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Jays go from darlings to dysfunctional

So after all the ups and downs, the building and rebuilding, the trades and signings that finally worked and the ones that flopped, the job no longer fits for Alex Anthopoulos.

It’s all about a fit? Apparently so. That’s the word the Blue Jays general manager used repeatedly on Thursday to explain why he was walking away from his job.

The greatest sporting summer in Toronto in more than 20 years went completely off the rails that morning when Sportsnet writer Shi Davidi broke the stunning news that Anthopoulos, the Canadian kid who had reworked the Blue Jays back into Canada’s Team, had turned down a contract extension.

This wasn’t about money. Anthopoulos has said several times this year he’s got plenty of it, going so far to joke that he doesn’t drive a fancy car and his house is already paid for. And he was apparently offered a five-year deal with a total value approaching a reported $10 million.

This is all about structure.

New president Mark Shapiro takes over the club from Paul Beeston on Monday and the longtime former Cleveland executive is now a pariah before he even begins his new gig. No one has really spelled out anything here, and Shapiro probably won’t either during his introductory news conference this week, but it’s obvious he was given plenty of control over baseball operations.

The thought when he was hired was that Shapiro would continue in similar duties to his presidency in Cleveland, where he has overseen huge renovations to Progressive Field. The Rogers Centre, now 26 years old, is in line for several hundred million dollars of upgrades.

But Shapiro has been out of heavy baseball decisions the last few years with Chris Antonetti as GM in Cleveland. He clearly wants back in. Apparently too much for Anthopoulos’ liking.

Wrote Michael Grange on Sportsnet: “Through no fault of his own, Shapiro starts his first day of his new job as the villain, the kind of guy who would wrestle a nine-year-old for a foul ball, or force out a homegrown, well-loved general manager. ... in failing to make a seamless transition from Beeston to Shapiro, the Blue Jays went from one of the most uplifting stretches in Canadian sports history to a gong show in the space of a few short days.”

Ouch. That shows you what kind of environment Shapiro is walking into.

The folks at Rogers come off as dopes in this whole situation. At 1:40 p.m. Thursday – in the middle of Anthopoulos’ media conference call – the Sporting News released the news that Anthopoulos had been named Executive of the Year as selected by his peers. Talk about weird timing.

Anthopoulos was more than gracious with his exit, repeatedly praising Shapiro and ownership for the way they reached out to him to try to get him to stay. Nary a cross word was spoken.

Anthopoulos tried to deflect such talk during his call but it’s been widely reported in Toronto that his initial meetings with Shapiro didn’t go well, in part because Shapiro said he didn’t agree with the way the Blue Jays have drained their system of prospects by making all their deals.

You can see both sides here. Anthopoulos knew he was probably making a last-stand for himself and manager John Gibbons in 2015 if the Jays didn’t get to the postseason, and he certainly wanted to try to get there one last time for outgoing president Beeston.

At age 70, Beeston was one of the Jays’ original employees in 1976 and is one of the most beloved figures in Toronto. Rogers had clumsily tried to run him out last winter, making overtures to Baltimore’s Dan Duquette and Chicago’s Kenny Williams, among others, before taking Beeston back for one more year.

Anthopoulos pushed Oakland hard for Josh Donaldson and finally made the deal last winter for Brett Lawrie and a prospect haul that included two pitchers who ended the year with the Bisons (Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman) and 19-year-old shortstop Franklin Barreto, who hit .302 this season at Class A Stockton.

To get Tulowitzki, Anthopoulos gave pitcher Jeff Hoffman, his No. 1 pick in 2014, and hard-throwing 20-year-old Miguel Castro. To get David Price, the sacrifice off the Bisons roster was pitchers Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.

And while watching the Mets in the World Series, what do you think Shapiro thinks of Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey?

