04 July 2008: JP Ricciardi: A Year in Review

Friday, July 04 2008 @ 01:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Anders

With the 2008 season seemingly slipping further out of the Jays grasp every day, and in the wake of recent managerial changes, now seems as good a time as any for a review of General Manager J.P. Ricciardiís record.

Iím going to take a look at every transaction in the last calendar year Ė longer that that would be, well, a little too much work at the moment. More importantly, I am more concerned about how good of a GM Ricciardi is right now, as opposed to how good he was three years ago. It is of course true that decisions from several years ago continue to have an impact on the club (Frank Thomas anyone?); I will try to reference them when appropriate. In addition, I am going to ignore the draft - Iíd say the consensus on last year is generally positive, and that it is too soon to tell with this years crop, and leave it at that. What follows is a transaction by transaction account of what the Jays have done over the last year. Iíve ignored injuries, other than to note players who have been called up or sent down. Iíve also ignored any Ďcommentsí by J.P., for the sake of all of out sanity.

In general, I will try to make comments about the success or failure of the moves, or to explain why they were made (or at least why I think they were made). At the end, Iíll wrap up by going over successes and failures.

2007

July

7/9/07 Released RHP Victor Zambrano.
Comment: Thank goodness. It was worthwhile to take a shot on Zambrano (and Thompson, and Ohka) but he wasnít ready to start, and this didnít work out well.

7/20/07 Released C Jason Phillips and recalled C Curtis Thigpen from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: Phillips has six at bats for the Richmond Braves of the IL this year. He might have been a useful backup in AAA, but there is no sweat lost over this one. Thigpen had been in the bigs for a bit, but came back and played sporadically over the next two months.

7/27/07 Optioned LHP Gustavo Chacin to Triple-A Syracuse.

7/30/07 Voided the option of LHP Gustavo Chacin and placed him back on the 15-day disabled list.
Comment: It appears as if it will be a stuggle for Chacin to ever make it back to the big leagues, unfortunately.


August

8/3/07 Claimed INF Hector Luna off waivers from the Indians, purchased the contract of SS Ray Olmedo from Triple-A Syracuse and designated INF Howie Clark and SS Royce Clayton for assignment.

8/7/07 Released SS Royce Clayton and sent INF Howie Clark outright to Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: The Clayton experiment, predictably, did not work out. It is difficult to acquire shortstops, and the Jays eventually cut their losses. I liked Howie Clark, but he was not a part of the teams plans, nor should he have been. He has eight at bats with the Twins this year. Luna and Olmedo couldnít/canít hit well enough to play in the majors, and both were essentially in for a tryout.

8/28/07 Signed LHP Joe Kennedy to a Minor League contract.


September

9/1/07 Recalled OF Adam Lind from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: The Adam Lind shuttle from Syracuse to Toronto continues.

9/2/07 Purchased the contract of LHP Joe Kennedy from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: A signing of the type that have either been very successful for Ricciardi (Downs, Tallet, etc.) or disastrous (Zambrano, Benitez). Kennedy pitched seven innings, and tragically passed away in the off season.

9/11/07 Signed SS John McDonald to a two-year contract.
Comment: McDonald signs for 2/$3.8. The dollar amount isnít huge, especially given McDonald started half the year and is a good defender. Other subsequent moves would be more puzzling.

9/15/07 Claimed 2B Joe Inglett off waivers from the Indians

9/21/07 Recalled INF Joe Inglett from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: Inglett got into two games.


October

10/26/07 Claimed LHP Mike Gosling and SS Pedro Lopez off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds; Outrighted RHP Jordan DeJong, RHP Lee Gronkiewicz and RHP Jamie Vermiliyea to Triple-A Syracuse.


November

11/2/07 Signed IF/OF Matt Stairs to a two-year contract.
Comment: Stairs signs for 2/$3.25. Stairs is a valuable player, but this move definitely blocked Adam Lind, which is more worrying.

11/12/07 Released OF John-Ford Griffin.
Comment; JFG is a career .304/.370/.696 hitter in the bigs, but was never going to be a major part of the Blue Jays. He is hitting .371/.482 in the PCL.

11/13/07 Designated INF Hector Luna for assignment.

11/18/07 Acquired INF Marco Scutaro from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for RHP Graham Godfrey and RHP Kristian Bell; Claimed OF Cody Haerther off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals;


December

12/5/07 Acquired OF/INF Buck Coats from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for a player to be named later or cash (RHP Justin James)

12/6/07 Released RHP Ryan Houston and selected RHP Randy Wells from the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft.

