Before we begin, I’d like to point out that I don’t take the firing of anybody lightly, so I’ve put a considerable amount of thought into this topic. That—and the fact that I wanted to support my arguments with facts—constitutes a large part of the reason for this article’s length.
I initially had high hopes when the Jays first hired J.P. Ricciardi, but almost eight years later, he has, unfortunately, more than proved to me that he is not a good fit for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Credit Where Credit is Due
To be fair, Ricciardi has done some good things. For example, it appears that he has hired some good scouts, as evidenced in the play of guys like Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and some of our young pitching. Also, Ricciardi has found some gems in smaller contract players, as seen in the play of guys like Marco Scutaro and some of our bullpen pitchers.
Although, one could argue that, considering the sheer number of small money players that Ricciardi has acquired thus far, just by the laws of probability alone, it should be expected that at least a few of them would work out well.
Unfortunately, the bad moves that Ricciardi has made have too far outweighed the good ones.
J.P. Ricciardi—No Big Deal
Ricciardi has a terrible track record when dealing with big name and/or big money players.
To date, none of Ricciardi’s dealings with Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, A.J. Burnett or B.J. Ryan have worked out to be a net positive for the Jays. Ricciardi has not signed players when he should have, has signed players when he shouldn’t have, and/or signed players for too much money, thus handcuffing future transactions.
Moreover, if Ricciardi’s latest deal (trading Scott Rolen) doesn’t turn out for the best, then, other than signing Halladay, I can’t think of a single big transaction that he has made that worked out in favor of the Blue Jays.
Maybe a couple of Ricciardi’s failures can be attributed to misfortune, but the alarming consistency of big deals going badly awry is not common among the good general managers in baseball.
To contrast, let’s compare Ricciardi’s consistent failures with big transactions, with some of the things that former Blue Jays general manager, Pat Gillick, did while he was with the Jays.
Gillick brought in players like Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Devon White, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and David Cone. He also built a farm system with guys like George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield, Tony Fernandez and John Olerud. Enough said.
Considering the current reality of the AL East, the Blue Jays would likely need a "best in baseball" type of general manager to realistically have a good chance of contending soon. Ricciardi’s consistent failures with big deals reveal to me that he is not even an average general manager.
J.P. Ricciardi’s Bad Math
The Toronto Blue Jays, like all professional sports teams, cannot make money without fan support. It is fan support that directly drives ticket sales, TV ratings (generating advertisement revenue), merchandise sales, etc. The way that Ricciardi has acted in the past, however, indicates that he’s been oblivious to this critical fact.
When Ricciardi was first hired by the Blue Jays, he said something to the effect that it was his goal to teach Canadian fans and sportswriters about baseball. Furthermore, during the Halladay trade fiasco, he said, "I don't think we caused a stir in Toronto. I think we caused stirs in all these places that cause stirs—Philadelphia, New York, Boston, LA, Chicago".
Having the Blue Jays general manager publicly insult both the intelligence and the passion of the team’s fan base does not increase their desire to support the team.
Next, Ricciardi has consistently gotten rid of fan favourites. Ricciardi has gotten rid of players like Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Reed Johnson, Frank Thomas and now Scott Rolen, too. Constantly getting rid of the players that people want to see the most is not the best way to keep fans or to gain new ones.
Not only that, but Ricciardi has now started threatening to trade Roy Halladay. If Ricciardi ever makes good on his threat, it’s looking like the Jays’ situation could get a lot worse and stay that way for a long time.
Wanting to get rid of the greatest hope for a better future (Halladay) is not the best way to keep fans nor is it the best way to create new fans.
Finally, fans have been waiting almost eight years for Ricciardi’s promises to be realized, and every season that they have not been realized, were another 162 reasons to believe that they never will be, at least not with Ricciardi as the general manager.
Ricciardi’s reign has too closely resembled the movie “Groundhog Day." Over time, I believe that many fans probably just stopped believing his empty promises and, as a result, some have stopped caring about the team.
Personally, I’m currently following the Blue Jays in spite of the fact that J.P. Ricciardi is the general manager, certainly not because of it.
Ricciardi’s negative effect on revenue is another reason why I believe that the Blue Jays would greatly benefit if he was replaced with someone good.
J.P. Ricciardi Lies. A Lot.
I’ve too often been left shaking my head after reading quotes from Ricciardi that contradicted something that Paul Beeston or Cito Gaston said. Now, Beeston and Gaston have never said anything that made me question whether they knew what the definition of the word “lies” was, whereas Ricciardi has.
After it was revealed that B.J. Ryan’s “back” injury required season-ending Tommy John elbow (!) surgery, Ricciardi said, “They’re not lies if we know the truth."
More recently, Ricciardi, in talking about Roy Halladay, was contradicted by Halladay himself.
When asked by the FAN 590 what changed from the plan to use 2009 as a bridge to 2010, Ricciardi replied, “What's changed is Roy has told us that he's going to test the free agent market." Ricciardi later added, "I think I made this clear real early that Doc wanted to test the free-agent market...That's the whole reason we're going down this avenue". Furthermore, he later said that Halladay had given him a list of teams that we wanted to go to.
Halladay had to later hold a press conference to address the frenzy that was caused by Ricciardi’s comments. During that press conference Halladay said, “Basically all I'm saying is it's not testing the free agent waters, it's getting to that point and seeing whether we as an organization are close...I told them I would like to wait until my contract's up to make the best decision...I love it here, I want to stay, and I really do hope it's here.”
The Toronto Sun also reported that Halladay said, "I told [Ricciardi] I wanted to wait and see...see where we were after the 2010 season, see what is going on here with this team. If we had a good chance to win here or whether I would have a better chance in free agency. I don't like the term 'testing the free agent waters.'"
In addition to contradicting other people, Ricciardi later contradicted himself by saying that he doesn’t think that anything’s changed and that Halladay had not given him a list of teams that he wanted to go to.
So, from my vantage point, Halladay has been consistent in his words just like he has been in the past and Ricciardi has been deceitful, just like he has been in the past.
Now, by implying that Halladay would never sign an extension, knowingly or not, Ricciardi painted him out to be something very unflattering.
Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and A.J. Burnett were players who couldn’t wait get out of Toronto. That’s one of the big reasons that they have been enthusiastically booed when they came back to play against Toronto.
Halladay should not be placed in the same category as those guys, especially when he has shown remarkable loyalty to both the Blue Jays and the city of Toronto. His loyalty has been proven, despite years of repeated empty promises (and thus years of repeated broken dreams) from J.P. Ricciardi.
So, Ricciardi misleading people about Halladay’s future intentions was likely a huge slap in the face for Halladay. Not to mention the fact that that it probably legally qualified as slander.
Attempting to Lighten the Mood...
Here are the top 5 excuses that Ricciardi can use to explain why he lied about Halladay:
5) New York and Boston spend too much money. Every time that I’ve done something stupid in the past, I just tell people about how much money New York and Boston spends, and then they just silently nod and feel sorry for me. What’s that? Tampa Ba... Shhh! Don’t say that name out loud! You know, if you pretend really hard that something doesn’t exist, then it’ll cease to exist! It’s just like Frank Thomas’s and B.J. Ryan’s remaining contract money.
4) Injuries. My bosses have always believed me every time that I blamed injuries for my shortcomings. I got kicked in the head and then I became a pathological liar. No really, I’ve got an appointment with Dr. James Andrews, for Tommy John elbow surgery, to fix my head.
3) To make more money. You see, without fan support, this team won’t make any money. So, if you anger enough paying customers and lose their support, you’ll make tons of money! That’s why I got rid of fan favourites like Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Reed Johnson, Frank Thomas and Scott Rolen and that’s why I`m now trying to get rid of Roy Halladay. You see, then the fans will really get angry, and then they`ll stop supporting the team and then we’ll be rich! Man, you ignorant Canadians are so lucky to have me here to teach you about baseball!
2) Adam Dunn has no character! I said that once and then the media lost sight of the fact that I was doing a horrible job. If that gets out of hand, can I re-hire and then fire Gibbons again? That worked really well once too.
1) They're not lies if we know the truth. Never mind—as if a non-cartoon character would actually say something that idiotic! What?! I already sai...You know, if you pretend really hard that something doesn’t exist... Did I mention how much smarter than you I am?
J.P. Ricciardi’s Fingerprints Are Everywhere
I think that some fans are being too hard on Vernon Wells. It’s not his fault that Ricciardi signed him for too much money, it’s Ricciardi’s fault; if you were offered $126 million of guaranteed money, wouldn’t you take it?
