The playoffs start tonight and if that fabulous play-in game at the Metrodome was a preview, it will be great sporting drama. The Yankees look unstoppable but we’ve said that every time since 2001 when the D’backs stunned them in Game 7 as Mariano Rivera threw a ball away and Luis Gonzalez ended it in walk-off fashion. I called the Yankees earlier and I’ll have to stick with them. The Angels look deep and balanced but Boston always seems to have their number. As for the NL, none of those starting rotations is too impressive except for the top two in Philly. They are defending champs until someone takes their crown. The Dodgers looked great for most of the season, but there seems a certain negative karma going on when you go out and get a DH for the World Series in August (Jim Thome) when you’re still seven playoff wins away from even getting there. In any case this should be a fun month for baseball fans.
On to the mail bag.
Q: Hi Richard:
Let me start out as saying I'm not a J.P. Ricciardi fan. That being said, I'm getting a little tired of 20/20 hindsight regarding some of his signings. People (and that includes media) should be remembering what they thought about some of his signings when they were made, rather than how they turned out. This is especially true in the case of B.J. Ryan. When he was signed I believe it was generally reported that the Jays had finally obtained a legitimate closer. I remember the first time he came in for the Jays he was awesome. It is not J.P.'s fault that Ryan got hurt and was terrible when he came back. Likewise, it seems that when Alex Rios and Vernon Wells were signed to their long term contracts, that there was a general consensus that the Jays should lock up their young stars. Should J.P. have predicted that a couple of years later that these two players would be awful? Should J.P. have predicted that Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan would be injured for more than a year?
Marv Rose, Toronto
A: The signing that I always have trouble getting righteously indignant over is the Rios signing. At the time, the Jays were rewarding a young player brought up in the organization and locking him up for a couple of seasons into his free agency. The money wasn’t outrageous even for the pair of free agent seasons – that is as long as he was producing. But for most of us when we’re discussing bad contracts it’s too easy to say “Wells and Rios” or “Rios and Wells” when lumping wasted cash. The bad thing about the Rios deal was the Jays feeling they had to dump him for nothing in August when two winters before, just prior to signing him to his long-term deal, Alex’s name was being mentioned in trade with the Giants for a very good starting pitcher (not Tim Lincecum). Even at this year’s deadline, there were two teams willing to take all of Rios’s contract and actually give back prospects but the Jays refused. Then the plan changed 15 days later when he was claimed by the White Sox.
“Plan? Plan? We don’t need no stinkin’ plan!”
And I may be wrong, but I don’t remember a universal outpouring of joy when B.J. was introduced at the press conference at the Rogers campus. He was given too many years and too much money for the role of closer, since they are notoriously short-term producers as a breed. At the time he was the highest paid closer ever, even coming off just one season of success in the role for the O’s. Plus he had the type of delivery that baseball scouts know can lead to arm problems (not back problems).
As for Vernon, Ricciardi had just spent a full season and a winter dissing him as a MLB player and a Jays’ leader to his friends in the U.S. media and trying to trade him to his friends in the U.S. major league front offices. After he could not trade Wells and after he failed to sign either Ted Lilly or Gil Meche he was embarrassingly left with a pocketful of unspent money. So Ricciardi spent it on Wells. That is precisely why Paul Beeston in his role as interim CEO for life to this day refuses to state a hard payroll figure for any season…because if the GM has a number on paper, he feels obliged to spend it.
As for predictions, in baseball it’s called scouting and those in the front office of a major-league team are supposed to know more about the abilities of their players than we do. As for Marcum and McGowan, all organizations have the same types of injuries and proceed.
Q: Hi Richard,
The J.P. firing is not at all a shock, but the timing of that, or specifically the promotion of Alex Anthopoulos, is confusing. Why would he be appointed, without an interim title, only weeks before a new President is named? I thought the idea going into next year was to give this team direction, an improvement over this lame duck year without a permanent President and a GM as good as gone. Wouldn't the best approach to restoring the faith of the fan base be to allow the President to call the shots and choose his GM (and potentially a manager)? Why couldn't the naming of a new GM wait? I understand trying to overshadow the Cito-lost-the-clubhouse story, but we continue to go in circles.
Shaun A., Toronto
A: I don’t see the confusion in the appointment of Anthopoulos as GM. It had to be done at the end of the season so that everyone in baseball could know who’s in charge and what direction the Jays are headed. The fact that there is no interim in the title means to me that either Beeston is retaining one of the titles, either president or CEO, or else he already knows who his new chief executive is and has run the GM appointment by him and the new guy is on board.
Even Branch Rickey was a young GM at some point in his career. Many teams have come to the same conclusion, before the Jays, that you don’t necessarily need an older guy that has done the job before.
As for Gaston, I’m still not convinced that he is a sure-thing as manager for next season. He has a contract, but if the Jays feel that moving forward they would be better off with someone else, it still might happen with Cito moving upstairs as one of the Jays’ senior advisors.
Q: I get the feeling Riccardi may have been thrown under the bus owing to this “rebellion” by malcontented players. I'm sure he was scheduled for termination at a more fitting time and I’m assuming he had little to do (or gain) by instigating a rebellion, hence his departure was a heave-ho onto the freeway to serve as the bait to switch the topic from “Bad Gaston” to “Bad Ricciardi” or “Lousy players” or a vision of what to expect in the next few years. They are really sticking by Gaston. Are the problems he's having helping explain why he had trouble getting a job until last season?