12/12/07 Did not tender a 2008 contract to RHP Josh Towers, making him a free agent.
Comment: The Towers era ends, alas. He is now 31 and getting hammered in the PCL.

12/14/07 Signed SS David Eckstein to a one-year contract; Signed C Sal Fasano to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
Comment: Eckstein has basically been as advertised Ė a scrappy player who isnít particularly fantastic. Itís painful to watch him throw sometimes, Iíll admit. All things considered though, Eckstein has the Jays fifth best OBP (Behind Rolen, Overbay and Inglett, and a hair behind Zaun). I think this signing has been moderately successful, and certainly not a disaster.


January

1/2/08 Signed OF Reed Johnson to a one-year contract; Signed RHP Lance Carter, LHP John Parrish and LHP Ryan Ketchner to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training.
Comment: Minor league pitching depth is never a bad thing, especially given the paucity of upper level arms in the Jays system. We all know what happens when it goes bad, though. Reed was coming off a down year due to injury, but gave the Jays a lot of flexibility in terms of what he could do. He is essentially the perfect fourth outfielder. He can play all three positions, has one very good skill (hitting lefties), and is a good baserunner and bunter.

1/7/08 Signed RHP Shawn Camp to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
Comment: Camp was a depth signing. Heís been good this year, though he has struggled in tight situations occasionally. He has given up only two homers in 23.2 innings with an 18/4 k/bb.

1/14/08 Acquired 3B Scott Rolen from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for 3B Troy Glaus.
Comment: This trade was derided as a lateral move by most, with concern about Rolenís ability to hit and longer salary commitment. Well, Rolenís been pretty darn good, all things considered, hitting .284/.375/.464. He also plays a lovely third base. Glaus has been very good as well in St. Louis, hitting .272/.376/.480, and staying healthy. With no promising third basemen in the high minors, acquiring Rolen for that extra year looks particularly good now. A win-win move for both teams.

1/18/08 Signed LHP Scott Downs to a three-year contract, signed INF Marco Scutaro to a two-year contract and signed RHP Jason Frasor, LHP Brian Tallet and LHP Gustavo Chacin to one-year contracts.
Comment: Downs has been very good, and is signed for a reasonable 3/$10. Tallet has also been good, while Frasor has struggled and doesnít seem to have the trust of any of his managers. Scutaro is a valuable backup infielder, however this move was/is a bit puzzling, as the Jays have several backup infielders on their team, none of whom can really hit, however.

1/24/08 Signed C Rod Barajas to a one-year contract with a club option for 2009; Designated INF Ray Olmedo for assignment.
Comment: The Barajas signing has been fantastic, as Rod has an OPS of .799 even as he has cooled off.


February

2/1/08 INF Ray Olmedo claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Comment: Olmedo has an OPS of .644 in AAA for Columbus. No big loss

2/5/08 Signed OF Alex Rios to a one-year contract.

2/24/08 Signed OF Shannon Stewart to Minor League contract with invitation to Spring Training.
Comment: A bit of a head scratcher at the time, which got worse.


March

3/11/08 Signed RHP Armando Benitez to a Minor League contract with an invite to Spring Training;
Comment: The Jays under Ricciardi have made a number of these type of moves.

3/17/08 Claimed LHP Bill Murphy off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks and placed RHP Casey Janssen on the 60-day disabled list.

3/21/08 Returned RHP Lance Carter to Minor League camp.

3/23/08 Released OF Reed Johnson.
Comment: This was the move that brought up warning signs, as it meant Shannon Stewart was going to be the starting RF. What was most surprising is that Reed seemingly fit in perfectly with Matt Stairs in a lefty/right platoon in left. Reed is hitting .319/.414/.458 against lefties this year; his three year splits are also very good. A very poor decision.

3/24/08 Recalled OF Buck Coats from Triple-A Syracuse.

3/25/08 Granted C Sal Fasano his unconditional release
Comment: Fasano wasnít going to play in the bigs with the Jays so they released him. Ultimately he wouldnít have played much in AAA, as the Jays are stocked with catchers. He has six at bats for Cleveland.

3/30/08 Purchased the contract of OF Shannon Stewart from Triple-A Syracuse;
Comment: Terrible.


