31 October 2011

Alex Anthopoulos, Ninja*

Well, in 4 weeks today, I get on a plane for Berlin.  Amazing to think how close it is, and how much I need to get done in the interim.  So I decided to blog about some of the things I've learned from baseball, seeing as the World Series (and the baseball season) is now over -- Congrats to the St. Louis Cardinals and the former Blue Jays who play for them!

I play this baseball simulation game called Out of the Park Baseball (2012 edition).  This game allows you to simulate every aspect of being a general manager, from trading players, to signing them to contracts, to managing a complete minor league system, to setting lineups, etc.  Everything.  The game is really deep.  I play mostly in an online league, where there are 30 players, each one acts as the GM for a major league team.  The game starts in 2011, and proceeds forward until we finish playing.

In the ASBA (the American Simulation Baseball Association), I manage the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and we have gotten to the 2011 All-Star break (mid-July).  Normally, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the game sims ahead one week, and this weekend was a very eventful one, due to it's being the last "real time" weekend before we hit the trade deadline in this Friday's sim. 

This is kind of a long way of getting to the title of this blog entry.  In my general managing, I try to apply some of the principles that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos uses.**  The one that was most at play in trade talks was to never dismiss an idea outright.  When another GM proposed a trade, I would think about it, no matter how preposterous it sounded.  I would find ways to make it work for both parties, and if we eventually decided not to make the trade, I gave my reasons for it, rather than just reject it out of hand.

This, is also the way of the ninja.  The ninja were paid assassins, saboteurs, and general stealth operators.  When they were hired for a contract, they would never reject it out of hand, and frequently (as legends have it), they would make what appeared to be impossible possible.  They examined a problem from as many different angles as they could in order to find a way to make things happen. 

This is what makes Alex Antholpoulos a ninja.  This idea - of being able to make the impossible possible - is a result of his ability to examine a problem from many different angles, to assemble information from every possible source, and to seize opportunity when it is presented.  This, combined with the stealth with which he operates, makes the Ninja. 

I present exhibit A:  The Vernon Wells Trade.

The biggest result of this trade was that it rid the Jays of Wells's $20+ million of payroll for 4 years, freeing up the Jays to sign Jose Bautista to a very reasonable $14 million a year contract extension.  From what I've read of the blogs and newspaper articles, the Angels were looking for a big bat, and had lost out on some of their free agent choices.  The desperate GM was under pressure to improve the team, and in sweeps A.A. with Vernon Wells.  The Jays took on the dead weight salary of Juan Rivera (released in June or July), and catcher Mike Napoli, who they traded to Texas for up-and-down relief pitcher Frank Francisco.

Why is this trade "ninja-like"?  Because everyone and their brother thought Vernon Wells's contract was un-moveable, and when news of the trade came, it was unbelievable at first.

Exhibit B: The Colby Rasmus trade.

From what I've read, A.A. has coveted CF Colby Rasmus for a few years.  He just had to wait for him to wear out his welcome with Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa to become available.  Then, rather than give up prospects that he considered key to the future, gave up reliever Jason Frasor and minor league starting pitcher Zach Stewart to the White Sox in order to get the key cog that St. Louis was asking for - Edwin Jackson.  Jackson was then flipped to St. Louis, along with Jays relievers Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski (I think I spelled that right... thanks, Polish ancestry!) and useless spare outfielder Cory Patterson.  The Jays got back Rasmus, and 3 bullpen arms that may or may not be useful down the road (one has already been released). 

What does this tell us about AA's ninja skills?  Well, by going to the White Sox to get a starting pitcher in Jackson, he was thinking outside the box, examining the problem from a different angle.  He asked himself, "If I don't have the players necessary to get Rasmus in my organization, who does?"  He identified Chicago, got what he needed to make it happen.  Ninja'ed.***

These aren't the only situations where AA picked opponents pockets (Yunel Escobar, anyone?), and I, for one, admire having someone running my favourite team who doesn't just want to be the smartest guy in the room, but could possibly be the smartest guy in the room.  And it's not just that he's smarter than everyone else.  He listens to people, he takes their opinions into consideration, he gathers as much information as possible, and when he strikes, it comes from out of the blue, leaving us all to wonder how the hell he did it.

As a life-long Blue Jay fan (after all, I was born the same year the Jays started playing), even though the team may be a ways from contending, it's nice to know that the Jays have a GM who has a plan, is sticking to it, and knows how to get things done without alienating people.^ 

We can all learn a little bit from Alex Anthopoulos, Ninja.

* I'm not the first to call him a ninja.  I'm just explaining the metaphor.

** This is my interpretation of his actions.  Obviously I have no idea if he actually uses this principle consciously.

*** For the record, I'm not sold on Rasmus yet.  I love the way he plays center field, but in interviews he seems like big, dumb ol' country boy, who may never figure out the hitting side of things, leaving fans, teammates, and team management exasperated about not using the massive talent he has.  Contrast him with Jose Bautista who figured it out (later than most) to become the most feared hitter in the AL, as well as a smart baserunner and fielder. 

^ Do you think the Cardinals will hesitate to deal with Anthopolous again?  They won the World Series with contributions from the players that they got in the trade.  Win/Win trades make everyone happy, and make other teams likely to deal with you again.

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