along with three Minor Leaguers in exchange for Josh Donaldson during the off-season of 2014. Months later Anthopoulos kicked the door right off the hinges going full steam ahead with a deal between Toronto and Colorado that saw SS Troy Tulowitzki and LHP LaTroy Hawkins headed north in exchange for SS Jose Reyes and a pair of minor league arms in Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro. Hoffman had many within the Minor League system facepalming as they knew they had a future star on their hands, but also knew the price to bring in Tulowitzki was high - so onward they went. But there was more...lots more.

LHP David Price was snatched from the Tigers in exchange for - you guessed it, a pair of minor league arms in LHP Jairo Labourt, Matt Boyd and LHP Dan Norris. OF Ben Revere was picked up from the Phillies for Minor League arm Alberto Tirado and pitcher Jimmy Cordero while the A's parted with Cliff Pennington in exchange for cash and Minor League SS Dawel Lugo. Two more players (INF Tim Locastro and P Chase DeJong) were sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help offset the cost of signing 16-year old prospect INF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for $3.9 million.

When the dust had settled, the Jays were en route back toward the post-season for the first time since 1993, and the Minor League system had been picked through like a discount rack at Winners.

We saw it first hand right here in Vancouver as the Blue Jays system had so many holes that the second a player had a decent few weeks, up they would go as Toronto tried to fill holes as best they could. It was projected that it could take Toronto three to four years to replentish its Minor League system after Anthopoulos went for it in hopes of getting the Blue Jays back to the playoffs - which he did.

Alex departed shortly after the Blue Jays uncorked champagne declining a five-year deal from Rogers opting for a new path within the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and was replaced by President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins who work side-by-side on the Blue Jays Day-to-Day operations.  

2015 marked the first draft board that would be compiled by Shapiro and Atkins and immediately fans looked to see the Blue Jays philosophy and it was apparent early that signable college kids were the theme of the three days which made sense as they needed players who a) would sign and b) could be moved up relatively quickly to being filling the holes left from the yard sale just months earlier. Seven of the first ten picks Toronto had went on college players including RHP John Harris and 3B Carl Wise.

2016 saw Shapiro and Atkins deliver in a big way as they landed University of Pitt standout RHP T.J. Zeuch (pronounced ZOY-kuh) and SS Bo Bichette as well as 2B Cavan Biggio and RHP Brayden Bouchey. This past year, the Blue Jays got both RHP Nate Pearson and SS Logan Warmoth in the first round while securing 1B Kacy Clemens and catchers Hagen Danner and Riley Adams giving the Blue Jays five legitimate catching prospects within the system.

Now, as the calendar flips to 2018, the Blue Jays system is once again restocked and loaded with future Major Leaguers. Not everyone was sent packing during the Anthopoulos era, but enough that it has taken three full draft classes to get things back to a place of confience. That and the additions of Ben Cherington, Gil Kim, Charlie Wilson and Eric Wedge who oversee the Blue Jays Minor League operations.

Swagger is a funny thing because to have it you gotta back it up. As the 2018 seasons in Buffalo, New Hampshire, Dunedin and Lansing get underway, it's clear that swagger is warranted as the boys are back, and Vancouver -- fresh off of a Championship will be ready to walk the walk as well just weeks from now.

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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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