Braves: Is Alex Anthopoulos the best GM in sports?

Braves trade deadline

Being the general manager of a sports team is oftentimes a thankless job, but that isn’t the case when it comes to the Atlanta Braves.

Despite being handed one of the best farm systems in baseball when he took over, it hasn’t all been easy for Alex Anthopoulos. For years, he’s been severely handcuffed financially by ownership, forcing him to constantly look for value at every turn in free agency. In almost all cases, he’s been a wizard in such scenarios. Whether it’s been one-year, pillow contracts or diamonds in the rough, Anthopoulos has made the most of the dollars allocated to him while also keeping the club financially free in the future. The result has been four straight NL East titles and, of course, one World Series championship that had been eluding the Braves since 1995.

Throughout his tenure as the general manager, there’s really only one moment where I questioned Anthopoulos’ judgment, which was when he only traded for Tommy Milone before the 2020 trade deadline. The Braves wound up losing to the Dodgers in seven games, and you have to think that we would be talking about back-to-back championships if Anthopoulos had gone out and landed a better starting pitcher. However, at the same time, this could have been another scenario where the budget restricted him from making any substantial splashes.

Other than that, Anthopoulos has been absolutely flawless. Every move he’s made has turned to gold, and now that he has a little money to spend, teams should be concerned. The Braves 2022 Opening Day payroll will be the highest it has ever been by over $20 million, and Braves President Terry McGuirk expects it to continue to rise.

In an interview with the AJC, he had this to say about the team’s spending in the future.

We started last year with the 14th highest payroll (of the 30 teams), and it wasn’t too long ago that we were in the low 20s. Our goal — and the philosophy of what we tried to build here — was to get to a top-10 payroll as quickly as we could within the normal growth cycles. And we are there.

This year, we believe we will be a top-10 payroll, and I’d like to march up that list, too. But I’ll take little steps before I can take a few bigger steps. We are not No. 10 in payroll; we probably are going to be No. 8 this year. It hasn’t all settled in yet (with final opening-day roster decisions yet to be made).

Our vision back when we moved here (to Truist Park) was that, as the fans embraced this, as our team began to win, as what we were hoping would happen happened, (it would) give us more economic means to put back into this whole operation.

The economic reality is … that we can compete for a championship every year. That is what our goal is, too. I don’t see anything taking us off this (path) for the foreseeable future.

But that’s not all McGuirk said in the interview. He also praised Alex Anthopoulos for what he’s been able to accomplish without having one of the highest payrolls in the league.

I would dare say he may be the best in the business now at this job. I know a lot about every franchise, I know how they operate, I see the personnel, and I don’t think there is anybody who can do the job like Alex can.

It’s a very hard job. It’s a 24/7 beat where you’re constantly thinking and rejecting and trying to understand. It’s a calculus question because the market is constantly changing, and your needs change as there are injuries and performance lapses or excellent performances. He and I talk probably an hour every day. … I think the fan allegiance to him is not by mistake.

There are some fantastic general managers around the league. What Andrew Friedman has accomplished with the Dodgers is nothing short of extraordinary, even if they do consistently have one of the league’s highest payrolls. On the flip side, the job that Erik Neander has done with the small-market Rays has been equally, if not more impressive. Still, I’m not taking anyone over Anthopoulos.

An argument could be made that AA is the best general manager in all of sports, not just baseball. He’s a master of his craft, and it will be a thrill to see just how loaded he can make the Braves roster each season now that he has more money to spend.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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