2022 MLB Executive Of The Year: Alex Anthopoulos (Atlanta Braves)
The Braves hired Alex Anthopoulos as general manager in November 2017. The club has done nothing but win ever since.
Anthopoulos inherited an organization awash with young talent, including 2017 rookies Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies plus the No. 1 farm system in baseball, headlined by reigning Minor League Player of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr.
But winning was not in Atlanta’s present at that time, nor was it in its immediate past.
The 2017 Braves lost 90 games on the heels of 90-plus losses in 2015 and 2016. The Atlanta pitching staff was old and ineffective. Worst of all, the organization was embroiled in scandal.
Major League Baseball had just investigated the Braves for bypassing international signing rules, which led to deals with 13 players being voided as well as former GM John Coppolella being banned from baseball.
Into that void stepped Anthopoulos, who was a high-ranking official in the Dodgers’ front office at the time but had previously served as Blue Jays GM. In 2015, he helped guide Toronto to its first postseason appearance in 22 years.
Since Anthopoulos took the reins in Atlanta, the Braves have finished first in the National League East for five consecutive seasons and won the 2021 World Series. Atlanta’s .581 winning percentage since 2018 is fifth-best in MLB and second only to the Dodgers in the NL.
For his role in turning the Braves into one of baseball’s most well-run machines, Anthopoulos is the Baseball America Major League Executive of the Year.
“I just view it as an organizational award,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s an organizational award because we all know one person is not responsible for the success of an organization.
“It’s pretty gratifying. Very rewarding. And I’m excited for the scouting department, the player development department, the front office, the business side—the whole organization. I think it’s something that we all share.”
While the Braves fell short of defending their 2021 championship when they lost to the Phillies in the Division Series, they won 101 games and topped the century mark for the first time since 2003.
It was a total team effort in 2022. Atlanta hitters led the NL with 243 home runs and finished second to the Dodgers in runs scored. Braves pitchers finished second in the NL in strikeouts and second to the Dodgers with a 3.46 ERA.
The 2022 Braves had one of the youngest lineups in the NL, with Acuña, Albies, Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Swanson—a free agent at press time—all in their mid to late 20s. Third-year catcher William Contreras made his first all-star team at age 24.
On the pitching side, lefthander Max Fried finished runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award. Righthander Kyle Wright led the majors with 21 wins in a breakthrough season, while righthander Spencer Strider struck out 38.3% of batters faced, a record for rookies with at least 100 innings.
In fact, rookies were the biggest revelation of the 2022 Braves. Center fielder Michael Harris II and Strider stepped into prominent roles in late May and ultimately finished first and second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
All told, the Braves received more than 12 WAR from rookies, the highest total in MLB this season. That is to say: The future in Atlanta is just as bright as the present.
Baseball America introduced its Major League Executive of the Year in 1998. Anthopoulos is the 20th executive to be honored and follows former Dodgers colleagues Andrew Friedman (2020) and Farhan Zaidi (2021) as a recipient.
“It’s pretty cool to follow them,” Anthopoulos said. “They are two good friends in the game. And I have said this many times, (but) being able to work with them for two years was so good for me in my career and my development. And to be in the group with them, it’s very meaningful to me—no doubt about it.”
Anthopoulos has translated the success of that Los Angeles braintrust 2,000 miles to the East. In the last five years, no NL team but the Dodgers has won more games than Atlanta.
In that time, the Braves have continued a tradition of strong drafting under Dana Brown, vice president of scouting since January 2019. Brown drafted Harris (third round) and second baseman Vaughn Grissom (11th) in 2019 and Strider (fourth round) and righthander Bryce Elder (fifth) in 2020. All four made an MLB impact in 2022.
Atlanta continues to have a strong reputation for developing pitchers under farm director Ben Sestanovich, with the emergence of Strider and Wright being the most notable examples. But the callups of 21-year-olds Harris and Grissom just three years after being drafted is evidence that the organization is no mere pitching factory.
