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As many of you have doubtless noticed, our old chum and Bauxite Emeritus Craig Burley posted a piece on the Jays over at The Hardball Times that might be described - well, that can only be described - as a venomous screed:

It was Beeston who installed the recent office gofer in the GM's chair, in a move which reminds one of nothing so much as The Hudsucker Proxy. Beeston (long a courtier of power and a close friend of Bud Selig) seems to be doing nothing more complex than driving the market value of the club down, and the way he dominates the conversation with a lickspittle local sports press (with his general manager nodding furiously in confused assent beside him) is depressingly familiar to this erstwhile Montreal Expos fan.

Now, Craig. Don't be coy. Tell us what you really think.

Incidentally, some of you may remember when the Toronto Maple Leafs really did put the office boy in charge. That would be Gord Stellick, whose tenure running the Leafs will always be remembered for his trade of a pair of 23 year old forwards: Russ Courtnall (297 NHL goals) for John Kordic (17 NHL goals.) Courtnall was still playing in the league after Kordic overdosed and died. Hey, it's the Leafs. We've come to expect that sort of thing from them.

Anyway, as you can imagine, a lively discussion ensued. And one wag (not me, but one of us nonetheless!) mischievously suggested that Craig had assumed the role of Richard Griffin to Anthopolous' Ricciardi.

That struck me as rich indeed - Craig wrote fairly regularly on this page about Griffin of the Star in a manner which was... um,  less than complimentary ("too much Richard Griffin rots the brain.").

But here's the the thing - wasn't Griffin right, in the end?

The Ricciardi era was a failure. Griffin called it from Day One.

Granted Griffin was wrong, often egregiously wrong, about about pretty well everything else along the way. He mistook Ricciardi for a Billy Beane disciple, and assumed he would attempt to duplicate what Beane accomplished in Oakland... geez, it was a long time ago, wasn't it? As it happens, Griffin actually understands Billy Beane about as well as I understand quantum mechanics. Not that it should have made much difference - Ricciardi would turn out to be an extremely old-fashioned sort of general manager, enamoured of scrappers and dirtbags, and generally flying by the seat of his pants most of the time. The man actually traded for Shea Hillebrand. To this very day Griffin remains blissfully oblivious to these fairly obvious traits about our former GM.

Griffin was found of propagating two semi-mythic tales about Ricciardi: 1) that he had said he could build a winner in the AL East on a $50 million budget, and 2) that there was a five-year plan. The actual veracity of both of these propositions is difficult for me to assess - but I think it was certainly possible for a team to win the AL East with a $50 million budget in 2001, back when Ricciardi was actually hired. The Yankees payroll had climbed into six digits for the first time that very season. The heights they would hit in subsequent years were not dreamt of in our philosophy, Horatio.

As for the five-year plan, it is indeed a matter of historical record that Year Five of the Ricciardi Era was the year when he rolled the dice and went for the Brass Ring. He threw all the money he could find at two free agent pitchers (Burnett and Ryan), traded from the depth of infield talent he had been accumulating to bring in a Big Scary Bat (Glaus), and traded from his excess of collegiate pitching prospects to bring in a fine complementary hitter (Overbay)...

He went for it, and he finished second.

John Towers, so outstanding in the second half of 2005, had a couple of rough starts early on and then completely and utterly imploded. Gustavo Chacin's arm began the long and painful process, now complete, of falling off. Burnett rejoined his old Florida pitching coach, and perhaps figuring it was just like old times, promptly went on the Disabled List. Russ Adams, coming off a promising rookie season, struggled early in the field and at the bat - at which point the team suddenly decided that he was not really a young player going through a tough period but rather a completely useless piece of crap. Their subsequent handling of him effectively destroyed his career, which may or may not have amounted to anything, but he certainly never had a chance after that.

So the 2006 Jays finished second, 10 games behind the Yankees, and whatever plan Ricciardi may have had simply hadn't panned out. Was there ever a plan? I remain agnostic on the subject. I know Beane's other ex-assistant, Paul DePodesta, is always talking about "process" - you can't control what actually happens, but you can follow the best process and method you can devise. Of course, that done, it's still the case that all you can do is hope for the best. Which may be all you can ever do anyway.

