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Perfectly timed, as usual. Fiscally responsible, as always. J.P. Ricciardi played hardball with Billy Beane and acquired an experienced starter, for nothing more than a couple of iffy prospects.

Newest Blue Jay Cory Lidle was toiling in obscurity (a "swing man" in Tampa Bay) when Beane and his then-assistant Ricciardi put him in the Oakland rotation. Eyebrows were raised so high that foreheads were sprained, but the former journeyman responded to his new surroundings with a 13-6, 3.59 season. Something went wrong at the beginning of 2002; contributing to a team-wide slump, when Mulder was hurt, Hudson couldn't win and both the present and absent Giambis affected clubhouse chemistry, Lidle was 2-7 with a 5.30 ERA at the all-star break, and in danger of losing his job.

But that second half! A 6-3 record, 2.69 ERA, and a .201 opponents' average -- in August, during the A's amazing win streak, how about 5-0, 0.20 (not a typo) and .143? He spun a 7-inning 1-hitter against the Tigers, blanked the Yankees through 8 in the Bronx, shut out the White Sox for 7, then dominated the Indians with a complete game one-hit shutout, walking one and fanning 8. In his final two starts of a Cy Young month, the Royals and Twins each managed a lone run. Under the microscope of a pennant race in September, Lidle picked up several no-decisions, but kept his team in critical games.

Cory will be 31 on Opening Day, and is in the "walk" year of a back-loaded deal that will pay him $5 million. With free agency looming, if he has a terrific season (as many players do) Lidle may become too expensive for the Jays, but the timing works in the team's favour if he disappoints. Unlike the foolish multi-year deals handed out to mediocrities like Hamilton, Loaiza and Parris, this is a one-year rental of the right man at the ideal time, leading to a possible long-term relationship if both parties are happy.

From Oakland's perspective, with the "big three," Lilly and Harang, Lidle was expendable, and Beane told the media, "I learned in the GM meetings that any payroll flexibility a club has is going to be very powerful in the next few months." Like J.P.'s moves of Mondesi, Gonzalez, Fullmer, Quantrill and Plesac, getting whatever player(s) you can in return is secondary to the increased flexibility. Knowing that, J.P. settled for Brian Cooper from the Angels a year ago, and yesterday, Beane settled for a light-hitting AA infielder (Mike Rouse) and a pitcher (single-A reliever Chris Mowday) charitably described as a longshot.

The best thing about the acquisition of Lidle isn't what it does for the rotation, though that's very important. It's the clear statement that Ted Rogers and Paul Godfrey, as J.P.'s bosses, aren't going to just pocket all the cash their GM has saved. I've wondered before whether Ricciardi would be allowed to make such a move, and the answer should thrill Blue Jays fans -- top to bottom, the new regime is concerned with winning, responsibly.

On the field, assuming that Halladay-Lidle-Hendrickson perform as expected, it means the pressure is reduced on Justin Miller, and the competition for a job in the rotation just heated up among Pete Walker, Doug Linton, Josh Towers and the other candidates. Lidle's not a "#2" anywhere near the calibre of Arizona's or Oakland's, but his presence slots other starters into more realistic roles, and the ripple effect of the extra depth extends to the Toronto bullpen and the Syracuse rotation.

The ink was hardly dry on Griffin's idiotic "what have you done lately" column. I'll be interested to see how the grumpy one manages to find any downside to this deal.
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_Jordan - Monday, November 18 2002 @ 11:52 AM EST (#102227) #
Sorry to be late with my comments; I was travelling over the weekend and got stuck in Toronto during the snowstorm. Sidebar: when will Toronto drivers figure out that you can't drive through 20 cm of snow the same way you drive through sunshine and dry roads? I had more tailgaters behind me Sunday than a football stadium parking lot. End of sidebar.

I'm quite pleased with this trade. Lidle is a reliable pitching commodity, and the Blue Jays gave up replaceable minor-league talent from positions where they're heavily stocked anyway. Lidle provides a legitimate bridge between the ace at the front of the rotation and the development projects at the back end. His Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacement -- a metric that calculates the extra wins that pitcher is worth above a replacement-level pitcher, assuming league-average support from his offense and his bullpen -- was 3.1, a good number that places him in the company of guys like Kevin Appier, Tim Wakefield, Russ Ortiz and (interestingly) Elmer Dessens. Aren't the Reds looking for a shortstop these days? :-)

The price -- $4.8 million -- may seem a little steep, but it's only for one year, and the flexibility this provides the club is exactly as Kent describes it. And anyway, the need to dump salary is what motivated Billy Beane to give up a useful commodity for relatively little talent in return. How neat is it that the Jays can actually take on salary? Ricciardi's excellent work in lowering the payroll throughout 2002 pays immediate dividends. There is a whole lot to like about this transaction.

Now, here comes the counterbalance. On July 31, Cory Lidle's record stood at 3-9, 5.15, not even remotely #2-pitcher calibre. His final record was 8-10, 3.89. How did this happen? Check out Lidle's month-by-month progression:

April----29IP, 32H, 5BB, 22K, 1-3, 3.99
May------21IP, 36H, 6BB, 13K, 0-2, 8.71
June-----30IP, 44H, 6BB, 15K, 1-2, 5.04
July-----33IP, 25H, 5BB, 14K, 1-2, 4.05
Aug------45IP, 23H, 8BB, 29K, 5-0, 0.20
Sept-----33IP, 31H, 9BB, 18K, 0-1, 4.64

By my count, that's one awful month (May), one pretty bad one (June), three perfectly acceptable ones (April, July, September) and one absolutely unreal one. Lidle's August turned a pretty average season into quite a good one. It's also the second year in a row in which he improved markedly after the All-Star Break (2-7, 5.30 vs. 6-3, 2.69 in 2002; 2-4, 4.27 vs. 11-2, 2.96 in 2001). I guess what I'm saying here is that Cory Lidle's pitching line is not the model of consistency. He'll vary among terrible, decent and incredible from month to month, and fans had better be ready for that, especially when he's 2-4, 5.62 on the May 24 weekend. Interestingly, however, almost all of his variation is within hits per innings pitched, a pretty volatile metric over which most pitchers have not much control. Lidle's BB/K ratio is like a metronome: it's the one place where he is consistent. And frankly, that's the area I most prefer to see the consistency, because it's usually the driver of pitching success. Behind the bad numbers lurk good ones.

Ricciardi describes Lidle as a #2 starter. Personally, I think that may overstate it a bit: outside of August, his 2002 belonged in the repertoire of a mid-rotation guy. Like Halladay, he's a pretty strong groundball pitcher (1.87 career GB/FB ratio), but it remains to be seen how well that will work on artificial turf and with Eric Hinske and Chris Woodward manning the battlements behind him. Like every other Jays fan, I'd love to see Ricciardi & Co. pick up another solid starter to be the #2, because I worry that Lidle might be overtaxed in that role. Since this starter came so cheaply, with none of the club's major trading chits yet used (least of all Felipe Lopez), that opportunity is still there. If an AJ Burnett-type can be acquired for the #2 slot, pushing Lidle to #3, people around the league will be sitting up and paying attention to this team.

In summary: a very fine acquisition, a solid mid-rotation pitcher acquired for very little, and another step towards refashioning this team into a serious contender. Kudos to JP and friends.
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