Kasten: Anthopoulos brings advanced thinking along with scouting backgound

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It would be an understatement to say that Dodgers president and part-owner Stan Kasten is pleased the Braves hired Alex Anthopoulos as their new general manager. In some ways Kasten seems like a proud father whose son just got the best job he could’ve asked for, but Stan also sounds as pleased and excited for the franchise he ran for so long, the Braves, as he does for Anthopoulos.

Alex Anthopoulos (right) was introduced as the Braves’ new general manager on Monday by team CEO Terry McGuirk (left). (AP photo)

The proud but now scandal-plagued Braves needed Anthopoulos — probably more than he needed them, if we’re being honest. The Braves expect to be slapped with penalties as soon as next week that might include the loss of draft picks and/or prospects signed as international free agents, but their farm system will remain at or near the top in all of baseball. and Anthopoulos will have plenty of resources from which to build a contender.

“I hate to lose him, but it really is a great situation,” Kasten said Wednesday at the Waldort Astoria Orlando, site of major league GM meetings early in the week, which transitioned to ownership meetings at the same site. “Working for (Braves CEO) Terry (McGuirk), the new ballpark, fantastic city, great fans. And he came there (for the interview), fell in love with those guys and he came back very enthusiastic – more than I had seen since he was with us.

“Really, seriously he was. He was waiting for the next call (from the Braves after the interview). That took a while. He was a little nervous until it came, we were talking about that every day. But he was super excited when the call came.”

The call came Sunday from former Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, who Monday had his role reduced to senior adviser. Anthopoulos had been impressed by Hart and Hall of Famers Bobby Cox, the legendary former Braves manager, and John Schuerholz, longtime former GM and current vice-chairman.

It didn’t take long for Anthopoulos to accept, thus ending the former Toronto GM’s 22-month stay in a Dodgers front office that was a virtual baseball think tank, in analytics and otherwise. Only 40, he already had six years of experience as Blue  Jays GM, including the 2015 season when his team ended a 22-year playoff drought and Anthopoulos was named Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.

Kasten, 65, is as experienced and knowledgeable as any sports executive alive today, and he knew full well that Anthopoulos wouldn’t be with the Dodgers for an extended period after the young GM walked away from lucrative contract-extension offers from Toronto two years ago and signed on as a vice president of baseball operations with L.A.

Anthopoulos left the Blue Jays only because of the ham-fisted way they brought in Mark Shapiro as team president in 2015, reducing Anthopoulos’ decision-making power at precisely the time when most folks in Toronto and around baseball believed Anthopoulos should’ve been getting more power, not less.

The Dodgers didn’t necessarily need him, but didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to add the energetic Anthopoulos to a Dodgers front-office mix that already included six others with major league GM on their resume at some point. Now Kasten, whose Dodgers took the Astros to a seventh game in the World Series a couple of weeks ago, is thrilled both with what Anthopoulos brought to the Dodgers and his choice of new employer.

Toronto’s loss was the Dodgers’ gain, and now Kasten believes it will be the Braves’.

Anthopoulos was introduced Monday as the new GM of the Braves, the franchise for which Kasten served as president from 1986 through 2003, a period that included 12 of a run of 14 consecutive division titles that was unprecedented in any major professional sport. Kasten still has deep connections to the Braves organization, close friends and colleagues, including McGuirk, Schuerholz and Cox.

But Anthopoulos represents a break from the past, a fresh take on the Braves, something that even McGuirk said Tuesday was a good thing. Dayton Moore, the Braves’ other top choice to replace deposed GM John Coppolella, who was forced to resign Oct. 2, would’ve undoubtedly done a fine job leading Braves baseball operations.

Stan Kasten (second from left) with other Dodgers owners, including Magic Johnson. (AP photo)

But in the view of some fans — perhaps the vocal minority, but quite vocal indeed — as well as some media members and others, Moore still would be associated with the Braves past and perhaps not gotten the benefit of doubt from some observers who’ve grown tired of ties to the past. Even if that past was the most successful period in franchise history.

Anthopoulos, a Greek Canadian from Montreal who is fluent in three languages (English, Greek, French) and dabbles in two others (Spanish and his wife’s native Portugese), comes at the GM job with a background in scouting – for the Expos and later Blue Jays – but also with a thorough understanding and belief in analytics, one of the first wave of young executives who jumped on the advanced stats and information trend years ago.

“His background is scouting, which is near and dear to me and near and dear to everyone in Atlanta,” Kasten said, “because that’s the bedrock of the foundation, and that’s still the bedrock of every organization. But I think the additional experience he’s had over the last two years with the rest of the people in our front office gives him a combination of skills that very few people now have. So I think he’s the perfect … he’d be perfect anywhere, but for the Braves, I think they couldn’t have done better. I really feel that way.”

Between analytics and the stable of veteran baseball minds the Braves have and will make available to him for advice or to answer any questions he might have, Anthopoulos was already comfortable with the new organization, or as comfortable as one could be after only two hectic days on a new job.