April

4/9/08 Designated RHP Randy Wells for assignment; Purchased the contract of LHP Jesse Carlson from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: Carlson has been phenomenal; he was also very good in AA last year.

4/11/08 Optioned OF Buck Coats to Triple-A Syracuse; Recalled INF Joe Inglett from Syracuse.
Comment: The kicked the tires on Coats, but he didnít work out. Joe Inglett, on the other hand, has been one of the Jays better hitters so far this year. That acquisition is definitely a good one for Ricciardi.

4/13/08 Activated LHP B.J. Ryan from the 15-day disabled list; optioned RHP Brandon League to Triple-A Syracuse.

4/16/08 Returned Rule 5 pick RHP Randy Wells to the Cubs, he had been designated for assignment on April 9.
Comment: The Jays had a good bullpen, but kudos to Ricciardi for continually trying to improve it. Managing the pen has been one of the strengths of Ricciardiís tenure.

4/17/08 Placed RHP Brian Wolfe on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right triceps; Recalled LHP David Purcey from Triple-A Syracuse.

4/18/08 Optioned LHP David Purcey to Triple-A Syracuse; Designated RHP Josh Banks for assignment; Purchased the contract of RHP Shawn Camp from Syracuse.
Comment: Camp, as mentioned, has been good. Banks had struggled for a long time in AAA. Heís been relatively successful in Petco, which is about the perfect park for a pitcher who gives up a ton of fly balls and doesnít walk anyone.

4/20/08 Released DH Frank Thomas; Recalled C Robinzon Diaz from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: Thomas was released because of his vesting option, plain and simple. He was struggling in Toronto, and has hit like an All-Star in Oakland. Still, his current injury will keep him out for two months. I donít know how to score this one.

4/26/08 Recalled OF Adam Lind from Triple-A Syracuse; Optioned INF Joe Inglett to Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: The Adam Lind AAA-ML shuttle continues.


May

5/7/08 Optioned OF Adam Lind to Triple-A Syracuse; Purchased the contract of INF Jorge Velandia.
Comment: Either Lind was good enough to be in the big leagues or he wasnít. Twenty at bats wasnít enough time to make the distinction.

5/8/08 Placed SS David Eckstein, retroactive to May 7, with a strained right hip; Placed SS John McDonald on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 7, with a sprained right ankle; Recalled INF Joe Inglett from Triple-A Syracuse.

5/9/08 Acquired OF Kevin Mench from the Texas Rangers for cash considerations; Signed OF Brad Wilkerson; Designated LHP Gustave Chacin and INF Sergio Santos for assignment; Optioned INF Joe Inglett to Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: Mench was terrible and Wilkerson merely bad, though the Jays desperately needed outfielders. On the face of it, there were certainly reasons to believe that each player could succeed when asked to perform in a defined role, but neither did. Wilkerson had struggle for several years in a row, and is perhaps less surprising. Mench has an OPS of .902 in his career against lefties, so it is somewhat odd that he isn't currently with the club instead of Wilkerson. Mench had 42 at bats against lefties, which again isn't really enough time to determine anything.

5/10/08 Placed OF Vernon Wells, with a broken left wrist and RHP Jeremy Accardo with right forearm tightness on the 15-day disabled list; Recalled INF Joe Inglett from Triple-A Syracuse; Purchased the contract of RHP Armando Benitez from Triple-A Syracuse; Designated RHP Tracy Thorpe for assignment.

5/16/08 Recalled LHP David Purcey from Triple-A Syracuse; Recalled INF Hector Luna from Triple-A Syracuse; Optioned LHP David Purcey to Triple-A; Designated INF Jorge Velandia for assignment.
Comment: Velandia has played in four games for Cleveland, and certainly was not a long term option.

5/27/08 Activated SS David Eckstein from the 15-day disabled list; Optioned INF Hector Luna to Triple-A Syracuse.

5/28/08 Placed C Gregg Zaun on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 26, with a strained right elbow; Recalled C Curtis Thigpen from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: The Jays seem to have lost all faith in Curtis Thigpen Ė heís stuggled in AAA, and got about five at bats in two weeks with the big club.


June

6/5/08 Acquired INF Kevin Melillo from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for cash considerations and optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse; Sent INF Hector Luna outright to Triple-A Syracuse.

