For eight seasons, J.P. Ricciardi was the guiding light of the Blue Jays. Where that light was leading changed, it often seemed, with the Blue Jays initially projected to be Minnesota East, canny and resourceful and mindful of the pennies, and then a team that swerved between expensive free agent options in a desperate hope to get back to winning.
Opinions vary on the success of Ricciardi in Toronto, but the fact is the team never won more than 87 games and four times lost more games than it won. There will be those who slag those years as years of darkness, like the Gerry McNamara years with the Leafs, and Ricciardi's refusal to live in Toronto and penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth didn't help him make friends and influence people.
But he did do some good. A big part of that good, in fact, may be en route to greatness, as left-handed starting pitcher Ricky Romero is beginning to become the staff ace he was projected to be when he was drafted out of Cal-State Fullerton in 2005. It's a decision that it's worth remembering as the Jays and their fans gauge the team's inability to sign first round pick Tyler Beede, another pitcher, this week.
It was a talent laden draft, and as Justin Upton (1st), Troy Tulowitzki (6th)i, Ryan Braun (5th) and Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd) have established themselves as big-time major leaguers over the ensuing years, the discussion has been over which one of those players was the best player in the draft.
And why the Jays erred in taking Romero sixth. Well, the others may have accomplished more, but in the wake of Romero's superb performance against Oakland on Thursday night, one in which he lowered his ERA to a level not seen for a Jays leftie starter since the days of Jimmy Key, Romero is making the case that he wasn't just another Ricciardi mistake after all.
The numbers are great, particularly in the last handful of starts. But more than that, the 26-year-old Romero is quite clearly part of this young team's leadership group behind unofficial captain Jose Bautista as it tries to move from being a club of promise to one that can challenge for the post-season.
Would the club be further ahead without one of those other players, particularly Tulowitzki, who went right after Romero? Perhaps. Tulowitzki is one heck of a ballplayer. But assessing the value of a shortstop versus a top lefthanded starter is tricky, and in the post-Halladay era, Romero's ability to become the team's ace is particularly noteworthy. As well, Yunel Escobar is turning into a pretty fine shortstop in his own right.
Maybe at the No. 6 pick that year, Ricciardi was in a golden position and couldn't have done wrong. But after years of saying he screwed up that pick, or didn't get the best player and in general did a mediocre job,, it's worth noting that he was the GM who brought Romero to town.