(transferred; posted Oct. 9)
Put those Red Sox rumours to rest, and jump for joy. My latest column on ESPN implies (more politely) that Boston CEO Larry Lucchino's incessant meddling in personnel matters was largely reponsible for Ricciardi's decision to withdraw interest in his self-described "dream job" and stay in Toronto. His choice was made easier by the fact that his position players are very young, very talented and (with one notable exception) very reasonably paid compared to the slow, aging, high-priced BoSox. Paul Godfrey, his boss with the Jays, won't interfere with his GM's plan, at least until it includes asking for cash to sign a free agent for the 2004 pennant drive. Godfrey knows he'll be lauded for signing J.P., and this five-year deal (specifically, its lack of an escape clause) illustrates, finally, that the commitment is mutual.
Ricciardi is unbelievably smart. He parlayed legitimate interest from Boston and one very good year into job security (and income, undisclosed of course) most of his peers would envy. He no longer appears to be selfishly using his current position as a mere stepping-stone to his "real" ambitions; instead, he's become a paragon of loyalty and a man who finishes what he starts. His opportunistic timing and adept spin doctoring turn out to rival his gift of spotting the most useful players on the waiver wire or free agent list.
Godfrey let it slip that Ricciardi asked him a while ago to deny the Red Sox permission for an interview, so when the call came from Boston October 1, Paul was happy to comply with the wishes of his most important employee not named Halladay. That means J.P., assessing his present optimistic situation, and considering the added pressures, likely interference and gutted farm system he would inherit in Beantown, had already decided where the artificial turf was greener.
Dave Perkins recently whined about the Blue Jays' habit of spending millions of dollars and getting little or nothing in return. Somehow, the Star columnist assumed that mistakes made by the previous administration automatically continue as some kind of team habit. It's hard to find a wasted penny under Ricciardi, but easy to point out multiple millions saved, so whatever Godfrey spent to lock him up for five years is a bargain, hardly the latest in a loosely-connected series of extravagant gaffes. They're putting something in the coffee at the paper on the left; the only writer more curmudgeonly than Perkins is attack dog Richard Griffin.
Let the naysayers spew their bile; just ignore them. Getting J.P. Ricciardi for five years is a significant moment in Blue Jay history. He was motivated to do a great deal in a short time last winter, and did it extremely well, purging as much salary as possible while improving the team, and let's admit it -- raising his own profile. With those accomplishments under his belt, not to mention a suitable reward, he can afford to be more patient now. There's no rush to trade Cruz, Stewart, or even Delgado for the sake of trading them, but they're available for the right price. The rotation needs a couple of arms, and so does the bullpen, but it's not a dire emergency this offseason; realistically the team won't be a contender. Yet. By 2004, the brilliant kids will be fully mature, J.P. will have assembled the final puzzle pieces, and the rest of the AL is in for a surprise.