“I was only there (at SunTrust Park on Monday) for the press conference and I left,” Athopoulos said Tuesday after arriving at the GM Meetings, “so I don’t know our R&D (research and development) department, our analytics team, I don’t know what we have, but I’m certainly going to be curious from that standpoint. But there’s a lot of baseball experience there and a lot of knowledge that I’m going to tap into. …

“If you’re not getting better and you’re not learning in this game, you’re probably not really engaged. And I’m excited now, I’ve got a whole other group of people I can get exposed to and learn some different things. Again, just (Tuesday) morning in spending some time with John Hart, I learned a ton.”

Anthopoulos used analytics extensively with the Blue Jays, then went to a Dodgers team that took stats and advanced info and new approaches to another level. The Dodgers’ baseball operations had a young triumvirate of president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and Anthopoulos, plus former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes and others. He said the experience was great for him personally.

“Just because so many different ways of doing things, so much experience, so much knowledge,” he said. “Again, I think I’m better than what I was two years ago, four years ago. So you start going around the room with all that experience and they’re at that level, and then we’re sharing our information, we’re bouncing our information off each other, seeing the way people work, do things, connections. I’ve said this before, it was like going to get my Ph.D., that’s how it felt, it terms of working in a front office and being exposed to things. It’s rare that you get a chance to do that with where I was in my career, and things certainly worked out for me.

“To be completely candid, I’m thrilled to be in Atlanta, and I was ecstatic about the opportunity. If I could have lined it up a little more I would have gotten a few more years in L.A. I felt that way when I got the GM job in Toronto; I’d had four years as assistant GM, I thought, God, if I could just have a few more years to settle in a little more. Same thing I felt in L.A., I was really starting to enjoy, really starting to get exposed to more things, grasp some things. I think there was more there. But you can’t time things, right?”

The Braves have used analytics more extensively in recent seasons, but most who know Anthopoulos believe he’ll make them into one of baseball’s most advanced teams in that regard.

“The process that the Dodgers’ front office utilized in not just evaluating players and developing players but in attacking games, utilizing the roster, strategizing how you go game by game, pitch by pitch — that, I think is new in a lot of respects,” Kasten said. “It’s becoming more and more the norm, but no one now has a better grounding in it than Alex does, and I think it’s because of what he’s picked up in the last two years.”

Does that mean Anthopoulos was completely immersed in analytics as well as scouting?

“He’s not, necessarily; he doesn’t have to be the analytics guy, but he knows what it requires,” Kasten said. “And he does know that it works. I’d like to compete against people who still think it doesn’t work, frankly. For sure, it works. It’s just information. Now, you have to get the right people behind you (to develop and apply it) and he will, because who doesn’t want to work with Alex? I mean, he really is a good guy, so you’ll have no trouble there.”

The other key point, especially given the recent front-office discord, especially under Coppolella but also Frank Wren before him: Everyone who knows Anthopoulos said the same thing, that he will actively listen to all of those around him, get everyone involved and not be inflexible or closed to new ideas.

“He’s an outstanding baseball man and an even better person,” said Perry Minasian, who was hired as Braves director of player personnel in September, hired away from the Blue Jays, where he was Anthopoulos’ scouting director and became close enough friends with him that he was in Anthopoulos’ wedding. “From a leadership standpoint, for where we are as an organization I think he’s a great fit. He’s going to bring energy, creativity, he’s big into creating an atmosphere where everybody can be themselves, which I think is great. He’s very collaborative as far as making decisions.

“He loves information, and he’s got the ability to take people’s opinions and filter through what he receives and actually dissect the thing that mean the most and make quality decisions. With the amount of experience that’s in Atlanta – John Hart, John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox, Terry – he’ll use those assets. He respects what people have done in the game. He’s a forward thinker, but respects what’s been done in the past and how people do it. He asks a lot of questions, which I think is a great quality to have.”

And did we mention work ethic?

“He works,” Kasten said. “He doesn’t have hobbies, this is what he does. He does it 24/7. And a lot of guys are like that, but I think he has, as I said, the great combination of scouting and analytics combined with a great personality, that’s easy for other GMs to relate to and work with. That’s how he always did the big, impressive and ambitious deals when he was in Toronto. He still has that tool in his tool kit, but I think he’s very committed to scouting and player development, which again I can’t emphasize enough – no matter how many of us utlize analytics, this business is still about scouting and player development. Always has been, always will be.”

The Braves gave Anthopoulos a four-year contract worth far more than they previously paid their GM. It’s a bigger-than-usual commitment for this franchise to make to an executive.

“Well, they’re going to have to be (committed),” Kasten said. “When you set a long-term plan in place, it’s going to require some time. I mean, I think everyone understands that. Even with a great farm system, not everyone graduates and succeeds. There’s a winnowing-out process and that’s going to take some time.”

But Kasten likes Anthopoulos’ chances of getting the team where he and the Braves want it to be.

“I do. I think the whole thing – I think the place, I think the relationship with Terry will be a good one there, their willingness now to turn the page and put this behind them is a good way to come in,” Kasten said. “Because I think Terry really is concerned with getting all the fans pointed toward the future and he will be of course instrumental helping Alex achieve that.”