Baseball's worst 'Ricciardis'

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
3:23
PM ET
Joe Posnanski has some fun with the worst contracts in baseball, all building up to this big finish:
    1. Vernon Wells (Toronto Blue Jays). Cot's Baseball Contracts - the incredibly awesome site where I got these numbers from - is one of my favorite Internet stops. And on occasion, just for fun, I will go to the site just to look up Vernon Wells' contract. I don't know why. It gives me hope, somehow. It tells me that in this world, anything is possible. It tells me that good things happen, funny things, unexpected things. Don't tell me that I won't win the lottery ... just look at Vernon Wells' contract.

    In 2011, Vernon Wells will get paid $23 million. No. Really. He will get paid $23 million.

    In 2012, he will have to take a paycut and will only get $21 million. Same in 2013. And same again in 2014.

    This isn't a baseball contract. This is a testament to the power of mankind to do the impossible.

    Oh, Vernon Wells also has a full no-trade clause in his contract. Well, sure, why not? Then, what difference would it make? This is the most untradable contract in the history of the world. Vernon Wells turns 31 this year. The Dewan has him a minus-29 centerfielder, which means he's exactly as bad defensively as you can be while a manager who is still breathing allows you to play centerfield. He has an 85 OPS+. He has a lifetime .329 on-base percentage. He's slugging .408. He is third in the American League in making outs. So he has that going for him.

    And it never made sense. Ever. Wells had a very good year in 2003 (and he was a very good fielder then), a couple of OK years, a good year in 2006 at age 27. But he never got on base much, and he was inconsistent, and ... then the Blue Jays gave him this hysterical contract.

    This deal, to be honest, is not the sort of thing that leads to a general manager getting fired. It's the sort of thing that leads to entire villages getting pillaged. And that's what I mean about Ricciardi. I mean, this contract alone should be enough to put him in the Bad Contract Hall of Fame. But when you look over the whole body of work ... he is the Bad Contract Hall of Fame.

    In fact, really, we should just start referring to bad baseball contracts as "Ricciardis.”

There does seem to be a pattern here, right?

Posnanski mentions the other contracts: B.J. Ryan, Frank Thomas, and Alex Rios. I didn't like any of these deals when they happened -- at least, I don't believe I did; you can probably check if you like -- but I didn't think any of them were disastrous, and in fact the Rios deal looked just fine until this season. And if the Rios contract is lousy, it's the White Sox who will have to suffer most of the lousiness.

No, it's really just Vernon Wells' contract that's a disaster, for all the reasons Posnanski so stylishly lists. Is that contract Ricciardi's fault, though?

A couple of comments under Posnanski's post:

    You might well consider the fact that Ricciardi didn't have final say on the Wells contract; it's widely understood that decision was made by then-team president Paul Godfrey & ownership, not the GM. So while JP deserves some of the blame, it's not really fair to dump it all on him.

    ********

    There's really no way anyone can defend the Wells deal. As someone who lives in Toronto, I've read that Ricciardi didn't want to give Wells that deal. Ownership did, to save face after Carlos Delgado left town. The Jays couldn't possibly let Wells walk, for optics.

Only a few dozen people in Toronto know the absolute truth, but I can tell you that many dozens of stupid things have been done, just in the last decade or so, over the objections of the general manager. Often, it's because owners consider themselves the public face of their franchises and just can't handle the criticism that would come with letting popular players leave.

Does this absolve the general manager, completely? No. Among the general manager's many and sundry chores -- and one of the most important -- is convincing his boss to avoid terribly stupid decisions, and Ricciardi seems, at best, to have failed at this chore. Still, that doesn't mean that he is stupid, or even generally ineffective.

Of course, there's more. He seems to have botched the Halladay Affair this summer. More damningly, Ricciardi's been running the show for seven seasons and the Blue Jays have essentially been a .500 team. In the meantime they've been passed -- and are about to be lapped -- by the Rays. At this point, maybe he's just the right guy in the wrong place.

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