RICCIARDI'S NUMBER MAY BE UP, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN TORONTO SHOULD BLOW UP ITS TEAM
Bye bye, J.P. Ricciardi.
Well, there’s no guarantee, but he could very well be gone from Toronto when the 2007 season ends. The five-game winning streak is nice, but the Blue Jays sit at 51-50, 10 games out of first place in the AL East and eight games out of the Wild Card. Not good enough. Given the big money and expectations Ted Rogers dumped into the team the last few years, Ricciardi’s beak may not survive the winter.
Ricciardi joined the team in 2002; since then, the Jays have gone 449-461. If you don’t fire your general manager after five and a half years of futility, regardless of his contract status, you’re criminally insane or your name is Charles Wang.
A GM on his way out of town means the team is in the dumps, right? And a team in the dumps should be a seller at the trade deadline, right?
Rumours are already swirling around the Jays as July 31 approaches. Will they trade Troy Glaus, or even Frank Thomas? Plenty of armchair GMs want it to happen. The Jays suck balls, they say, so it’s time to hit the reset button.
Looking at Toronto’s record alone, I understand why some people think this team is a failure, that it should ship off its veteran talent to build for the future while it still can.
But baseball fans should look closer. History suggests the Jays have most of the pieces in place to contend and adding more youth would only set them back several years.
The general rule of thumb in major pro sports suggests teams stuck in neutral should trade their overpriced, wrinkly vets for young pups and use the draft if they want to build a champion. Some cases confirm that idea. The NHL’s Jim Rutherford did it in Carolina, dealing veterans to acquire guys like Justin Williams and drafting Eric Staal.
That plan works in some sports. It doesn’t work in baseball. Not only do Major League Baseball drafts mean relatively little – Vladdy Guerrero and Johan Santana were never drafted – players take years to develop. Ryan Howard was a restless 26 when he won a starting job in Philly.
Go ahead and lynch John Ferguson Jr. for not rebuilding the Leafs through the draft; hockey, especially the new NHL, rewards youth and speed more and more each year. But baseball is different. Every winning team in any sport needs the odd cagey vet, but championship baseball teams need boatloads of cash and veterans to accompany their young guns. Even if that’s part of baseball’s flawed big-money system, it’s the truth. Yeah, the ’03 Marlins had home-grown gems like Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and Derek Lee, but they also rounded out the roster with vets like Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre and Ugie “The Machete” Urbina.
What’s that? Billy Beane built the Moneyball juggernaut in Oakland with astute drafting and ridiculous home grown talent? Hey, Zito was awesome in 2002, and the Giambi/Tejada/Chavez infield was badass. The Montreal Expos turned heads with Vladdy, Jose Vidro and Javier Vazquez in the early 2000s. But those teams won 0.0 World Series because they had no veteran support. Deadline deals (see: Jermaine Dye to Oakland, Bartolo Colon to Montreal) don’t count, either; championship teams acquire their primary veteran talent in the offseason, giving the roster time to gel.
The Toronto Blue Jays actually have many ingredients of a championship team. Home-grown stars entering their prime: Doc Halladay, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios. Big-money veterans: Troy Glaus, A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay, Frank Thomas. Nifty role players with gimmicky facial hair: Reed Johnson, Greg Zaun, Matt Stairs. Youngsters ready to contribute: Dustin McGowan, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Shaun Marcum, Jeremy Accardo, Josh Tow – just kidding.
Not a bad roster at all, especially considering the horrible, horrible luck the Jays have had with injuries. Sure, Ryan and Burnett’s contracts look scarier by the day. But let’s not cry apocalypse.
This team has loads of talent, most of which is locked up long term. Of the veterans listed above, only Johnson is set to hit unrestricted free agency this winter. Rios’ contract expires, as do a few of the youngsters’ deals, but T.O. won’t have a problem retaining those players.
The talent is there, and Rogers’ wallet could even let the Jays sign someone else this offseason. Also intriguing: the freakish, unexpected development of half a dozen young Jay arms this season. Burnett’s injury and Lilly’s douchebaggery may have been blessings in disguise. Toronto could deal, say, Casey Janssen and Josh Towers for a proven veteran starter or reliever and still have youth left over in the rotation. Seriously, Philly’s assistant GM came to watch Towers pitch last week. Though he easily could’ve been filming a YouTube video – “Stupid crappy pitcher somehow gives up no runs – LOL! Five star rating!”
No, a .500 team shouldn’t buy at the trade deadline, but given their roster, the Jays shouldn’t sell. They should stand pat and reload in the offseason or, at the very least, get something back that helps them next year if they do sell.
Am I contradicting myself? Fire Ricciardi, but don’t change the team too much? Ricciardi must go regardless; any team not producing over six seasons needs a scapegoat, plus Ricciardi’s Pinocchio act with players’ injury statuses was a nightmare. The Jays need a new GM to give them a fresh, friendlier face and make minor roster adjustments.
The Jays ain’t vacating the AL East anytime soon, and the AL East runs, like it or not, on big money, veterans and power. Until the contracts expire or the vets croak, the Birds should keep considering themselves contenders. They’re screwed for ’07, but I’m hopping on the Hillary, er, Blue Jays bandwagon again for ’08.