July 18, 2009

A Tale of Three GMs; Part II: J.P. Ricciardi

You know that whole "maintain an even keel during the incredibly long baseball season" thing? Yeah, it didn't really work out for me. I kind of, very slightly, got caught up in the Blue Jays' 27-14 start. I seem to recall throwing around words like "pennant!1" and "playoffs!1" with frighteningly regularity. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Well, the wheels have fallen off. Three games under .500, and counting. Even the Baltimore Orioles are within striking distance. According to Beyond the Boxscore's July 16th Playoff Odds, J.P. Ricciardi's Jays now have a 0% chance of winning the AL East, or capturing the Wild Card. Now, I'm no math whiz, but 0% isn't very good odds. A 2-17 record over two road trips from hell will do that to your chances.

Reality. She's a whore. And with her comes everyone's favourite pastime: blame J.P. Ricciardi.

I won't do it. I'm taking the high road. I'm blaming ownership.

In late 2005, there appeared to be a plan in place. (No, it wasn't a five-year plan, asshole.) Ricciardi was signed to an extension through 2010, and landed free agents B.J Ryan and A.J. Burnett. In the winter of 2006, the team tried to re-sign Ted Lilly, and went hard after Gil Meche. Instead, Ricciardi ended up with Frank Thomas, and Vernon Wells' signature on a contract extension. (I'll have a post up about Wells' contract in the coming days, so let's just ignore that elephant in the room.)

Now, I'll be the first to admit that Ricciardi's free agent acquisitions didn't work out. But free agency's a gamble. Especially in Toronto, where players have to be lured to town with ludicrous contracts and preposterous option-year contingencies. It's the nature of the beast. When trying to bring big-name, impact free agents to Toronto, the franchise will always begin the process at a disadvantage.

Yet it seemed Rogers was willing to pay the price. It seemed as though ownership was willing to spend the money to surround Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay, while Doc is, most importantly, under contract through 2010, with talent enough to get the Jays back to the playoffs.

Until mid-2008. That's when it was decided that Rogers wouldn't provide the funds for Ricciardi to re-sign A.J. Burnett, who now finally seems to "get it," or to dip back into the free agent pool. You don't think Ricciardi would have liked to take a flier on and throw some money at a guy like Bobby Abreu, or Adam Dunn?

Instead of increasing payroll while Halladay is still under contract, Rogers has done the opposite. And with only $80.5 million to work with, J.P. and the Blue Jays haven't got a prayer.

I'm not saying Ricciardi's a fantastic general manager. I'm saying he's not the monster he's made out to be. Ricciardi put this team together saying it could hit, and it can: the Jays have scored 438 runs this season. That number is good for second in either the AL Central, or the AL West. In the AL East, it's good for fourth. Ricciardi's Jays can hit, just not well enough to compete in their division. J.P.'s hands are tied; there's only so much he can do with so little money. Even the close to $100 million 2008 payroll wasn't enough.

I must admit, I find tremendous irony in all the vitriol being slung Ricciardi's way of late. He tried his best to temper expectations coming into this season, and what did Cito's boys do, but fly out the gates. I know we piss on J.P. for lying a fuck ton, but this is exactly where he said he expected the team to be: fighting for its life to stay above water. Yet it's the GM's fault. J.P. just can't win. Ever. Not in this town. (It's why he lives in Boston.)

I can't imagine it was an easy decision to send B.J. Ryan packing with a cheque for $15 million dollars. But he was dead weight. He was, unfathomably, bitching and whining dead weight. I liked the move to give Ryan his walking papers; in a way, it was Ricciardi admitting his mistake. It was J.P. learning from last year's mistakes - Brevin Mencherson, with a side of Shannon Stewart, anyone? My man Drew - LTB from Ghostrunner on First said it best:

"Is it a shame and a sin to wash their hands of all that money? Of course. At least he's no longer a detriment to the ball club. Yet people are mad at the GM again. So last year he held on to underperforming players and we got mad. This year he cuts his losses with an underperforming player and we get mad again? I don't get it. A player without trade value as well as on-field value is worthless; no matter how much it costs."

