J.P. Ricciardi's tenure with the Blue Jays can be described with one word, mediocre. The Jays were never really that good under him, but also never really that bad. They had their good stretches and they had their bad ones as well.
Had they been in another division, however, the team could have succeeded in my opinion. But the unbalanced divisions in baseball is a story for another day.
Ricciardi's "Moneyball" philosophy he adopted from fellow GM and friend Billy Beane, while he was with the Oakland Athletics organization, was a system that based itself on "Sabermetrics".
This concept is where organizations would value slugging percentage and on-base precentage over traditional statistics such as runs batted in, batting average and stolen bases as a basis for success.
This philosophy also believes in drafting college-level talents as opposed to taking high school players. The "Moneyball" concept believed that they had a higher chance of succeeding at the professional level.
Also using this system, Ricciardi used it to try and pry away players that were often went undervalued by major league teams. For example, On November 18, 2007, Marco Scutaro was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league pitchers Kristian Bell and Graham Godfrey.
JP's Tenure with Jays: Why did the Jays Stick to Being Mediocre?
Scutaro's game lent itself very nicely to the "Moneyball" philosophy and he went on to become the starting shortstop for the Blue Jays in 2009.
Scutaro had his best season to date, achieving career highs in almost every offensive category hitting 12 HR, adding 60 RBI, racking up 35 doubles. He collected 235 total bases, smashed 162 hits, came across home 100 times, thieved 14 bases, and walked 90 times in 574 at bats.
Ricciardi was pretty decent at finding undervalued talent on other major league teams. When Billy Koch was taking the MLB by storm, he decided to trade him to the Oakland A's for Justin Miller and Eric Hinske. Hinske would later go on to win the Rookie of the Year Award the following season.
In a reversal of fortune, Koch's best days were as a Blue Jay and today is still looking for work in baseball. A 100 mph fastball will eventually be figured out, and Koch's lack of any secondary pitches would become his downfall.
Another example of finding the undervalued talent was when he sent aging left fielder Shannon Stewart to the Minnesota Twins for Bobby Kielty, who was eventually shipped to the Oakland A's for Ted Lilly.
Although near the end of his tenure with the Jays, Lilly had his issues with manager John Gibbons, overall though, Lilly today is still one of the better lefties in the majors and he had a pretty successful stint with the Jays while here.
Ricciardi traded 6'9" 240-pound Mark Hendrickson, a pretty god-awful pitcher plus a minor leaguer to the Rays for reliever Justin Speier. Speier went on to become the Jays set-up man ahead of BJ Ryan for the next three seasons, and Speier earned an All-Star spot.
Lastly, he sent reliever Adam Peterson to the Diamondbacks for Shea Hillenbrand. Ricciardi thought we needed some help at the DH position and he managed to bring in a great hitter in Hillenbrand. Unfortunately, it would be his off-field issues that most Jays fans will remember Hillenbrand for.
One sentence will summarize his tenure: "The ship is sinking". He wrote this on the white board in the Jays clubhouse, and it would met by irate manager John Gibbons. Hillenbrand's antics would earn him a one-way ticket to the San Francisco Giants.
He was traded along with reliever Vinny Chulk for eventual closer Jeremy Accardo. Accardo is currently lighting up the Pacific Coast League with the Las Vegas 51's (2-0, 2.30 ERA, 22 SV).
When Ricciardi deviated from his "Moneyball" plan, this is when the Jays took off. Following a disappointing 67-win campaign (2004) under Carlos Tosca, the Jays fired him and replaced him with John Gibbons.
Carlos Delgado would flock to South Beach and the Jays were destined for the cellar of the AL East. But to everyone's surprise, they would finish one win shy of .500 (80-82).
In 2005, sensing an emergent team, new owner Ted Rogers offered Ricciardi an increased payroll, and what came with it was more financial freedom for JP to deviate from his "Moneyball" beliefs.
He would make a huge splash in the free agent market the following season adding pitchers AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan, while trading for first baseman Lyle Overbay and third baseman Troy Glaus and lastly, signing Gold Glove catcher Bengie Molina.
The moves would pay dividends, as the Jays won 87 games, and finished second in an extremely difficult AL East.
Ricciardi would add Frank Thomas the following offseason and Thomas would enjoy a wonderful first season with the Jays.
However all of these moves down the line would comeback to bite the Jays hard. Glaus' body would not lend itself to the turf at the Rogers Center very well, Lyle Overbay's game would decline, AJ Burnett would flock to the Yankees when his player option kicked in, and Bengie Molina found it hard to share time with Gregg Zaun, and would leave for the San Francisco Giants.
BJ Ryan would have to undergo Tommy John Surgery and returned to the bullpen as a shadow of his former self. Ryan, when he returned, lost all of his velocity and all of his control.
He was released by the Blue Jays not too long after, and was signed to a minor league deal by the Chicago Cubs, where he did not fare much better. Ryan has not seen another pitching mound since.
Frank Thomas' game would deteriorate rapidly the following season and due to his slow start in 2008, in which he batted just .167 with only three home runs in his first 60 at-bats, Thomas was released in April of that year making room for draft pick Adam Lind.
Ricciardi's best work though can be found in his drafts. He would draft first-round talents like Aaron Hill, Ricky Romero, David Purcey, Travis Snider, JP Arencibia, Brett Cecil and Canadian reliever Trystan Magnuson (who has a great arm, just look at his AA stats) who have made their marks, and will make their marks on the game eventually.
The jury is still out on talents like Justin Jackson, Kevin Ahrens, David Cooper, Chad Jenkins.
The jury has spoken however on Russ Adams, and sentenced him to play catcher in a game of T-Ball.
Adams lack of defence would be his downfall to his MLB career and would go on to become JP's worst first round pick ever, granted it was in his first year as GM of the Blue Jays.
Adams always had a decent bat, however, his infield defence was verging on Chuck Knoblauch-like terrible.
Today, many of JP's draft picks, many of which are not first rounders, are key contributing parts to the Jays team and organization. Players like Shaun Marcum, Adam Lind, Casey Janssen, and Jesse Litsch are regulars on the club.
Prospects such as Brad Mills, Marc Rzepcynski, Brad Emaus, Jacob Marisnick, Eric Thames, AJ Jimenez and Alan Farina are nipping at their heels for jobs with the big club and are leading their respective minor league teams.
So with all the success in trades and drafting, why did the Jays under JP Ricciardi just tread water, not making any significant movement up in the standings?
Was it bad general managing on his part (trades, picks, signings) or was JP lackluster tenure with the Jays a proponent of a tough division and some bad luck along the way?
I for one believe he wasn't as bad as many make him out to be, but in the end...
You have your say.
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