6/7/08 Reinstated CF Vernon Wells and INF John McDonald from the 15-day disabled list; recalled RHP Brian Wolfe from Triple-A Syracuse; placed 2B Aaron Hill on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 30, designated RHP Armando Benitez for assignment; optioned INF Joe Inglett to Syracuse.
Comment: Benitez was not an unmitigated disaster, but was clearly not a good option in the pen. The frustrating part was the high leverage situations in which he was used, given his recent arrival and the quality of the Jays pen. Not sure whether to fault Gibbons or Ricciardi on this one.

6/8/08 Placed OF Shannon Stewart on the 15-day disabled list with a right ankle sprain; recalled INF Joe Inglett from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: The Stewart experiment ends in ignominy. Notice how you havenít heard a single thing about him since he was injured? Hopefully he will never start a game for the Jays again.

6/11/08 Sent RHP Armando Benitez outright to Triple-A Syracuse. He had been designated for assignment on June 6.

6/15/08 Activated C Gregg Zaun from the 15-day disabled list; Optioned C Curtis Thigpen to Triple-A Syracuse.

6/20/08 Hire manager Cito Gaston, coaches Gene Tenace, Nick Leyva, Dwayne Murphy; Fire manager John GIbbons, coaches Marty Pevey, Gary Denbo, Ernie Whitt.
Comment: With the team underperforming, someone had to go, and John Gibbons is the one who fell on the sword. I think a change had to be made, and of anyone to bring in for a year, why not Cito. While there has been talk that this trade has revitalized the Jays hitters, empirically that is hard to see.

6/21/08 Placed RHP Shaun Marcum on the 15-day disabled list; Optioned OF Kevin Mench to Triple-A Syracuse; Recalled OF Adam Lind and RHP Brandon League from Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: Adam Lind is finally in the majors to stay, thank goodness. He might be the best hitter on the Jays at this point.

6/27/08 Purchased the contract of LHP John Parrish from Triple-A Syracuse; optioned RHP Brian Wolfe to Triple-A Syracuse.
Comment: The Parrish signing has worked out so far, as he filled in admirably for Marcum in his one start.


Overview

Ricciardi, and by extension the Jays, have had a pretty mixed track record over the past year (and really, the past years). Ricciardi, I have no doubt, has forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know, to use a popular idiom. However it seems evident (at least to me) that what the Jays have been suffering from is the lack of a clear plan for the future. The best example of this over the last year has been the left field situation, and tangentially the DH situation. Reed Johnson missed much of 2007 with injuries, and as a result had a poor year. Still, the year before he had hit .319/.390/.480, and even better against lefties. Johnson was an excellent defensive left fielder, and could play all three outfield positions, and the Jays re-signed him. The Jays also re-signed Matt Stairs to a pretty favourable deal after his excellent 2007. The move seemed to block Adam Lind, however, which was unfortunate. Lind had a poor half season with the Jays in 2007, hitting .238/.278/.400 in 290 at bats. Still, Lind was only twenty-three, only had 185 AAA at bats, had a very strong track record in the minors, and had hit .299/.354/.471 in AAA that year - he was clearly the left fielder of the future, if not the present. In any event, left field appeared to be a strength for the Jays, as a Stairs/Reed Johnson platoon figured to produce a line of about .365/.475 - excellent production from left field.

Then came the Shannon Stewart signing. After already signing Johnson to a contract, the Jays cut him and basically installed Stewart as their every day left fielder. Stewart is, like Johnson, a right handed hitter. One of the reasons the Jays chose him, however, was (apparently) because he had less of a platoon split, and could thus play every day. A few key points here: Johnson is three years younger than Stewart, a much better defender, and was a better hitter over the preceding three years (each missed one of them due to injury). As I wrote at the time, "the obvious implication here is that Reed has lost a step after the injury...For what its worth, Zips sees Johnson having a better year than Stewart." Well, clearly Johnson hasn't lost a step to injury, as he has been about as productive as one would expect (.271/.343/.387) playing more against righties (his line against LHP is .319/.414/.458). He has been a much better hitter than Stewart, who hit a dreadful .240/.325/.303.