What's next for Mr. Ricciardi? Oh yeah, the business of trading Roy Halladay. If you haven't yet read "On Roy Halladay and the persistence of change" from The Tao of Stieb, I urge you to take the time to do so. While I have tremendous man-love for Doc, I'm not sure when he became the beginning and the end of Toronto Blue Jays fandom for so many followers of the team. Here's the one sentence that has truly remained with me from that immaculate piece from The Tao:

"The possibility exists that the foundation of the next great Blue Jays team - the one we've waited for since 1993 - is waiting for us, just the other side of this potential Halladay trade."

Amen. Halladay's unbelievable; a machine. But he's not bigger than the Blue Jays.

One part of me is okay with Doc being traded for the selfish return he may deliver. Another is because, after 10 glorious years in Toronto, the best pitcher in baseball - the best pitcher I've ever watched on a regular basis - deserves to have the opportunity to pitch in October, when baseball's lights shine brightest. This beautiful game of baseball, it's a different beast. There's no sneaking into the post-season as the eighth seed, and going on a magical, Cinderalla-type run. OK, fine, the 2007 Colorado Rockies are the one exception. But you know what I mean: Doc deserves to pitch in the playoffs, at least once, during his illustrious career. Whether in Toronto or, sadly, someplace else.

A case could be made that Ricciardi should never, ever sign another unrestricted free agent. But when looking at J.P.'s trade history, I've got no qualms about him being the guy to trade Roy Halladay. It surely won't be his decision alone, and I'm positive the organization is asking for the moon. If someone's willing to pay the price, do it, pull the trigger. I just can't shake the feeling that no matter what the Jays might offer Halladay if he's still a Blue Jay come winter, he's not passing up on free agency for a third time. And who can blame him?

Finally, a few days ago, someone came at me with the good old Ricciardi "five-year plan" quip. Apparently, it never fails. Or gets old. Well, I've had just about enough of that shit. I emailed Jeff Blair about it - whether the "five-year plan" ever truly existed, what happened to it, and why some writers in this town (see Griffin, Richard) still bring it up. Hey, he's got a lot more access than you or I do. Blair, rudey that he is, replied in straight-to-the-point Jeff Blair-like fashion:

"[Paul] Godfrey killed it."

There you have it. Come at me with something else, yo.

At the end of the day, you know what would be nice? If Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment owned the Toronto Blue Jays. Ricciardi could certainly use their deep pockets.


QJays said...

The '06 team (or at least its potential) actually looks pretty good in retrospect, and you can see why Ricciardi thought he might be on the verge of going deep with it. A few things didn't work out that were beyond his control though -- Hillenbrand, Hinske, and to a lesser extent Glaus ended up sucking, Gibbons killed any possibility of Lilly sticking around, and Adams REALLY didn't turn out to be the shortstop of the future. How much did Burnett even pitch that season? Recall that Molina and Overbay were brought in too, so the only "expected" weak spot might have been bottom of the pitching rotation (though Towers was supposed to be better based on his past), or left field, but the Johnson/Cat platoon was pretty solid. I can't blame Ricciardi for all those things going wrong - I think we all thought we were legitimately close, and with good reason.

Anonymous said...

I will give Riccardi the credit he deserves when it comes to the kids on the Jays. Hill, Lind, Romero are phenomenal pieces to the future.

Isn't that always the case though? "The Future". Isn't that all we as Jays fans are always talking about? Since J.P. took over, it's always been, well we can't compete this year, we're building to the future. For the better part of a decade under J.P. it's always been the same story. Eventually, you just get tired of building for the future.

Now I will agree, there were the few years in between when Rogers did deepen their pockets and allowed J.P. to go out and say, fuck building, we're going to try and win. Well, J.P. clearly fucked that up with his free agent signings of Ryan, Burnett and Thomas. His biggest free agent acquisitions were all failures.

Then there's that issue of Vernon, the contract given to Vernon. We'll just leave that alone for now, since you and I have gone back and forth countless times on that. I will say, it is still the worst contract in SPORTS.

Look, J.P. is great at assessing talent, young talent. Talent that is to be drafted. His assessment skills when it comes to free agents, and negotiating contracts leaves much to be desired. At then end of the day I think a guy like J.P. would be a MONSTER as the head of scouting in an organization. But as a GM, he's gotta go.

Ian H. said...

Great post EyeB, the more and more I think about it, the less angry I am at J.P. I realize his hands are tied when it comes to spending, and for the most part his signings have worked out well (aside from Ryan).

