Alex Anthopoulos and Title Inflation

Yesterday, Alex Anthopolous left the Blue Jays, turning down a contract to remain with the team because, as he said in his conference call, he didn’t think it was a good fit anymore.

“I don’t know that I’ve had to make a harder decision in my life, but I did what I felt like I needed to do,” Anthopoulos said. “I just didn’t feel like this was a right fit for me going forward.”

It’s pretty clearly not a coincidence that Anthopoulos’ exit coincides with the arrival of Mark Shapiro, who was hired in August to take over as the new team president. Shapiro was brought in to replace Paul Beeston, so while it’s not a new position in the Blue Jays organization, the fact that ownership openly courted guys with baseball operations backgrounds — first Kenny Williams, then Dan Duquette, and now Shapiro — makes it seem that they’re changing the responsibilities of the position. Beeston was a business guy, an accountant who worked his way up through the organization’s financial side, but the Blue Jays actions over the last year make it clear they wanted a baseball guy in the team president role.

This is the new trend in baseball, of course. Over the last five years, it has become en vogue to promote the General Manager to President of Baseball Operations, or some similar title. The Blue Jays, in fact, became the 12th team to employ a recently promoted GM (or manager, in one case) in that job, with the title of GM going to someone else in the baseball operations department.

Arizona: Tony LaRussa
Atlanta: John Hart
Boston: Dave Dombrowski
Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein
Chicago White Sox: Kenny Williams
Cleveland: Chris Antonetti
Los Angeles: Andrew Friedman
Miami Marlins: Michael Hill
Oakland: Billy Beane
Philadelpiha: Andy MacPhail
San Francisco: Brian Sabean

There are a few other GMs who also have the title of President of Baseball Operations, including Mike Rizzo and Jon Daniels, but they retain the GM title as well, so those organizational structures are a little different. But now in 12 of the 30 organizations in baseball, the General Manager is no longer the top decision maker in the baseball operations department, or at the very least, doesn’t have complete control over the final decisions when it comes to roster construction.

So, while the Blue Jays are spinning this as Anthopoulos turning down a five year contract extension to remain in his job, it seems pretty likely that they were actually offering him a demotion, while simply allowing him to keep a title that no longer means what it did even just a few years ago. MLB teams have been using title inflation to retain their coveted young executives, as it’s something of an understood rule in the game that teams are allowed to hire each other’s front office personnel as long as they are giving them a promotion; lateral moves are generally not permitted if the organization wants to retain their employee. Rather than lose quality assistant GMs, teams simply promoted them to the GM position, which necessitated the new President of Baseball Operations title for the guy who was still realistically in charge of things.

Under Beeston, Anthopoulos was more like a Daniels or a Rizzo, a GM with final say (barring ownership meddling, anyway) over the moves the team made to put the roster together. Under Shapiro, however, his position would have been more akin to the new style of GM, the guy who gets to run the day to day operations of the department but doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally decide whether to make a trade or how to fill out a roster. While ownership is involved in major free agent signings in every organization, and no GM or even President of Baseball Ops can go spend large sums of money without ownership approval, there’s a significant difference between selling the ownership’s representative on a big free agent deal versus having a former GM in the office for every trade discussion or every conversation about team construction.

For 11 organizations, the GM is now roughly equivalent in responsibility to what an empowered Assistant GM is in the organizations that don’t have a President of Baseball Operations. Guys like David Forst, Farhan Zaidi, Jed Hoyer, and Mike Hazen all have plenty of responsibility and are recognized for their contributions to their organizations, but its pretty well understood that Beane, Friedman, Epstein, and Dombrowski are the guys who get the last word when it comes to significant organizational decisions. So while the Rogers ownership can spin this as an extension offer, it was more realistically a contract for a new position within the organization. Same title, but a demotion all the same.

Just like with currency inflation, where it’s pretty well understood that $100 now isn’t worth the same as it was years ago, job title inflation has the same effect. The Blue Jays joined the ranks of MLB organizations making their GM the #2 guy in the baseball operations department, and Anthopoulos understandably didn’t want to accept a position that appears to not be what it was previously after a wildly successful season. The kind of season the Jays just had doesn’t seem to warrant a demotion, but given that the ownership set these wheels in motion last winter, it seems that they made up their minds a year ago that they didn’t want AA to be be the leader of their baseball operations department for the long-term, and they didn’t let the team’s success in 2015 deter them from that conclusion.

Given that, they shouldn’t really be surprised that he left. His success in Toronto will make it pretty likely that the next few teams who make changes at the top of their baseball operations departments will have Anthopoulos pretty high up the list, and given the way MLB is going, turning down this GM job probably sets him up to be a President of Baseball Operations in his next gig.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago