Another Excellent Move!

Sunday, November 17 2002 @ 11:20 AM EST

Contributed by: Coach

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.