SweetSpot: J.P. Ricciardi

AL East: Ranking organizational leadership

March, 1, 2011
Organizational leadership is a key to success in any business.

In an effort to rank the management of the five American League East teams, we will breakdown and grade each of the owners, GMs and managers in the division. Each category will be graded against their peers, and a composite score will be totaled. The highest ranking in a given category will receive five points, while the worst will receive one point.

Certainly this is a topic that very well could require 2,000 or more words to discuss, but I've consolidated it for the SweetSpot.

Owner: Hank Steinbrenner | AL East rank: 2nd | Points: 4
The mighty, mighty Steinbrenners. First it was George and now it's Hank. He possesses an unrelenting desire to win and a giant piggy bank to draw from. Demonstrates little restraint and is always trying to capture the next ring. It's hard to argue with that attitude from your owner, even when emotions go wild in the Bronx, leading to irrational decisions.

General manager: Brian Cashman | Rank: 3rd | Points: 3

He has won four World Series in his time as GM, but three of them you can probably credit to Gene Michael. Has been willing to let impact players walk and is not always in sync with ownership. Cashman has a blank check and a lot of expensive hits and misses on his résumé. Would you rank him higher or lower? I'm split.

Manager: Joe Girardi | Rank: 3rd | Points: 3

He has one pennant and one World Series title in three years as a manager of the Yankees, but many feel the team won it in spite of him. Girardi's a former catcher and previously won Manager of the Year in 2006 while with the Florida Marlins. Sometimes makes questionable in-game moves, particularly with the bullpen.

Yankees' composite score: 10 points

Owner: Rogers Communications | Rank: 5th | Points: 1
Rogers has caught the drift. Get out of the way of baseball operations. Nitpicky ownership saddled the team during the J.P. Riccardi era while trying to build up "sports content." Things are better with Alex Anthopoulos, but this ownership group still ranks dead last in the AL East.

General manager: Alex Anthopoulos | Rank: 4th | Points: 2
Possibly the best young GM in baseball. Being the fourth-best best GM in the AL East is a tough draw. Brokered the "Doc Deal" netting huge prospects and somehow jettisoned the Vernon Wells albatross of a contract. Built a highly skilled team with younger players and fewer long-term deals. His trades have revamped the organization and positioned the team to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees in the short term.

Manager: John Farrell | Rank: Incomplete | Points: Incomplete

He has the skills and makeup to be incredibly successful. Was considered at one point to be on a management path, but will now lead the Blue Jays in a difficult division -- albeit one he knows well. Check back in October for a grade.

Blue Jays' composite score: 3 points*

Owner: Peter Angelos | Rank: 4th | Points: 2
He's not the most popular owner in the world, and some even consider him the worst owner in baseball. The Orioles haven't been to a World Series since 1983 and have barely made a murmur in the past 15 seasons. Angelos spent a little dough on some "name" hitters this offseason, but is pretty content with just being old and rich.

General manager: Andy McPhail | Rank: 5th: Points: 1
Tread lightly here. His owner is a frugal 81-year-old man who just recently allowed McPhail to go out and get some "big" bats. McPhail has had the deck stacked against him, and he's also up against some other great GMs. He does own two World Series rings while with the Minnesota Twins.

Manager: Buck Showalter | Rank: 4th | Points: 2
He's a career .517 manager who led the Orioles to a 34-23 record last season. Showalter is an old-school coach with mixed results in previous stints with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers. He has set a new tone in Baltimore with early and positive results. Jury is still out on the Orioles, though.

Orioles' composite score: 5 points

Owner: John Henry & Co. | Rank: 1st | Points: 5
Class act, second-to-none owners who have been front and center since their acquisition of the Red Sox. Henry and the ownership group brought two titles (2004, '07) to Boston and have invested heavily in the organization while developing the farm, improving Fenway Park and allowing baseball operations to do its job. MLB's model ownership group is committed to all aspects of franchise ownership.

General manager: Theo Epstein | Rank: 1st | Points: 5

He came along in 2004 and delivered the first World Series to Boston in 86 years. Since then, Epstein has secured another title and developed one of the best farm systems in baseball. Plays big market "Moneyball" and perennially has made the team competitive and flexible.

