TORONTO -- Alex Anthopoulos can pinpoint the exact moment his mindset as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays changed.
The instant when the "light bulb went off" came during a conversation with Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty during spring training in March.
Anthopoulos was digesting the decision to give Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria US$10 million over four years. Weeks earlier, Jocketty had outbid Anthopoulos for another Cuban, left-hander Aroldis Chapman, and praised him for accepting the risk in signing Hechavarria.
"He said, 'That's how you're going to get better, you're going to get better if you take a shot, you're going to have to take a shot at times,"' Anthopoulos recalled during a recent interview.
"I looked back at my off-season, trade talks, dialogue ... and I just found myself being so much more conservative than I needed to be or wanted to be."
The main takeaway for Anthopoulos as he heads into his second off-season as GM is that while risk shouldn't be embraced recklessly, it's OK to swing and miss once in a while if the potential reward is worthwhile.
Since he believes playing it safe won't help the Blue Jays overcome the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, they must find other ways to close the gap in the American League East, and taking more calculated gambles is one way to accomplish that.
"If we're going to do what everyone else is going to do in this division, we have no chance of getting better," said Anthopoulos. "If it's the easy decision and everything lines up, the I's are dotted and T's are crossed, well everyone is going to look to do it and you're probably not going to be able to do what you want to do.
"We're going to have take chances at times and make moves that may open us for criticism, but we also have to look at the upside of the moves. They may backfire and may not work, but if they hit, we're going to do really well.
"And that's how we're going to get better."
The shift in approach comes after Anthopoulos fared rather well in his first winter as GM under challenging circumstances. He was thrown into the job on the penultimate day of the 2009 season amid a touchy clubhouse revolt against manager Cito Gaston and with ace Roy Halladay seeking a ticket out of town.
Anthopoulos worked quickly to settle things down with his players by juggling the coaching staff, and then shifted his focus to Halladay, who controlled the process through a no-trade clause and essentially limited his potential destinations to the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Angels.
Complicating matters further for Anthopoulos was that New York and Boston refused to ante up their top prospects and disengaged from the talks, while the Angels offered little of value in return. That left Philadelphia as the only team truly in play, and Anthopoulos did well to obtain three high-ceiling prospects in return, led by right-hander Kyle Drabek.
And Anthopoulos complemented those moves with the clever free-agent singings of catcher John Buck, who blossomed into an all-star, closer Kevin Gregg, who saved a career-high 37 games, and Alex Gonzalez, who was parlayed into fellow shortstop Yunel Escobar in July.
Many veteran general managers would be thrilled with an off-season like that. While acknowledging that "it's hard to beat yourself up too much because we had a lot get done and there were lots of things flying," Anthopoulos evaluated his own performance and was bothered by the missed opportunities, the room for improvement.
"Even though we made trades, and I didn't have any reluctance when we made the Halladay trade or the Morrow trade, I still felt like I could have been more aggressive, I could have been a little bit more daring, taken a few more risks and just felt I was overly conservative," said Anthopoulos.
"I could talk myself in and out of anything, I could justify not making a trade or not making a big signing any day of the week all day. I could come up with a million reasons and feel good about it, feel like my process was solid and it makes sense and let's not do it.
"And at the end of the day if you do that, you're never going to move forward. It's the easy thing to do and it's the safe thing to do and you're never going to open up yourself to be criticized."
Already Anthopoulos threw down the gauntlet this winter by telling his inner circle that "we're not making any more errors."
He expects to be more active on the trade front than in free agency, and feels the Blue Jays farm system is deep enough now that he can deal prospects for big-league help.
One thing is certain, Anthopoulos will be conducting himself differently. Of the many pieces of advice offered to him, a phone conversation with Los Angeles Dodgers counterpart Ned Colletti, calling to inquire about Halladay last winter, sticks out in his mind.
"He said, 'Hey, if you're scared, get a dog,"' relayed Anthopoulos. "I never forgot the line."