Johnny G said...

Im sorry, but how the hell was Burnetts signing a failure? 11Mil a year in retrospect for him looks like a friggin miracle signing when Meche and Lilly pretty much got the same thing and now looked what he signed with the Yanks. Yes the opt out clause sucked but he wasn't coming here without it so there wasn't much we could do about that.

josh9 said...

Great Post Eye. It drives me crazy when people, including members of the mainstream media, bring up the "five year plan". Nobody has ever showed me any quote in which JP mentions it.

furcifer said...

Sorry eyebleaf I have to disagree with you. Riccardi knew the deal coming in. In fact the reason he was hired was that he was coming from an Oakland A's system that showed how they could do more with less. The Jays payroll this year ranked 16th, middle of the pack. Tampa Bay, the defending AL Champs are 25th. While it would be nice if the Jays could spend at the level of the Red Sox and Yankees it is unrealistic. The Jays need a GM who knows that. They need to be like Oakland and figure out how to get cheap young talent and possibly make a playoff!!!1 run before they move for more money. They need to follow the Moneyball route that JP was hired to follow. As for Vernon, like you I'll save that for your next post

furcifer said...

Also before anyone brings it up I know Oakland is awful this year but they did make several playoff trips with a miniscule payroll showing it can be done. Tampa Bay also showed that last year. The Rockies did the same a couple years ago. There also was a $110 million difference between the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins and the Yankees they defeated.

As for the rest of your points about JP though I'd agree. His trade history has been fairly decent, especially when it comes to pitchers and the "five year plan", as you say, is B.S.

Keep hope alive. Playoffs!!!1 (2010)

PPP said...

It's gotta be someone's fault just like it had to be JFJ's. Turns out that maybe JFJ could draft but he did enough important things poorly that he had to go. JP's had one of the best pitchers in baseball on his team throughout his tenure and has been unable to build a winner. At some point, in some decade, a heads gotta roll.

As furcifer noted, he came over beacuse he had the A's/Moneyball pedigree but when has he ever shown that in Toronto?

Like twentyfifthhour said, when will it be The Future?

Zack said...

I'm leaning towards pinning it on John Avery, he clearly put a hex on the city after the Argos decided he was a deadweight, I mean, since that cut, what good has come from any Toronto sports team? And I think the slide coincides perfectly with the start of the CFL season, and TSN Color guys shitting all over him again (why I don't know) but that's the best theory I've got.

looshV said...

It's tough to think about Doc being gone and the organizations inability to build a winner around a talent like that in the time they had. I just don't feel JP's the guy. What he did with the extra money the Rogers family gave him was mostly a failure. The structuring of AJ Burnetts contract was a total mess, ultimately securing his services for only three years in which to provide the perfect springboard to the Yankees. That's not long term thinking when you have a guy like V-Dub locked in for life. JP's signing's and inconsistency of term in them often leave me baffled; Frank Thomas being one of the weirdest...... or on a side note, didn't calling Scott Rolen a "dirt-bag" in his first presser just feel uncomfortable? I just don't get him; and losing Roy Halladay at the end of it all just seems to fit right in with the riccarded way he's been running this team all along .

William said...

Excellent post. Well thought out and executed. Great.

Junior said...

Good post, eye.

But over and above that, may you never lose your passion for the Jays. I used to feel that way about baseball (though I was a Tigers fan first and foremost), and it's when I read posts like this that I miss having baseball matter in my life.

The Ack said...

Mentioned this in the comments over yonder, but isn't it funny how nobody mentions the incredibly club-friendly deal that Ricciardi locked Hill up with? And if Rios has a big second half, will all that talk dry up as well?

re: the Wells contract - I really and truly believe that move WAS mandated from upstairs, so I have a hard time mustering the outrage towards Ricciardi on that one.

Norman James said...

I don't believe in JP Ricciardi. I don't believe in his team or the organization he works for. It realy pains me to say that, but what's there to believe in?

eyebleaf said...

Thanks to all those that took the time to read, and comment on, this lengthy post.

For those of you still shitting on J.P.: Yes, Ricciardi was hired to implement MoneyBall techniques. Hence, the five-year plan. But, as I've stated in the post, Godfrey and ownership killed the plan, and decided to spend money. Now, once again, they're looking to keep payroll low, and the Jays, and J.P. are in limbo.

