J.P. Ricciardi was fired the other day as Blue Jays GM, which I am happy about. Ricciardi’s reign as GM resulted in no World Series victories, no playoff games, heck, not even anything close to playoff contention. His time had come, and the Jays now need to rebuild and go in a different direction. But that’s not to say that Ricciardi was a terrible GM. Here’s a list of his best and worst moves, and I’ll list my personal favourites (in both respects) below. Note for the record that I wrote well over 2/3 of this article before finding that link, so I’m not just summarizing it.
Ricciardi certainly made some bad moves. He negotiated an expensive contract for Alex Rios, then allowed Chicago to claim him on waivers, getting nothing back. He signed Reed Johnson to a contract and then released him a month later, only to replace him with Shannon Stewart, who got injured and released within a couple of months. He paid both B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett a ton of money – each had one great season and a couple of not-bad ones. He also released Ryan and Frank Thomas with a lot of money left on their contracts.
But he also made some good moves. Bringing in Overbay was a good move. He got Jeremy Accardo for Vinnie Chulk and the grumpy Shea Hillenbrand. He grabbed Matt Stairs, Joe Inglett, Scott Downs, and Rod Barajas off waivers. He traded two players I’ve never heard of for Marco Scutaro. Trading for Glaus was good, but then he wanted out. So Ricciardi turned him into Scott Rolen. Then Rolen wanted out, and he got a couple of young pitchers for him. He drafted Hill, Marcum, Litch, Lind, and Snider.
Some players didn’t work out (Royce Clayton, Tomo Okha, Victor Zambrano), but they were cheap anyway. Just about every pitcher spent time on the DL, but that’s not Ricciardi’s fault. In fact, I’m surprised there wasn’t an investigation of some sort into the Jays’ pitching coaches at that time.
You might notice that I did not include the Vernon Wells deal in the list of bad moves. You can’t deny that Wells hasn’t earned his eleventy gazillion dollar contract since it was signed three years ago. OK, so he hasn’t even come close to earning it. So from that point of view, this is a terrible deal. But nobody complained about the deal when it was made because Wells was coming off a couple of great seasons and looked poised for lots more. Three mediocre and injury-filled seasons later, it seems obvious that Wells is not the superstar we all thought he was at the time. He’s simply a very good player that had a couple of great seasons. Should Ricciardi have seen that coming? Maybe, but nobody else did. If instead of signing Wells he had traded him or let him go, he would have been ridiculed endlessly (which he likely doesn’t care about) and not taken seriously by other GMs (which he likely does). He had little choice but to sign Wells to the contract and hope that he wasn’t a flash in the pan. Oh well.
Ricciardi was touted as the next Billy Beane, an expert in the whole Moneyball concept, and should therefore be able to bring a winning team to Toronto without increasing the payroll astronomically. This was key because the Jays play in the same division as the rich Yankees and Red Sox, who have no trouble outspending the rest of the league, and seem ready to sign any and all free agents regardless of the cost. But eight years later, what did Ricciardi whine about the most? “We can’t win because we don’t have the payroll of the Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t have enough money to do what we need to do. We can’t win in this division without increasing payroll.” Um… isn’t that why we hired you and not someone else?
I think Ricciardi’s biggest problem was that he didn’t know when to shut up. Every time there were trade rumours, Ricciardi was right there telling everyone who’d listen who he was offering, who other teams were offering, what deals didn’t happen and why, and so on. He would talk to the media and tell them whether certain players were interested in re-signing after their contracts were up, even if the players hadn’t come to a final decision yet. That’s the kind of stuff that does not need to be published. He publicly questioned Adam Dunn’s work ethic and passion for baseball. Even if he was right (and I have no reason to believe he was), you don’t say stuff like that. When rumours started flying that he was shopping Roy Halladay at the trade deadline this year, Ricciardi didn’t deflect attention and didn’t refuse to comment – in fact, he talked on and on about it, and even gave a meaningless “deadline” before the real trade deadline. In so doing, turned the thing into a media circus. On the day of the deadline, the FAN was doing minute-by-minute reports on whether or not Halladay was still a Blue Jay. Then there was the thing with B.J. Ryan, where Ricciardi knew that Ryan required Tommy John surgery but told the media that the injury wasn’t that bad. When the truth came out and he was called on it, he famously said “They’re not lies if we know the truth”, which simply told everyone that they couldn’t trust anything he said.
Having said all that, Ricciardi wasn’t the worst thing ever to happen to the Jays. No, they never made the playoffs during his time, but at least he didn’t turn the team into a laughing stock (lookin’ at you, John Ferguson Jr.). They only finished last in the East once, even made second place once, and finished above .500 for four of the eight seasons Ricciardi was here. He took a mediocre team and turned them into… a mediocre team. There were times over the past few years that the Jays had the best hitting team in baseball, and other times where they had the best pitching staff. Unfortunately those times never coincided. He didn’t leave the team in total shambles – there are certainly some players that can figure prominently in the Jays future plans. They have some good young hitters, a really good bullpen, and if all the injured pitchers return next season (OK, that’s a big “if”), they could have an excellent rotation (how does Halladay, McGowan, Marcum, Litch, and Romero sound?). As I said before, Ricciardi has proven that he’s a pretty good baseball guy and I’m sure he’ll land on his feet somewhere. In any division other than the AL East, he might even be successful.