Our extended conversation with Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos resumes. Part 1, which is available here, ended with his response to the criticism that the Braves don't spend enough money. Part 2 begins with more about, er, money.
Q. Conventional wisdom holds that Liberty Media has a salary line you can’t cross. Is that true?
A. No. I've met with our ownership group before, but I deal with Terry McGuirk. Terry McGuirk's my boss. I go to him for salary approvals and so on. We did the Ronald Acuna (extension), which was a $100 million commitment. Not once did Terry McGuirk tell me, "I need to get back to you." He gave me an answer right on the spot when I went to him. When I was making proposals, counters – there were a lot of offers going back and forth. We're talking tens of millions; we got up to $100 million. And there were scenarios when we thought of even longer deals for even more money.
The trade deadline last year: We got the (Darren) O’Day/(Kevin) Gausman deal done with 10 minutes to go. The deadline was at 4 p.m. I was in Terry’s office at 3:30. I needed an answer in a minute because we were going to ultimately do some things, move some money around, go over. We talked about claiming Josh Donaldson on trade waivers at the end of August last year -- that was going to be an extra $3 or $4 million above and beyond. Those are decisions I just go to Terry on, and when I’m above – we have a number we set the year on but, as Terry has always told me, his door’s open. If we need to go north of that number and it makes sense, (he’s) very open to it. I have not had a moment yet from a baseball operations standpoint where I’ve walked in needing above and beyond what I’ve been allocated and I’ve been told no.
Now I also realize we’re not the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox and we’re not going to carry a $200 million payroll. That’s just not reality, either. I know there’s a lot of talk. I didn’t want to use the word “frustrating,” but I wish I could … you know, when you’re being criticized, I try to make myself accountable and available, especially when the team’s not playing well, the bullpen’s blowing saves. If I need to go on the radio, I will. If I need to be around the ballpark or in the clubhouse, I will make myself available. I do that. I feel like that’s a responsibility. But you wish sometimes you could be more.
I try to be as transparent as I can be, but there’s just certain things I can’t discuss and you can’t talk about, whether it’s health of a player, makeup of a player, other factors you can’t talk about for obvious reasons. You want to be as transparent as you can with your fan base, but I realize that because the nature of this position I can only go so far, and that ultimately leaves a lot of things open to interpretation, which leads to criticism at the end of the day. That’s part of the job. As long as the end result is that you’re competitive and you’re winning, that’ll eventually fade away. And when you’re not competitive and you’re not winning, it’ll come back again.
Q. So you can approach this trading deadline believing you still have the wherewithal, money-wise, to get what you need?
A. Sure. Again, I have a budgeted number that I manage and I monitor, and that can change.
Q. What’s the number – $140 million?
A. I think it's been talked about. It's been written about a lot. We have said this on the record: Our budgeted number last year was $120 million, and our budgeted number for this year is well north of that. That's all you can ask for as a GM. And my attitude is, no matter what your number is, you're always going to want more.
Q. The budget comes from Liberty Media?
A. No, (from) Terry. Terry sets that number, and I can't speak to it. I know there's this concept (of how the Braves work), but Terry is the one who makes (those) decisions. I've been here a little more than a year now, and I've had decisions for millions of dollars made when I needed quick answers, fast.
Q. Has he ever told you no?
A. No. I'm sure there could one day be a massive deal that I would have my own doubts on. But we want to competitive every year. We want to contend every single year. How do we do that – manage the payroll and have a competitive club?
Q. A year and a half into this, do you have any doubt that the best way forward for this club is to grow its young talent and lock that talent up, as opposed to spending big for somebody else’s player?
A. We'll always be open to spending big for someone else's player if we think it's the right contract, which in free agency, rarely will you find that. You're always going more millions per year than you want, more years than you want. You know that. I've always said that, ideally, if you're doing that big splash, it's for that one carrying piece. But there's no doubt that I look at the market, the way we're set up, that's why keeping our young talent is so important. That's why keeping our draft picks is so important, especially now that we're out of the international money. That will keep the pipeline flowing and keep it going for years to come.
Beyond that, I learned a lot with my time in Toronto. Going into my last season (with the Blue Jays), I made a conscious change to change the approach, the type of player we were going to attract, to put more of an emphasis on character and makeup. We had great results. I carried that through to the trade deadline and even in that offseason before I left, I felt like I was turning the corner as a GM and starting to understand some things. Like with a young player, you go through some growing pains.
You fail a lot, which I did. And you learn from your mistakes. I felt like I did, and then going to L.A. for those two years – I’ve said this – was like going to grad school. Such brilliant minds in Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi. In theory, I wish I could have had four years there, five years there. But the two years were great, and I really learned to appreciate and value depth. I’m really excited about how deep we’re becoming as an organization. I didn’t appreciate it as much in my time in Toronto. We were more of a star-laden club with not that layer of depth. And being in L.A., I learned to appreciate that, especially that grind of six months, to get in year-in and year-out, the importance of it.
Q. Zaidi is now in charge of the Giants, who might have several available relievers this month. Not to drop names or anything.
A. Oh, he's got tons. He's got a great bullpen. I think they're third in the NL in ERA. I think the Reds and us are tied at No. 1, and I think the Giants are third. Everyone knows the Giants have relievers who are going to be talked about. Where that goes, no idea. There's going to be relievers available. We've seen some very good returns for teams that have traded relievers. We know how impactful they can be in the playoffs. We may not have the big names, the established guys, but with the way our bullpen has succeeded – to say we're going to maintain this pace, that isn't fair – but I think we've got a very strong, deep bullpen. We've absolutely blown some games, a lot, but so have a lot of other contending clubs. We really have a lot of depth.
I even look at the game we just lost (to the Mets on June 30), but I felt good that some guys were down (meaning unavailable) that day, and we have A.J. Minter and Sean Newcomb as our next line of guys. Or even (Tuesday) night, Jerry Blevins and Josh Tomlin coming in. That’s pretty good depth. When Swarzak comes back, we’re going to get squeezed; somebody’s going to have to go down. Right now (Chad) Sobotka’s up. We all think internally that Sobotka’s got a chance to continue to take off and be a late-inning reliever. And then you’ve got (Dan) Winkler on option as well. We know what his upside is. And then some of the other starters (could do bullpen duty in the playoffs).
Q. Would you be OK with Luke Jackson trying to close Game 7 of the World Series?
A. I'd love to be in Game 7 of the World Series. (Laughs.) So I'd sign up for that today. If you told me I could take that right now, done deal.
Q. Given that you’re in first place by a healthy margin, do you feel at all justified or vindicated?
A. It's July. We can look at the standings in the middle of August last year and how they changed. Again, I say this with all respect: I can't concern myself with public perception. I just have to concern myself with the results. And if that means I get criticized, I'll do the radio interviews and media interviews. If I'm a fan, I just want a GM to be right. And I'm not going to bat 1.000. We're not as an organization. It's not going to happen. But you ultimately need to be right more often than you're wrong. As long as we feel like we're doing the right thing.
I love the Hawks now. I follow them. I don’t have opinions. I may have opinions like, “Thank God I’m not the GM.” I think they’re very well-run. I think they’ve done a fantastic job in the draft. I don’t know Travis Schlenk – I haven’t met him – but he’s earned the benefit of the doubt to me, if you look at his draft record. So, if he likes someone in the draft, I have to support it. Whether I’ve done this for a while, whether I’ve had success or not, I need to earn that here. I’m new. No one knows me here. Who cares what I’ve done or achieved in the past, or how many years I’ve done this job? I need to earn that in Atlanta, and that’s going to take time. Hopefully we’ll have success and I’ll earn that benefit of the doubt. Right now, it’s understandable. I’ve been here a year, and it’s going to take some time.
Q. Last thing. For the record, did you want Craig Kimbrel here?
A. Yes. We made him an offer. There was a scenario where we were working toward getting both Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. Ultimately, the contract got to a level where it didn't make sense for us. That's not to say it's not a great contract for the Cubs and for Craig, but we were working on a scenario where we would have gotten both guys, which for us – again, we don't have to give up players in trade, we're deeper, and he makes anybody better, right? As Dallas does. There was a moment when I thought we had a shot at it, but ultimately it didn't get done, and we were glad we got Dallas done.