With patience, foresight, and a steady hand, Alex Anthopoulos has assembled rosters that have exceeded expectations in both his first two seasons as the Braves’ general manager. No one expected the young Braves to emerge from a rebuild by winning 90 games and the NL East in 2018. And despite their success last season, not many predicted they would repeat as NL East champs – a feat the Braves have a 99% chance of achieving, per FanGraphs - in a much-improved division. (In full disclosure, I predicted before the season that the Braves would win 87 games and a Wild Card berth, so I too underestimated this team.) While the individual efforts of the players should certainly be lauded for their success, so too should Anthopoulos’.
Anthopoulos has done all that one can to win this season’s MLB Executive of the Year, an award voted on by the teams and given to one executive in baseball. He previously won the award in 2015 for the Blue Jays. Simply put, this season Anthopoulos has done more than anyone else to improve his team in the short and long term. His fingerprints are caked on this team’s success.
To start, signing Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million contract was one of the most brilliant free agent signings of the offseason. Donaldson’s 4.8 fWAR is almost the highest among free agent position players signed in the offseason – higher than Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and just 0.1 fWAR off DJ LeMahieu’s total. Beyond the incredible production Donaldson has contributed, the signing was forward-thinking for another reason – many thought it unnecessary with Johan Camargo on the roster. Anthopoulos had the foresight to realize that perhaps Camargo had overperformed in 2018 and that adding Donaldson would boost not only the everyday lineup but also the team’s depth.
Coming out of the offseason, many fans were upset that Anthopoulos did not make more additions to the roster after their divisional opponents had been aggressive in improving their rosters. Demands to sign Craig Kimbrel and jokes about “financial flexibility” were rampant on social media and talk radio. (I too was critical of the team not addressing the bullpen.) But Anthopoulos remained patient and did not make any hasty decisions based on public backlash.
This is not to say that those criticisms weren’t valid at the time. The biggest gripe early on was the bullpen, and it was ugly for the first couple months of the season. But Anthopoulos did not compound his error of not addressing the bullpen in the offseason by making a rash decision to quell scrutiny. He could have signed Kimbrel, but that would’ve required a large multiyear deal that likely would’ve precluded signing Dallas Keuchel, and if things went similarly for Kimbrel as a Brave as they have as a Cub, the team would be worse off (Kimbrel has a 5.68 ERA and -0.6 fWAR this season for Chicago and is currently on the IL). Perhaps Anthopoulos wasn’t enamored with what he had seen out of Kimbrel recently and thought that money would be better spent elsewhere. In hindsight, not signing Kimbrel might have been one of Anthopoulos’s best moves this season.
Anthopoulos remained calm and has been methodically aggressive throughout the season. He waited until the draft pick compensation for signing Keuchel came off before outbidding all other clubs for his services. Keuchel has helped solidify the Braves’ rotation and could pay his biggest dividends still in the playoffs.
With his team in a good position to make the playoffs at the Trade Deadline, Anthopoulos addressed the team’s biggest weakness by completely overhauling the bullpen. By trading for Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin, he turned a weakness into a strength, and did so without giving up a top-10 prospect (Joey Wentz was rated 11th per Talking Chop’s own rankings at the time). After a rough few initial outings, these relievers have been vital to giving the Braves the best record in baseball since the Trade Deadline.
Still Anthopoulos did not become complacent. Facing a rash of injuries to key contributors like Dansby Swanson, Nick Markakis, Austin Riley, and Brian McCann, Anthopoulos charted new waters of the revamped post-deadline free agency. Due to a change in the rules starting this season, Anthopoulos was not able to make waiver trades but rather had to scour the market for free agents that teams had released. He found several gems like Billy Hamilton, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Francisco Cervelli that have helped the team not just endure but to excel despite the injuries. These additions are also an indication of Anthopoulos learning from last season’s playoff roster and adding much-needed depth, as I wrote recently.
Whether you point to the Donaldson or Keuchel signing, the revamped bullpen, or the depth moves after the deadline, Anthopoulos has pushed all the right buttons at the time when his team needed it the most. Most impressively, he has aggressively improved his team this season without leveraging its future. In fact, the future is also much brighter because of Anthopoulos, who extended two of the Braves’ brightest young stars – Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Ozzie Albies – to very team-friendly contracts at the beginning of the season. The Braves now have both players under team control through the 2027 season without paying them more than $24 million in a season – combined. The importance of these extensions to the Braves’ future cannot be overstated and are enough on their own to warrant Anthopoulos receiving the Executive of the Year award.
Not only did Anthopoulos extend the Braves’ young stars, he kept one of baseball’s top farm systems intact. As noted above, Anthopoulos did not trade a top-10 prospect and has top prospects Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, and Ian Anderson waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Despite recently graduating prospects-turned-stars like Acuña, Albies, and Mike Soroka, the Braves still have the fourth-best farm system per Baseball America. Clearly, Anthopoulos has the Braves in position to win for nearly the next decade.
To be sure, there are other worthy candidates. Brian Cashman’s Yankees could end up with the best record in baseball despite a slew of key injuries, and his shrewd signing of DJ LeMahieu is a big reason why. However, it’s a little easier to sustain injuries when your payroll is well north of $200 million. Additionally, the Rays’ Erik Neander has assembled a very competitive roster – again – despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Likewise, his signing of Charlie Morton in the offseason was probably the best of the entire offseason. Also, the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow has built perhaps the best roster in baseball and pulled off a stunning blockbuster trade for Zack Greinke at the deadline. However, Anthopoulos’s success cannot be tracked to merely a transaction or two or even this season. Against all odds, the Braves have been one of the best teams in baseball this season and will be a dangerous team for the next decade thanks to Anthopoulos.