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2009 Blue Jays Draft: Dissecting the Debacle

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2009 Blue Jays Draft: Dissecting the Debacle

The Toronto Blue Jays failed to sign three of their top four draft picks and also failed to sign eight of their nine Canadian draft picks.

In contrast, the Washington Nationals (!) managed to set a new MLB record for a drafted player by signing Stephen Strasburg to a contract worth more than $15.1 Million. Are the Blue Jays really worse off than Washington?!

 

Ricciardi’s Role

Now, baseball general managers often get involved in signing their top draft picks, while the job of signing lower picks is generally given to people like the scouting directors.

I recognize the possibility that J.P. Ricciardi may not do much in his role as the Blue Jays general manager, so he may not have been involved in signing his top picks.

But, I think that it’s more than likely that Ricciardi played a role in trying to sign the Blue Jays top picks this year.  There are three different possibilities that I can see for explaining Ricciardi’s 2009 draft result:

1) Ricciardi drafted good players, but couldn’t sign most of the best ones;
2) Ricciardi’s top draft picks are good players that were impossible to sign, thereby making them bad picks; or
3) Ricciardi’s top draft picks are bad players, so most of them shouldn’t have been signed.

So, any way that you look at it, the end result is still that Ricciardi once again did a terrible job.

 

Location Matters

The most telling statistic for clues to determine why Ricciardi failed to sign players in this year’s draft, is that only one of nine Canadian players were signed.

Of all the players that were drafted by the Blue Jays, the eight Canadian players that weren’t signed are the ones that would have been the most likely to have been closely following the Blue Jays recently.

Moreover, the lone Canadian player that was signed, Jonathan Fernandez (Toronto-born son of Tony Fernandez), most likely would not have been closely following the Blue Jays, due to the lack of media coverage of the Blue Jays in the United States.

Why is this important?

Knowledge is Power

Due to the extensive media coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada (and lack thereof elsewhere), people living in Canada are far more likely to know about J.P. Ricciardi’s terrible history, than people living outside of Canada.

J.P. Ricciardi has a long history of being a repellent of good players.

In my J.P. Ricciardi article, I discussed an example of Ricciardi treating his players badly on page 4 and several examples of Ricciardi publicly insulting some of his best players on page 6.

Is it a coincidence that all the players that should know the most about J.P. Ricciardi’s tainted history refused to sign with the Blue Jays?

When trying to decide which job is best, is the person that controls your job status and salary an important factor in your decision?

I’m sure that people who have worked for bad bosses can attest to the fact that the character of one’s boss can be the single most important factor in determining how happy someone is with his or her job.

Furthermore, those who have been closely following the Blue Jays would be the most likely people to know how bleak the future of the Blue Jays looks, with Ricciardi running the show. If contending is important to a player, would his first choice be to sign with an organization run by someone with as horrible a track record as Ricciardi?

In addition to scaring away prospects from the Blue Jays, J.P. Ricciardi could similarly scare away future free agents (and/or players with no-trade clauses), if they did a little bit of research on Ricciardi.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there could be even more dire consequences for Ricciardi’s continued presence on the Toronto Blue Jays.

In order to gain a better understanding of how much this draft likely meant to most Blue Jays fans, it is necessary to know some of the things that have transpired this season.

Riding Ricciardi’s Roller Coaster

The 2009 season began with Paul Beeston saying that there would’ve been a lot more money available this season, but due to the losses in the starting rotation, he thought that it’d be best if 2009 was used as a bridge to 2010.

Ricciardi publicly disagreed with such a notion, saying that there was no money available.  Based on Ricciardi’s history (who publicly said, “They’re not lies if we know the truth”), I believed Beeston and not Ricciardi.

Then, when the Blue Jays got off to hot start, Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays could be buyers at the trade deadline this season; that would have been the first time ever in almost eight years of Ricciardi’s reign.

But then, about a month later, instead of looking to add more talent to his team to make a push for the playoffs, Ricciardi started publicly shopping the Blue Jays franchise player, Roy Halladay.

Then, when a representative from ownership (Rogers Communications Inc.) was asked about Halladay, the response was that it was purely a baseball decision, not a financial one. Not a financial decision, but a baseball decision?

Letting Ricciardi, who has a terrible track record with big transactions, make probably the biggest trade in the history of the franchise, is a baseball decision?

Some of the reasons why I believe that it would be best for the Blue Jays franchise if Halladay was not traded, were discussed in my Roy Halladay article.

Hall of Fame baseball writer, Tracy Ringolsby, wrote the following about Ricciardi wanting to trade Halladay, in a Fox Sports article:

“If Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi can't figure out a way to make Roy Halladay fit into his long-term plans, the best solution in Toronto would be to keep Halladay and get rid of Ricciardi. The franchise would be in better shape.”

Then, shortly after Ringolsby’s article was published, Ricciardi publicly insinuated that there was no chance that Halladay will re-sign with the Blue Jays, and that’s why he was shopping Halladay. Halladay later had to hold a press conference to correct Ricciardi’s false claim.

More details about Ricciardi misleading people about Halladay can be found on page 3 of my J.P. Ricciardi article.

Come the July 31 trade deadline, Halladay wasn’t traded. Why all the drama J.P.? How was the Halladay media circus fiasco good for the Toronto Blue Jays organization?

But then Scott Rolen was traded for lower cost players (but Blue Jays ownership still has to pay for some of Rolen’s remaining contract) and Alex Rios was given up for nothing in return. Ricciardi cited “financial flexibility” as his reason for giving away Rios for nothing.

These are just some of the things that happened so far this season; for those who have been following the Blue Jays for longer, the overall ride with J.P. Ricciardi has been far worse.

Playing With Fire

Toronto Blue Jays fans are an extremely loyal and patient group of people. On a per capita basis, the numbers indicate that Toronto has about three times more baseball fans than New York, when times are tough. More details about this can be found on page 3 of my Roy Halladay article.

But, even the most patient people have their limits.

From the start of the 2009 season to just before the deadline to sign draft picks, the following messages were sent from Blue Jays management (in words and actions):

We’re going to try to contend in the 2010 season; we’re now trying to contend in the 2009 season; nah, forget about contending anytime soon, we want to trade Halladay; we publicly lied about Halladay, so the chances of him re-signing with Ricciardi are pretty much non-existent; we don’t want to trade Halladay anymore, relax, we’re not rebuilding; we’re dumping salary now, get ready for a long rebuilding period.

So, the remaining Blue Jays fans at that point in time, that survived the emotional roller coaster of listening to Blue Jays management, were bracing themselves for a long rebuilding period.

Ricciardi’s first rebuilding plan is currently in its eighth year and now he wants to start over again?  If Ricciardi can’t build a contender with that much time, how much longer than his first rebuilding plan will it take if he starts all over again?

But, as bleak as things looked at that time, there was still a dim light at the end of the tunnel, in the prospects that were drafted.

But then three of the top four draft picks weren’t signed?! Don’t you need good prospects to properly rebuild a team? Where’s all that “financial flexibility” that was gained by getting nothing in return for Alex Rios?

Ricciardi thought that restocking his farm system was so important that he wanted to trade Halladay, but then he can’t sign most of his best draft picks? Isn’t it better to get prospects through the draft, rather than trading arguably the best player in major league baseball?

Ricciardi thereby successfully took even the faintest glimmer of hope of his succeeding away from the remaining Blue Jays fans.

 

Don’t Forget Who Pays the Bills

Now, there are probably some hardcore fans out there that will support the Blue Jays regardless of how many times they get slapped in the face (figuratively) by Ricciardi. 

But, hardcore supporters usually make up only a tiny percentage of the potential market.

Generally speaking, casual supporters constitute the largest percentage of potential customers. It is this group of people that could much more easily be chased away by Ricciardi’s mismanagement.

The Toronto Blue Jays, like all professional sports teams, depend on fan support to make money. If Ricciardi manages to chase away a lot of people from the largest portion of potential customers, then the financial repercussions for the Blue Jays would be severe.

Fuzzy Illogic

Paul Beeston recently revealed that ownership (Rogers Communications Inc.) has tied payroll to revenue. That is, if revenue goes up, payroll goes up and if revenue goes down, then payroll goes down. That’s completely backwards.

What if Rogers Wireless told their customers that they must first buy lots of cell phones that few people want to buy, before they would be willing to sell them a highly desirable product, like iPhones?

In addition, what if Rogers also told its customers that if people don’t buy the low-demand products, then Rogers will invest even less money in their product line, and thus start selling even lower demand products, that even fewer people want to buy?

Does anybody think that Rogers would be Canada’s largest wireless service provider if they employed such a backwards business strategy?

That’s simply not the way that normal business is conducted.

Rogers first had to invest a lot of money in iPhones, before it could start making money off of all the customers who wanted to buy them.

It’s been a common business practice, ever since businesses first existed, that they have to provide products that a lot of people actually want to buy, before a lot of people would spend money on their products.

Can anyone think of a single example of a company succeeding by providing products that few people want to buy?

This backwards business logic has little to no chance of success in the best of times, but when you combine it with J.P. Ricciardi then, you get a formula that has far too much potential for disaster.

 

Self Fulfilling Prophecy?

J.P. Ricciardi is arguably the most hated general manager in the history of Toronto sports.  His continued presence on the Blue Jays, in itself, chases people away from supporting the Blue Jays.

In addition to Ricciardi being a repellent of good players, he is also a fan repellent.

Some examples of Ricciardi’s fan-repellent properties were discussed on page 2 of my J.P. Ricciardi article.

In addition to the fans’ hatred of Ricciardi, in itself, making it less desirable to support the Blue Jays, Ricciardi’s recent downgrading of the on-field product makes it even less desirable for fans to support the Blue Jays.

Thus, when you combine a backwards business scheme with J.P. Ricciardi, then it becomes far too easy to fall into a spiral of diminishing revenue.

As an example, Ricciardi signalling that he wants to start rebuilding again (by dumping salary) will likely significantly reduce fan support, which would thereby significantly reduce payroll, which should thus make the team even less desirable to support, which would further reduce payroll, and so on.

Similar cycles of diminishing revenue could happen for all the other things that Ricciardi has done to chase away fans.

Therefore, it appears as if Ricciardi’s continued mismanagement is making his lie about there being no more money available in the future turn into a reality.

I am, however, in complete agreement that Ricciardi should not be given more money; Ricciardi has more than proven that he’ll most likely waste more money if it’s given to him.

The best chance of the Blue Jays making the most money possible lies in hiring a good general manager, who will spend money wisely, and then give him more financial flexibility to improve the desirability of the product.

 

Time is of the Essence

My hope is that there is not too much long term negative impact on the Blue Jays fan base due to extreme resentment over Ricciardi’s continued presence on the team.

The 1994 baseball strike left bitter feelings amongst many Blue Jays fans for a long time.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of people who stopped following the Blue Jays because of the strike and still, to this day, have not returned to support the team.

I hope that almost eight years of J.P. Ricciardi does not have a similar negative effect on the Blue Jays fan base.

But, the longer that Ricciardi remains the Blue Jays general manager, the greater the likelihood is of this type of thing happening to more and more people.

For the sake of the future well being of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and more, I hope that J.P. Ricciardi is replaced with someone good, as soon as possible.

 

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