Furthermore, I believe that the philosophy of the Ricciardi/Gibbons regime, may have significantly contributed to Wells’s reduced production.
I remember comments made by Ricciardi and Gibbons that would suggest that they encouraged their players to hide and/or play through serious injuries. For example, those two would praise B.J. Ryan for playing when badly hurt, saying things like how tough and dedicated he was for doing so.
That type of talk appeared to subside once Cito Gaston returned as the manager for the Blue Jays. I was very pleased to see that Gaston was positively influencing not only his players, but his general manager as well.
But, around mid-May this season, that type of talk resurfaced. When Romero and Janssen were healthy enough to return to the team, Ricciardi made a comment that maybe he’ll break with tradition and his players will lose their jobs due to injury.
Frankly, I’m not surprised with all the long-term injuries that the Blue Jays have had to endure; if management tries to encourage/scare its players into playing through and/or hiding serious injuries, then the chances of long-term injuries happening greatly increase.
There are certain types of injuries that are not too risky to play through, but others could end up being serious long-term injuries, if not taken care of promptly.
There is no way that Wells should have played through most of a season with a torn labrum and a cyst in his shoulder in 2007, nor should he have hid his injury; that type of injury is not something to mess around with. That may be a reason for Wells’ subsequent reduced production.
So, Ricciardi signed Wells for too much money and then he may have played a pivotal role in Wells’ lack of production after he was signed.
Now, people who spend their hard-earned money to attend games have the right to boo anybody they want. But, having the right to do something, and whether that something is benefiting the greater good can be two entirely different things.
Case in point: booing Wells seems to make him play worse (see his under .200 avg. at home vs. his above .300 avg. on the road). Moreover, just ask Rod Barajas if constantly getting booed in Philadelphia improved his play. Generally speaking, Yankees and Phillies fans aren’t ideal role models.
In my opinion, if fans want to blame someone, then they should blame the man who’s mostly at fault, namely, J.P. Ricciardi.
J.P. Ricciardi’s disregard for his players’ wellbeing is another reason why I think that the Jays would greatly benefit if Ricciardi were replaced with someone good.
J.P. Ricciardi: The Great Demoralizer
While making trades may be the most visible way that a general manager can influence a team’s success, it is far from being the only way. One often-overlooked, but perhaps equally important way that a G.M. can influence a team is by affecting team morale.
Let me illustrate my point:
For example, 2006 was the closest that the Blue Jays have been to getting to the playoffs (second in their division) since 1993. But, come the trade deadline, instead of adding a piece or two to make a push for the playoffs, Ricciardi traded Eric Hinske, to a division rival (Red Sox) no less, for nothing in return. Even though Ricciardi is from New England, his job is to make Toronto’s club better, not his hometown Red Sox.
I remember seeing how down the Jays’ players looked after the trade, and then how they subsequently started playing worse than they were playing. In contrast, the Yankees clubhouse that year, which had just added Bobby Abreu, was very upbeat and consequently started playing even better.
Moreover, after releasing Frank Thomas last year (for nothing in return), the entire lineup went into a hitting slump (they actually hit pretty well for the first couple of weeks of last season) and didn’t really recover their stride until Cito Gaston came on board.
How can Boston’s Theo Epstein turn an aging, toxic clubhouse player, Manny Ramirez, into a much younger class act and all-star slugger, Jason Bay, while all Ricciardi got in return for Frank Thomas was a big debt for ownership, demoralized players and disgruntled fans? Similar questions surround Reed Johnson’s surprising release, which was another release, not a trade.
The Power of Words
Furthermore, Ricciardi has not only demoralized his players with his actions, but he has too often demoralized his troops with his words as well.
For example, there were Ricciardi’s very public verbal confrontations with Adam Dunn last season. Dunn would later call him a “clown”, a very apt assessment, considering the media circus that ensued as a result of Ricciardi’s comments. The Jays then played some of their worst baseball of the season after Ricciardi’s comments.
Moreover, around mid-May of this season, when Romero and Janssen were healthy enough to return to the team, Ricciardi made a comment that maybe he’ll break with tradition and players will lose their jobs due to injury. It was around that same time that the team started into its nine-game nose dive.
Most recently, Ricciardi opened his mouth again and consequently brought about another media circus centering on the possibility of the Blue Jays trading Roy Halladay. Once again, after Ricciardi’s demoralizing comments, the Jays’ players looked really down and their on-field performance suffered once again.