If ownership would pony up the money needed to compete in this division - and, really, that's what it's going to take, money - the Jays wouldn't be looking to trade Halladay right now. Instead, they'd be spending money and trying to surround Halladay with the players necessary to make the team competitive.

In short, "the future" is when ownership spends. $100 million isn't enough. $80 million absolutely isn't enough. I'm thinking $120-$130 million, and let's see what we can do.

I see that some of you have brought up Burnett. I wouldn't say that his time in Toronto was a failure. He pitched pretty damn well in two out of three seasons. And, again, the opt-out is probably the only thing that gets him to Toronto in the first place. Until you understand that the Jays are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to free agency, you will likely continue to bitch about Ricciardi, and whomever is the next GM of the Jays, and the next one after that.

William said...

Hey, eyeb, Did you go to the Skydome yesterday to see Halladay?

Pension Plan Puppets said...

Eyebeleaf - Just because ownership decided to try spending money for a change didn't mean that JP had to compromise his beliefs.

Tampa didn't pony up money and they competed just fine. The Jays will never spend what the Red Sox and Yankees spend unless a bored Arab Sheik decides baseball might actually be interesting.

JP's definitely done more good over the past 8 years than he did during the first 5 but at some point in time a GM has to decide that The Future has arrived. It's odd to see sites pleased that JP never saw the point of moving some future assets to compete in the present when it looked like it might make sense to do so.

As for the people going with the rumours about Wells' contract coming from higher ups it's funny that no one (rightfully) gives JFJ that same benefit of the doubt.

bkblades said...

Several things:
- Burnett doesn't sign in Toronto without the opt-out clause. People seem to have this notion that free agents actually want to play in Canada. Just because the Leafs are top dog in the NHL doesn't mean that transfer over to the MLB, NBA, etc.

- Oakland makes the playoffs ever so often, why? Check what division the A's toil in

- Tampa Bay and Florida, really? People want to bring up how they got elite talent over the years and compare that to the Jays? This is Tampa's second year of being competitive after multiple years of toiling in the basement. The Rays and Marlins benefited greatly from the luxury tax revenues from the Yankees over the years, something that Rogers will not allow the Jays to do

JP Ricciardi should likely leave this offseason, but only because it's about time for a fresh perspective. But some of these reasons to bash him have other points to them than a one-sided affair.

bkblades said...

Wow, major typos above and the aforementioned post also comes across as dick-ish. Sorry about that everyone!

Ian Gray said...

I don't disagree that Ricciardi has had some bad luck and that he's done some good things. Ultimately, though, so what? You can't look at the team as it is now and as it's been over the past seven and a half seasons and say that it's either been successful in the past or is poised to be successful in the foreseeable future. This is doubly true if and when Halladay is traded; trading a player like Halladay is an admission that a team won't be any good for at least two years. Now, it's true that it's entirely plausible that it may be in the best interests of the Toronto Blue Jays to trade Roy Halladay, galling though it is. You're right to say that he shouldn't be bigger than the team itself in people's fandom. Take a step back, though, and the same is equally if not more true of J.P. Ricciardi. He's had a fair trial-the team is his baby now. He had advantages that other GMs would have killed to have had coming in. And he has, for whatever reason, failed. It's time for him to go.

eyebleaf said...

PPP: I can never take your comments seriously about J.P. when you bring up Tampa Bay. BK said it best about them. Until they consistently make the playoffs, I will not include them in the discussion. They were fucking TERRIBLE for years.

BK: Your comment encapsulated exactly how I feel. You're a fucking rudey.

Ian: Thanks for reading the post. I think you're right in your assessment that Ricciardi's had a lot of time to make this work, and hasn't been able to do it. I'm not saying he shouldn't be fired; I'm saying his tenure needs to be looked at in a certain way. I think he's left a more positive than negative stamp on this organization, at the end of the day, and it's about time people realized that, instead of picking and choosing on what to shit on him for.

Pension Plan Puppets said...

Yeah, the Rays had one good year but that's one more than the Jays have had. I'd rather 10 years of shit and one World Series trip (well, win really) than 10 years of middle of the division baseball.

And what's this story I heard that the Jays were offered the chance to move to the AL Central but didn't want to give up on the dates with the Red Sox and Yankees?