“I think most people would tell you this: You want to hire good people . . . (and) give them the autonomy to do their jobs,” Anthopoulos said. “I think in doing that they can be held accountable for doing their jobs, too, but you’re trying to make it a great place to work.
“I think I try to mirror how my relationship is with (Braves chairman) Terry (McGuirk), where he gives me the autonomy—obviously he holds me accountable at the same time—but I am empowered to do my job . . .
“In turn, we absolutely stress hiring quality people. Not just talented people—because obviously you need talent to have success—but quality people who people want to work with and for. I think it’s important for making a good organization.
“So you hire people who are talented, who are high-character. (It’s) the same way you put a roster together and a team together in the clubhouse.”
Winning the World Series in 2021 did not prevent Anthopoulos from thinking big. When the owners’ lockout ended and the transactions freeze was lifted in March, Anthopoulos made the franchise-altering trade to acquire Athletics first baseman Matt Olson at the cost of four of the Braves’ Top 10 Prospects.
Olson is an Atlanta native who promptly signed an eight-year, $168 million extension, which triggered the departure of Braves icon Freddie Freeman, who then signed with the Dodgers as a free agent.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Anthopoulos’ stewardship has been his ability to sign young core players to long-term extensions before those players reach free agency.
Acuña and Albies both signed lengthy extensions in 2019. Olson’s extension was announced as soon as he was acquired on March 15. Later during the 2022 season, Riley, Harris and Strider each agreed to lengthy extensions.
That core of players will impact the Braves throughout the 2020s.
“A lot of millions of dollars helps, as a starting point,” Anthopoulos said with a laugh, when asked about his ability to execute these contracts. “I am grateful, really grateful, that these players have chosen to be here, that they have chosen to stay.
“You don’t even get the plan off the ground unless there’s a desire for the players to be here. And that’s a reflection of all the employees who are here who have made it a great place to play.
“On-field success is absolutely important and is a part of it. But (second), all of the support staff, the clubhouse staff, the travel, the trainers, people who deal with families, people who touch these players day in and day out—they make it a great place to play. And then you factor in our fanbase. We’re selling out every night. I hear it all the time from players: ‘This place is a great place to be.’ The energy is amazing.”
But it’s been Anthopoulos’ guiding hand and decision-making, which he has honed in more than 20 years in baseball, that has led to consistent on-field success in Atlanta.
As much as the awards and hardware, Anthopoulos thinks about the little moments. He thinks about Travis d’Arnaud keeping things light when the Braves were struggling early in 2022, falling down in the batter’s box after getting plunked by a 52 mph “fastball” from Dee Gordon in a 14-3 game against the Marlins.
Or about Georgia native Harris making his MLB debut in Atlanta, and the pride that came along with it. Or when Swanson brought in champagne and acknowledged every player’s contribution to the team throughout the year the day after the team clinched the division.
While the Braves didn’t find the postseason success they sought, the club has a lot to be proud of—and a lot to look forward to..
“Obviously, we didn’t go as deep as we wanted to,” Anthopoulos said. “But aside from that, there were so many amazing things that happened to us this season . . .
“I think 2022, I know it didn’t result in a World Series, but to me it was one of the most impactful seasons we’ve had here in a long time.”
Core More Years!
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has ensured payroll stability in Atlanta by locking in six members of his team’s young core to contract extensions that buy out arbitration and free agent years. Those six extensions are listed below in chronological order.
|April 2, 2019||Ronald Acuña Jr.||8||$100M|
|April 11, 2019||Ozzie Albies||7||$35M|
|March 15, 2022||Matt Olson||8||$168M|
|Aug. 1, 2022||Austin Riley||10||$212M|
|Aug. 16, 2022||Michael Harris II||8||$72M|
|Oct. 10, 2022||Spencer Strider||6||$75M|
This strategy of locking up core young players with contract extensions was first popularized by Cleveland GM John Hart in the 1990s when he built the Indians into two-time American League champions in 1995 and 1997.