TORONTO -- While driving through downtown Toronto earlier this week, Alex Anthopoulos was stopped at a traffic light. The Blue Jays general manager glanced out his car window and could not help but smile at what he saw.
"There was a panhandler there asking for change," Anthopoulos said during a recent phone interview. "She had a sign up asking for a donation, and at the bottom of her sign, she wrote, 'Go, Jays, Go!' I haven't seen that before.
"It makes you think, 'Wow, people are really getting excited about this team.'"
Compared to a year ago, there has been a noticeable increase in interest surrounding the Blue Jays in Toronto. Much of the buzz this season is due to the changes made on the field and behind the scenes by Anthopoulos and his retooled front office, a group that assumed the reigns in October.
One of Anthopoulos' goals when he took over for J.P. Ricciardi as general manager in October was to be transparent with the fan base in any move he made. Anthopoulos would make no promises of timelines for contention. Instead, he would relay his long-term vision and philosophies, explaining how each decision he made fell within his goal of building Toronto into a baseball powerhouse again.
So far, the Blue Jays have exceeded expectations at the Major League level. Many preseason forecasters had Toronto finishing last in the American League East. The Jays currently are in fourth place, but are six games above the break-even mark and boast a talented young pitching staff and baseball's most powerful offense.
The road back to the World Series, where the Blue Jays have not been since 1993, involves more than success on the big league stage, though. Anthopoulos knows that fans live and die with the club in Toronto, but the young general manager is quick to note that his vision includes stengthening the organization from the ground up.
A timeline of Alex Anthopoulos' activities since taking over as Toronto's GM:
-- Jordan Bastian
In that sense, there is a lot more Anthopoulos wants to accomplish.
"I'm always looking ahead," Anthopoulos said. "Whether it's weeks, months, years ahead, I always feel like we have a lot of work to do. I think it's always going to feel that way until we get to the point where we make the playoffs, and then we win a championship.
"There's always something to do. There's always work to be done. There are always ways to improve. We're not close to where we need to be in every level of the organization, but we're moving in the right direction.
"I still have so many things I want to get done, so many. I just know I'm going to have to be patient, and it's going to take time. There are just so many things I want to tackle, and I know it takes years."
When he took over, Anthopoulos reorganized the front office, focusing on dramatically increasing the number of bodies in his scouting department. Over the past 10 months, Toronto has also become a force in the international marketplace, especially in terms of pursuing top talent from Latin America.
In these areas, the Blue Jays have flexed some financial muscle.
In July, the Jays signed Venezuelan right-hander Adonis Cardona with a $2.8 million bonus, the largest awarded to a Latin American amateur player in club history. Toronto also reeled in highly touted Cuban shortstop prospect Adeiny Hechavarria with a four-year, $10 million Major League contract in April.
These moves have helped shake the perception that the Jays are limited in what they can do, financially. Anthopoulos' message since he took over as GM has been that club ownership, Rogers Communications Inc., is willing to spend richly if the moves make sense from a baseball standpoint.
"I haven't been denied once," Anthopoulos said. "If the decision is made that this is right for this organization and for the ballclub, financially, we're going to have the financial wherewithal to go through with those moves."
Evidence in support of Anthopoulos' comments can be found throughout his first 320 days as the Blue Jays general manager.
In April, Toronto signed designated hitter Adam Lind to a four-year extension worth $18 million. On Saturday, the Jays inked lefty Ricky Romero to a five-year, $30.1 million contract, representing the largest deal ever handed to a pitcher with less than two years of service time. On Monday, Toronto went over the recommended slot value to ink right-hander Deck McGuire, the club's top pick in the June First-Year Player Draft.
Each of those deals show Anthopoulos' focus on building a strong farm system, as well as his goal of locking up the young players viewed as important parts within Toronto's future core. The Lind and Romero signings also show that players are buying into Anthopoulos' plan and want to remain with the Jays over the long haul.
Part of the reason might be the way Anthopoulos has aggressively pursued young talent via trades.
In December, the Jays landed righty Brandon Morrow in a three-player swap with the Mariners and also added three top prospects in exchange for sending ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies. In July, Anthopoulos acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves in a five-player deal and also obtained outfield prospect Anthony Gose from the Astros.
Asked if there were any moves he was particularly proud of at this point, Anthopoulos mentioned the deals for Morrow and Escobar. In Escobar's case, the Jays landed a shortstop who has the potential to play that position, one that Anthopoulos knows "has been a revolving door" in Toronto, for years to come.
"I can't tell you how good that feels," Anthopoulos said. "To have someone that you feel can be at that position for a while, he's a young guy and has a chance to be a mainstay, knowing you have somebody behind him [in Hechavarria] that also has a chance to be a pretty good player and is one of your better prospects, that's a pretty good feeling."
When Anthopoulos speaks, his enthusiam is undeniable. In a way, his level of excitement mirrors that of a fan base that is hungry to see the Toronto organization develop into the type of consistent contender it was nearly two decades ago.
Anthopoulos, a native of Canada, wants to be the one to deliver.
"I know what this marketplace can be," Anthopoulos said. "I know what this city is and what the country can be and is, with respect to baseball. I think it's a sleeping giant, but there's no question it's on us to put a winning product on the field and have a competitive team, a team people can buy into and believe in."
With six weeks remaining until the end of his first regular season, Anthopoulos believes the Blue Jays are heading in the right direction. That said, he knows he has a lot of unfinished business.
"At some point, when we pull our heads up to catch our breath," Anthopoulos said, "maybe we'll be able to sit back and look at the body of work. We're not close to that point, so we have to just keep our heads down and continue to push forward and continue to work."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.