Manager: Terry Francona | Rank: 2nd | Points: 4
He has managed to win two titles in Boston, with five 95-win seasons in his seven years. He is a players' coach with a head for the modern game and might be the best in team history. Despite that, he is still referred to at times as "Francoma" for questionable decisions, particularly with his bullpen.

Red Sox's composite score: 14 points

Owner: Stuart Sternberg | Rank: 3rd | Points: 3
He is a guy who some call a "carpetbagger." Others praise him for creating success under limited budgets. Is the attendance issue his fault? Time to move the team perhaps? He has rebranded the (Devil) Rays and brought in superior baseball minds. Sternberg splits the list at No. 3.

General manager: Andrew Friedman | Rank: 2nd | Points: 4
Nobody does more with less than him -- except maybe Billy Beane. Friedman has built a fantastic farm system and exploited market inefficiencies to create a club that competes with baseball's conglomerates. Tampa Bay won the AL East division on a 2010 Opening Day payroll of about $73 million. Friedman just needs some hardware.

Manager: Joe Maddon | Rank: 1st | Points: 5
He might be the best manager in all of baseball. Maddon is instinctive, can extract maximum value from players, understands and implements advanced metrics (maybe to a fault), and has unwavering support from his players.

Rays' composite score: 12 points

Overall AL East ranking:
1. Boston (14 points)

2. Tampa Bay (12 points)

3. New York (10 points)

4. Baltimore (5 points)

5. Toronto (3 points*)

(*score incomplete due to first-year manager John Farrell)

So there you have it. The Red Sox have the highest-rated organizational leadership in the AL East. It comes as no surprise to us in the Boston area, but can it lead the Red Sox to their third World Series in eight seasons?

Darryl Johnston contributes to Fire Brand of the American League, a blog about the Boston Red Sox. You can follow him on Twitter.

Who's running the show in Toronto?

September, 14, 2009
Sun Media's Bob Elliott writes about the state of the Blue Jays, and I suppose it's this passage that's getting most of the attention:
    General manager: J.P. Ricciardi ran the Roy Halladay trade show the way Chuck Barris ran The Gong Show. Halladay, his best asset, was tossed on the market for 26 days of breathless updates, forced to give interviews on the way to the bullpen for his all-star start in St. Louis.

    "I have zero idea why they didn't take the Boston offer," said a National League scout this week. "The Red Sox offered Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront and Nick Hagadone.

    "The same Toronto scout who told me Boston's offer told me they didn't do it for two reasons."

    Initially, the Jays spent days deciding whether Masterson projected better as a starter or a closer and, when they reached a decision, they didn't think he'd succeed in that role. Secondly, "the Jays were worried about Halladay beating them next year."

    "We don't have a quality arm like Halladay," said the scout, "but I've seen four of those (Red Sox) arms and they're quality. Hit on three of six and you'd be fertile for a long time."

    Status: Lame.

I have no inside information about this. Six players seems like an awful lot, even for Halladay. On the other hand, nobody knows the failure rate of young pitchers better than the Red Sox. Not so much from experience, but from research. Try as they might -- and they do try, as hard as anyone -- to keep their young pitchers on a smooth and upwardly mobile development path, even the Red Sox can't rely on a pipeline of pitching talent from the farm system. The model just doesn't work well for a team that's supposed to be in the playoffs last year, as the Yankees found out so painfully just last year.

But the Blue Jays aren't supposed to be in the playoffs every year. They're supposed to be decent every year (or almost every year) and, every so often, take a swipe at the big boys. They've been decent for a long time, finishing better than .500 in seven of the last 11 seasons. But they've always topped out at 87 or 88 wins, hardly enough to put a scare into the Yankees or the Red Sox. To scare them, you have to win more than 90 games. Which they haven't done with Roy Halladay.

Which isn't to suggest they'd be better off without Halladay. But you have to take some chances when you're among the poorer, weaker sisters in the American League. And I'm not talking about the kind of chances that involve committing $126 million to Vernon Wells. I'm talking about the kind of chances that involve trading one proven superstar for five or six players who almost surely won't become superstars (but might). The Blue Jays just don't seem willing to change their business plan, which is odd considering how little that plan seems to have done for them over the years.

I'm just sure we can blame Ricciardi for it all. We tend to assume that general managers are generally allowed to do whatever they like, but in most organizations that just isn't true. And the bigger the stars and the money that's involved, the less true it becomes.