This is not Shapiro’s style. Remember how the Bisons of the 90s were built by Shapiro and rebuilt again to championship levels by then-Cleveland farm directors Neil Huntington and John Farrell while Shapiro was the GM. Sure, there were veteran free agents. But there were young prospects everywhere. The Cleveland way was to go with the names like Brian Giles, Sean Casey, Bartolo Colon, Richie Sexson, Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips, Victor Martinez and so many more.

Yes, some of them did get traded. But the Indians had a stocked big-league club and were in their glory days. And many of them (think Peralta, Martinez, Ryan Garko and Fausto Carmona) graduated to the big leagues to form a core of the 2007 club that got a game away from the World Series.

The Indians have almost always been patient, sometimes to a fault. But sometimes, you have to go for it and that’s what Anthopoulos did.

The Blue Jays were 50-51 in late July and were clearly in desperation mode. This was his last chance. But it’s now apparent the folks at Rogers had to have been of the mind this was going to be a housecleaning after the season, of both Anthopoulos and Gibbons, and worked with Shapiro to become the architect of it all.


No one, inside or outside Rogers, could have envisioned what the last three months turned into for the Blue Jays. A 43-19 record, sellout crowds the likes of which had not been seen since 1993, record television ratings, merchandise flying off shelves. No way you fire Gibbons now.

The problem was this was not the franchise Shapiro was brought in to fix. How much fixing does it need now?

Blue Jays chairman Edward Rogers said in an interview with Davidi published Saturday that Anthopoulos’ duties wouldn’t have changed at all under Shapiro and that Anthopoulos was offered an opt-out after the first year of his deal if he wanted to exercise it. It’s hard to take those words seriously. Anthopoulos had the say with Beeston, simply keeping his mentor in the loop as things were going down. That was clearly going to change.

Rogers apparently decided it couldn’t renege on the deal it made with Shapiro. Anthopoulos said no mas. Such a shame.

Herd impact

What does this all mean for the Bisons going forward? For starters, they may not feel huge impact in 2016 in terms of leadership. One thing Anthopoulos did during the summer was make sure lieutenants such as assistant GMs Tony LaCava and Andrew Tinnish and farm director Charlie Wilson were all signed for 2016.

Anthopoulos was a regular at Coca-Cola Field, making the quick jaunt up and down the Queen Elizabeth Way several times the last three summers. Now we have to see who becomes the Toronto GM and whether he has the same push for winning here that Anthopoulos did.

The ex-Toronto GM was disappointed by the way the Bisons have failed to make the playoffs for three straight years. But producing players like Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins, Marcus Stroman and Chris Colabello graduating right to the Toronto lineup is, after all, the main objective.

Shapiro has told people in baseball he’s thrilled to be back working with Buffalo as a Triple-A team, like he did from 1995-2008. The Buffalo front office has a great relationship with everyone in Toronto and remained close to Shapiro, even in the face of the Indians’ defection to Columbus in 2008. The transition there should be seamless.

On the field, pitching coach Randy St. Claire already announced his retirement after the season and it remains to be seen if manager Gary Allenson will return for a third season. And there are free agents that need to be signed, especially on the pitching staff, in the wake of all the trades. Tinnish, in particular, has done great work in that area in recent winters.

At his end-of-season news conference after the ALCS loss to Kansas City, Anthopoulos talked about many prospects still in the system that he’s on high. None of them were even in Double-A yet, meaning it’s likely there would be much impact if any on the Herd in 2016.

Norris doing well

Great news announced on his Instagram account by Tigers pitcher Norris, who spent most of this season with the Blue Jays and Bisons: Ten days after he revealed he needed surgery for thyroid cancer, Norris said Thursday his surgery to remove a malignant growth was a success.

Norris posted a photo showing the scar on his throat and said “I just want to thank everyone for the thoughts & prayers. Surgery was successful & I am Cancer Free. #justkeeplivin.”

The Tigers expect Norris to be ready for spring training. The Blue Jays informed Detroit of the medical situation before making the trade for Price, and Norris revealed he had been making visits to Roswell Park as part of his treatment plan.