Is it a coincidence that whenever Ricciardi says something demoralizing that the Jays’ on-field performance suffers? One should not underestimate the influence that a man who controls someone’s job status and salary can have.
At the major league level, talent is usually a given, so the largest obstacles to success are mostly mental ones. It’s hard enough to get a base hit off of a 95 mph fastball, but to do it without complete focus is even harder. The players should be giving 100% focus to the task at hand (next pitch, next catch, etc.), not be bogged down with extraneous, counter-productive thoughts on the field.
Management should be doing everything that they can to minimize distractions, not adding to them. Ricciardi has too often brought harmful distractions upon his team.
Thus, I truly believe that if Ricciardi was replaced with someone good, a new and better G.M. would not even have to make a single move, in order for the Blue Jays to exhibit improved play on the field.
J.P. Ricciardi’s negative effect on team morale is another reason why I believe that the Blue Jays would greatly benefit if Ricciardi was replaced with someone good.
What Lies Ahead
In addition to constantly demoralizing his team, J.P. Ricciardi has shown a remarkable ability to consistently upset the Blue Jays’ most valuable potential free agents.
First, after the 2004 season, J.P. Ricciardi lowballed/insulted Carlos Delgado (the Jays’ best hitter at the time) and forced him to walk as a free agent, even when it appeared that he’d be willing to take a hometown discount.
Next, let’s consider Ted Lilly, who was our second best starter in 2006. Lilly got into an argument on the mound with John Gibbons and then Gibbons followed him into the locker room and challenged him to a fight (similar to how he challenged Hillenbrand to a fist fight earlier).
What was Ricciardi’s response? Ricciardi publicly said things like if people can’t get along with Gibbons then they can’t get along with anyone, and that you have to consider the character of the people that Gibbons was picking fights with.
Considering Ricciardi’s comments, is anybody surprised that Lilly declined Ricciardi’s offer after he became a free agent? Ted Lilly cited, “change in scenery” as his reason for leaving.
Next, after Marcum & McGowan started to show great promise, Ricciardi publicly said that signing A.J. Burnett was a mistake. Again, Burnett was our second best starter and then, after he became a free agent, he declined Ricciardi’s offer.
If your boss publicly says that he wishes that he didn’t hire you, does that encourage you to want to continue working for him?
Then, when asked what changed from the plan to use 2009 as a bridge to 2010, Ricciardi implied that Halladay said that there was no chance that he’d re-sign after 2010. This added even more drama, to the already out of hand media circus, that Ricciardi created by shopping Halladay.
Halladay had to later hold a press conference to clarify that it wasn’t a certainty that he would not re-sign with the Blue Jays. Halladay reiterated that he really hopes that he can win with the Blue Jays; he just wants more time to see what direction the team’s going, before making his decision.
If Ricciardi remains the Jays' general manager, would anybody be surprised if Halladay doesn’t want to continue working for him and decides to leave?
J.P. Ricciardi’s ridiculous habit of publicly insulting his most important potential free agents is another reason why I believe that the Jays would greatly benefit if Ricciardi was replaced with someone good.
If You Build It (a Contending Team) They (the Fans) Will Come (to the Rogers Centre)
Toronto is the fourth largest market in MLB; only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have larger populations than Toronto. Furthermore, the Toronto Blue Jays are the only baseball team in Canada, and thus, one could consider their home market of having 33 million+ potential customers. Needless to say, there is no lack of potential customers for the Blue Jays to tap into.
The naysayers may believe that the population only cares about hockey, but then how do they explain the early '90s, when the Blue Jays set major league attendance records? That was back when the population was not as large as it is today, and when they actually had competition for Canadian baseball fans, namely in the Montreal Expos.
The naysayers may also point out that there’s not enough money available to the Blue Jays. Paul Beeston said at the start of this season, that there would’ve been a lot more money available this season if he thought that was best. He then said that he thought it’d be best if 2009 was used as a bridge to 2010, considering the losses to the Jays’ starting pitching in 2009.
Ricciardi, however, publicly disagreed with such a notion, saying that there was no money available. Based on past history, who would you rather trust: J.P. Ricciardi (who was quoted as saying, “They’re not lies if we know the truth”) or Paul Beeston?
The Blue Jays have been the biggest drawing franchise in baseball in the past and they could be again in the near future. How can ownership (Rogers) accomplish such a lofty goal?