Ted Rogers, the Blue Jays' owner, died last December. Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays' CEO, has been serving on an interim basis for some time now. It's not clear who's making the decisions, or who will own the team a year from now. Which is why the talk about J.P. Ricciardi's future is premature. Failing to trade Halladay will probably look like a huge mistake, years (if not months) from now. He's just one player, though. And the disposition of one player will make little difference until the house is in order, starting at the very top.

Baseball's worst 'Ricciardis'

August, 12, 2009
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.

Jays waiting for big 'WOW'

July, 29, 2009
Did you hear that sound, just now? When the Phillies and Indians agreed on a deal that will bring Cliff Lee to Philadelphia? That was the sound of the Blue Jays' leverage in Roy Halladay discussions. And apparently the Jays still aren't close to trading Halladay? That's great, really it is. You want to be wowed. I want to be wowed. J.P. Ricciardi wants to be wowed. But in the end it comes down to one thing, all the worldly wows aside:

When does Roy Halladay bring the most value to the franchise?

Does he bring it now, when he's got another two months and one season on his contract?

Does he bring it next season, when the Blue Jays have -- theoretically at least -- another shot at catching the Yankees and the Red Sox?

Does he bring it next July, when any number of teams will once again be desperate for his services?

Or does he bring it in June of 2011, when the Blue Jays -- after Halladay has departed via free agency -- will pick up a couple of extra draft picks?

I haven't run the numbers, but I can't escape the conclusion that he's most valuable to the Blue Jays right now, when apparently he can be traded for three or four exceptionally talented young baseball players.

I'm assuming the rumors about the sorts of packages the Jays have been offered are true. The only way Ricciardi and his superiors can possibly justify not trading Halladay this week -- and I should mention that the week is young -- is by objectively arguing that the club has a chance to win more than 90 games next season.

Maybe that's not so far-fetched. While the Jays are currently just 49-52, they do have the run differential of a 55-46 team -- which would still leave them in fourth place, behind the big boys and the little boy that could.

I'm inclined to chalk up Ricciardi's quotes as posturing. It just makes too much sense to trade Halladay right now, because his value will never be higher.

Jays scouting Yankees?

July, 16, 2009
The National Post's Jeremy Sandler:
    It is the kind of sighting that can mean nothing or everything.

    Toronto Blue Jays director of player development Dick Scott surfaced last week at a Florida State League game between the Single-A affiliates of the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs.

    "We're just trying to look at as many guys as we can,” said Scott when asked about his scouting mission to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.


    The Yankees appear to be in solid position for at least a wild-card berth in the American League.

    Although New York has an abundance of starting pitching, they would certainly investigate a chance to acquire Halladay and at the same time keep him away from AL rivals including Boston and the Angels.

    One Tampa Yankee prospect Toronto might look at is catcher Jesus Montero, New York's second-best prospect according to Baseball America.

    The 19-year-old is hitting .356 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 48 games at Single-A this season.

    The Yankees have other young players who might interest the Jays, including major league pitchers Phil Hughes and Phil Coke as well as Triple-A outfielder Austin Jackson.

I suppose it might just be posturing, but I'm heartened by Ricciardi's apparent willingness to consider a deal with the Yankees or the Red Sox. It's always struck me as the height of ... well, what's a less insulting word than cowardice? ... something that the Yankees and Red Sox won't make trades. The last significant trade between those clubs was, what? Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater?

The argument, I know, is, "We don't want to help our competition." But that excuse misses two things: 1) There's nothing wrong with helping your competition if you help yourself more, and 2) thanks to the wild card, you don't even need to help yourself more. The Red Sox don't have to be better than the Yankees; they just have to be better than 10 other American League teams.

Of course, the Blue Jays' case is different. It's a tough sell to the fans, trading one of the game's best pitchers to your competition, and probably getting just minor leaguers in return. Particularly if the minor leaguers aren't particularly close to the majors (i.e. Florida State Leaguers).

It behooves Ricciardi to consider all options and create, at the very least, the illusion that he's willing to trade with anybody. If he really does deal Halladay to another American League East team, though? Leaving aside the actual talent that's exchanged, he'll deserve a bit of extra credit for his guts.