In any event, we all remember what happened next. Stewart became the every day left fielder (Stairs has started 7 games in left all season), Lind was called up for 19 at bats, failed, and was sent back down, and for a month Stewart, Mench and Wilkerson were shuffled through left field, until Lind was finally recalled and inserted, for good, into the starting lineup. To my mind, the thought process here is helplessly muddled, if not outright wrong. First, the Jays re-signed Stairs and Johnson, presumably to platoon together. Johnson is cut, and Stewart is signed to essentially be the everyday left fielder. So in the span of two months, the Jays went from having a good left field platoon to having one terrible left fielder. If neither Stairs nor Johnson were good enough to play regularly in a platoon, why were they signed in the first place? If they were good enough, why was Shannon Stewart, a player who hit .290/.345/.394 with poor defense the year before, signed to play left field? To make matters worse, why was Lind only given a twenty at bat tryout before being sent down to AAA again? Either he was good enough or he wasn't - 20 at bats isn't a long enough time to determine anything.

This lack of foresight also relates to the DH situation. I will be the first to say that I thought Thomas was done as a hitter, I really did. He basically could only hit breaking balls or bad fastballs, in my opinion. There is a reason, however, that we talk about sample sizes. After hitting .167/.306/.333 as a Jay, in only sixty at bats, Frank has hit .319/.417/.516 as an A in ninety-one at bats. Thomas is neither that good, or that bad at this stage of his career. But given his age and reputation as a slow starter, it seems like giving up on him after three weeks was not a smart decision. The fact that the reason was the Jays couldn't afford to give away games when they expected to be in the race rings a bit hollow, given the Stewart situation. It is clear that Thomas was released because the Jays wanted to prevent him from reaching his vesting option. Between March 30th and April 20th Frank Thomas' contract didn't change though . This was another issue that was easily foreseeable, and which wasn't foreseen. Why not partially platoon Thomas with Stairs? Or try to resolve the issue before the season began, so that it wasn't a distraction? Were the Jays going to keep him if he had succeeded for the first three weeks of the season? Three weeks isn't really enough time for anything in baseball. The only thing I can say here is that there was clearly a lack of any foresight on the part of Ricciardi and the Jays organization.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that Ricciardi excels in an very underrated aspect of running a ball club - finding above replacement level players for cheap. In this regard he has made a number of astute moves. Of the 25 players currently on the active roster, eight were brought in by Ricciardi before or during this season (nine if you want to count Carlson). Many of Ricciardi's smaller acquisitions in the past year - Scutaro, Parrish, and Camp - have worked out reasonably well, and some - Barajas, Carlson, and Inglett - have worked out brilliantly. His poor acquisitions, such Zambrano, Benitez, and Mench, have been discarded relatively quickly - with the fatal exception of Shannon Stewart. His big trade over the off season, Glaus for Rolen, has worked out about as well as possibly could have been hoped. Lastly, David Eckstein has certainly not been whats wrong with the Jays - he is basically tied for the best OBP of any starting shortstop in the AL.

On the whole, it seems that Ricciardi has struggled with the big picture, and struggled is putting it mildly. Being very good at acquiring average role players is great, until all of a sudden your team is full of average or slightly better than average role players - Zaun, Overbay, Barajas, Inglett, Camp, Carlson, Eckstein, maybe Litsch - and above replacement level backups - McDonald, Scutaro, probably not Wilkerson. What is also bad about this approach is that it effectively blocks young talent from reaching the majors. Lind was stuck in AAA because of Shannon Stewart, when the odds of Lind being the better hitter were great. Benitez pitched in high leverage situations because he was a veteran. Ohka, Thompson and Zambrano were each given an opportunity before Marcum, McGowan and Litsch last year. As Alex Obal said before the season, "It seems like the pattern of thinking tends to go, sure, the guys we have are okay, but this guy used to be amazing. Let's give him first shot. It's not like we have anything to lose. Then it turns out we did, oops, and maybe we'll have more faith in the kids in the future. Maybe. "

The Rios for Lincecum trade chatter during this past offseason is another example of a muddled organizational plan. The Jays have been one of the worst hitting teams in the AL this year - and have one of the best pitching staffs. While Lincecum has been a more valuable player than Rios this year, and will certainly be going forward (considering salary), the difference between him and Jesse Litsch is probably less than the difference between good Alex Rios and Shannon Stewart or Brad WIlkerson, especially considering defense. This isn't a qualitative analysis of that potential trade, but speaks to the underlying problem of the Jays composition as a team.

The Jays were certainly not a heavy favourite to make the playoffs heading into this year, and the consensus (which I am not sure I agree with) is that they will be worse next year. They have a high payroll, and a mix of veterans and young players neither suited for now nor the future. I don't know whether Ricciardi will be the Jays General Manager next year, or whether he should be, but there has to be some sort of organizational plan put in place, or else this team is not going anywhere.


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