Go Big or Go Home
In most cases, you have to spend money to make money.
Did Rogers start making tons of money off of its cell phone customers before it made a huge investment in cellular infrastructure? No, Rogers first had to spend money on a good investment before it started seeing good returns.
Of course, spending money in itself is by no means a guarantee that more money will be made; the money must be invested in something good, in order to get a good return.
How does a company maximize the chances of making good investments? Hiring a good leader, who will spend money wisely, is the surest way to make good investments.
For the reasons stated in this article and more, J.P. Ricciardi has more than proved to me that he is not a good leader.
The Best Choice
I really don’t like seeing people lose their jobs, but, at the same time, I want what’s best for the greater good. What’s more important? The best choice becomes apparent, by first considering how many people Ricciardi has negatively affected in the past and how many people he currently has the power to affect in the future.
Some of the people involved with the Blue Jays include the: players, manager, coaches, scouts, stadium staff, office staff, fans, etc.
For such people, replacing Ricciardi with someone good would not only remove all the negatives that Ricciardi brings with him, but would also most likely add many positives. Positives that are along the lines of: increased morale, more excitement and hope for the future, better play on the field, increased revenue for Rogers and its employees, etc.
On the other hand, the (lone) person that would likely be the most negatively affected by such a move would be J.P. Ricciardi. But, I believe that Ricciardi is still owed millions of dollars in salary for this/next year even if he’s let go right now; it doesn’t appear as if he’d likely be lining up for food stamps anytime soon. I can think of far worse fates than getting paid large sums of money to not work.
So, when all things are taken into consideration, it becomes clear that replacing Ricciardi with someone good, is by far the best choice.
The Surest Thing
Who should replace J.P. Ricciardi?
Probably the closest thing that there is to being a sure thing in baseball right now is Pat Gillick. He has a ridiculously good track record. The teams where Gillick was G.M. (Jays, Orioles, Mariners & Phillies) are 4/4 in playoff appearances and 2/4 in World Series victories during his tenure.
Furthermore, none of the Jays, Orioles or Mariners (we’ve yet to see what happens to the Phillies) have made it back to the playoffs since Gillick left.
There would likely also be a halo-effect surrounding Pat Gillick’s return, similar to what happened when Cito Gaston was re-introduced last season. Perhaps Gillick’s hiring alone could bring back some of the lost fans from the glory years, when the Blue Jays were the talk of the town.
That would be in addition to attracting new fans from the improved play on the field, which would likely result even if Gillick didn’t make a single move (as discussed in the sections entitled, “J.P. Ricciardi: The Great Demoralizer” and “The Power of Words”).
If Gillick were to be re-hired and he subsequently built a championship calibre team, however, then most, if not all, of the lost fans would probably return and many new ones would likely be created.
Toronto Blue Jays Word Math
Pat Gillick (or someone like him) + more money = greatly improved chances of making it to the playoffs, which = renewed hope and optimism for everyone involved with the Blue Jays, which = higher TV ratings, ticket sales, etc., which = even more money for good players. Repeat, redo and we get a cycle of many good things for the Jays.
J.P. Ricciardi + more money = far too much risk of failure. Please note Ricciardi’s terrible track record. Instead, save money until the first option is chosen to be implemented.
The Vision for a Brighter Future
If Pat Gillick’s available, then the Blue Jays should offer him the keys to the city and whatever salary/title he wants, since he’s probably as close to a sure thing that there is in baseball right now.
Then, the Blue Jays should beg Paul Beeston to reconsider his interim status and stay on permanently, thereby reuniting the World Series championship winning triumvirate of Paul Beeston, Pat Gillick and Cito Gaston, once again.
If Pat Gillick’s not available, then a person who most closely behaves like Gillick should be hired. In addition to Gillick’s obviously high baseball IQ, he (and Beeston and Gaston) believe that people should be put first. Those three believe that their players are people first and baseball players second and then they treat them as such.
During Pat Gillick's time with the Blue Jays, once word spread around baseball about how classy an act the Blue Jays organization was from top to bottom, then it became much easier to make baseball’s top talent want to play for the franchise. Combined with a positive aura around the franchise, Pat Gillick made many excellent draft choices, trades, free agent signings, etc.
And the rest is history—World Series championship winning history. With a good general manager leading the Toronto Blue Jays, that could be the future as well.