Frederick Duquette, La Mirada
A: Ricciardi was scheduled for termination on the weekend in Baltimore so that he did not have to fly back to Toronto and hear the news there and then fly home. Of course that situation would have been more flexible if Ricciardi actually had a home in Toronto, but he didn’t and so Beeston and Tony Viner from Rogers flew to Baltimore to talk to him there. Ricciardi had a real inkling about it because he did not come to the ballpark on Friday night, or, if he did, he was not on the field or in the clubhouse or the pressbox.
As for the clubhouse insurrection, this may have been the weakest mutiny in history. As soon as the news was leaked and players were forced to go on the record on Friday night with accusations of “negativity”, “old-school-ism” and “lack of communication” Beeston met with a panel of representative mutineers on Saturday afternoon, listened to them, refused to agree with them and then moved on to his clubhouse meeting with the entire group. By that night, the players were making fun of their own situation with Gaston, downplaying it and trying to make it sound like it never happened – which it did. Since Beeston did not let it be known how he felt about the players’ complaints, it leaves it open for him and Anthopoulos and the new chief executive to make a managerial change. All they would say in Baltimore is “Cito has a contract for next year and we expect him back.” Not the strongest vote of confidence.
Q: Hi Richard,
How much does an organization's reputation matter in attracting free agents or other talented personnel? It seems like it matters much more in baseball than it does in other sports. Is that so? It seems as if Toronto has completely missed the boat with this one (citing many prior GM muck ups) and the problem may be heightened by the fact that we live in the Great White North.
Joshua Grant, Toronto
A: An organization’s reputation matters a lot. It used to be in the early days of free agency in the mid-’70s and all through the ‘80s that money talked. The guys with the most money had the final word on the distribution of free agents throughout the game. Now there is so much money out there for the premium talent that a player can think about final location on a par with total dollars. If one organization has a bad reputation for dealing with players, for dealing with player agents, for a bad clubhouse environment, for a bad manager, word gets around in a hurry. They are all union brothers and many have the same agents. Toronto has always had a good reputation as player-friendly and family-friendly but had recently been getting bad word-of-mouth because of recent circumstances, many involving the ex-GM.
Q: Hi Richard! Look forward to your column every Wednesday! There have been a lot of retaliation pitches lately, where the batter is hit, for whatever reason.
My question is how this pitch is communicated between pitcher and catcher. Do they have a quick chat about it between innings? Does the catcher call it or does the pitcher somehow signal to the catcher that he is going to throw at the batter? Or does the pitcher just go lone wolf and hit the batter with no signal? Thanks!
Terry Fallat, Espanola, Ont.
A: No conversation is necessary. Pitchers know the best time and game circumstance to get the job done without risking the game result. It actually does not happen that often and pitchers will never admit it. Pat Hentgen was prompt and reliable in his retribution for teammates and would always just say later that the pitch got away. It was never a loopy breaking ball either. His body language after an intentionally hit batter was always the same. Three steps off the front of the mound, mouth set in a frown, glove up to receive another ball from the umpire or his catcher. Next! Many hit batters are the result of the pitcher-catcher approach to a hitter. With an 0-2 count the pitcher tries to come inside and back the hitter off the plate. The hitter’s guessing outside. Boom! Or some guys dive across the plate to cover the outside corner and be able to drive it hard. The pitcher comes inside, just off the plate by a couple of inches. Boom! You hate to see head shots or leg shots, but body shots should be part of the game.
Q: Hi Richard,
Much as we all love to beat this dead horse, I want to borrow a line from the American presidential debates (introduced by Ronald Reagan) to bury JP (and not to praise him). The bottom line on JP's time with the Blue Jays is very simple: Did we emerge from the era in better shape, or worse than we started?
With dissention in the clubhouse, no visible monsters in the minors, a disaffected fan base, and no real savings in payroll, I think we can say he was a (mitigated) disaster. However, the big blame goes, as always, to ownership: Rogers is responsible, ultimately, for everything, including letting JP run a major league franchise as a personal ego trip. Class starts at the top. Rogers doesn't have it, although some of the people they've hired have. Labatt's had it, and it infused the organization. I love the Jays. I hate what has happened to them. I think you're dead right about following the Twins' formula, but it all starts with ownership.
Thanks for giving us the straight goods through the season. We do appreciate it, even when we snipe and second guess. And we'll look forward (with hope, as always) to February, and pitchers-and-catchers.
A: Amazingly, as Ricciardi leaves, his Jays of ’09 had 75 wins and a $80 million payroll. Gord Ash’s ’01 Jays had 80 wins and a $76 million payroll. Pretty close. But to Rricciardi’s credit, prior to this June’s disastrous non-signing process, his last four drafts had produced lots of promising arms on the farm, many of whom were forced into action ahead of schedule. His top position players, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider have a chance to be around and star for a long time just like Ash for J.P. left Halladay, Wells, Rios, Shannon Stewart, Orlando Hudson, McGowan, Kelvim Escobar, Billy Koch and others. The disaster that Ricciardi left was not in the farm system, it was in disenfranchising the fan-base and damaging the front office reputation.
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