But I myself think Ricciardi was generally winging it, making it up as he went along.

Which, by the way, is quite fine by me. Process is fine, but I believe in magic. I'm an artist, not a lawyer. Magic works. In the winter of 2004-2005, Kenny Williams made a bunch of moves that impressed absolutely no one at the time - they had the apparent, and as it turned out, quite real effect of gutting his team's offense - yet the whole thing worked out more perfectly than Williams himself could have possibly imagined. He and his team have a championship. One season is a very small sample size, but a championship is still forever. That was magic, though, and that's the thing - you can never depend on magic.  So you really do need to trust the process. There's no alternative.

Yet another reason I could never be a GM.

At any rate, Ricciardi spent his last three years here... what's the word... floundering. To anyone not sure of that, let me just say these words to you: Royce Clayton.

And yet... it really could have worked. I sometimes think that if the 2006 Jays had played the same forgiving early schedule enjoyed by the 2009 edition, things might have turned out quite differently. Who knows, right? Towers and Adams may have been able to fight the league to a draw, and thereby work through their problems rather than be destroyed by them. A way would still have to be found to prevent Burnett and Chacin from going on the shelf.... but, you can't have everything.

Anyway, it didn't work. That was their best chance, and they didn't make it.

I blame Josh Towers, myself. Doesn't everyone?
Richard Griffin, Vindicated | 18 comments | Create New Account
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westcoast dude - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 01:38 AM EDT (#212940) #

A chain is as strong as its weakest link,  and the Ricciardi era was rife with weak links. Looking at the current rotation, a weak link can be replaced with a Cecil at a moment's notice.  The last time there was that kind of depth in the roation was 1992, IIRC.

I think of Griffin, I think of Frank Thomas clogging the base paths. Did he even say it, or was it an urban legend? It was perfect.

Magpie - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 01:55 AM EDT (#212941) #
Frank Thomas clogging the base paths.

I'm positive Dusty Baker really did say that, though I doubt if it was about Thomas.
TamRa - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 03:25 AM EDT (#212943) #
I think that JP did what he set out to do pretty much just as he wanted to do it through 2006, and had built a solid foundation for continued growth at that point. then, when 2007 spun out of control due to injuries, it seems that JP lost his focus and started flailing desperately to try to seize the moment before the window closed and the more bad moves he made the more desperate, and the more defensive/arrogant, he became.

I've read accounts about him just holding his head at his office desk in apparent agony that he couldn't find the magic button - and really suffering great frustration that he thought he had the pieces in place and then shit out of his control comes along and screws it up. My guess is the Rays pulling it together in '08 was the last straw for his baseball sanity.

Royce Clayton was an early indicator, but I think that was just the early stages. If the 2008 team had lived up to expectations he'd have been cured. After all, they did nothing major before 2008 except the Glaus/Rolen deal. As 2008 fell apart, while the Rays soared, it drove a lot of us to distraction and seemingly pushed him right over the edge. Wasn't the Dunn comment in 2008?

Ultimately, the wheels definately came off. But the 2006-2008 teams were NOT bad teams, they were arguably quite good teams. But circumstances mitigated that accomplishment and JP - obviously all this is speculation - just couldn't deal with the pressure that resulted.

So - was Uncle Dick right that JP ultimately failed to deliver even a playoff berth? Yeah.

But for all the wrong reasons. Being right about the final outcome doesn't mean a damned thing if you are wrong on every detail.

if I sit here and predict the Yankees will win the world series because AJ Burnett will win 23 games and the Cy Young award, and that Brett Gardner will steal 80 bases, and that Nick Johsnon will win the Triple crown, and instead, AJ's arm falls off in April, Gardner hits .220 and gets sent to AAA and Nick Johnson hits 5 impressed are you that the Yankees win the Series anyway and I "called it"?

Richard S.S. - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 07:24 AM EDT (#212944) #
When J.P. goes into the Off-Season needing pitching, pitching and more pitching, his first significant signing is Frank Thomas - that was the end of it all.
Dave Till - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 08:57 AM EDT (#212945) #
When I think of J.P. Ricciardi, I think of how fantastically unlucky he was.

Consider the 2008 Jays, which was the team he spent several years building up. That club had the following things happen to it:
  • A freak accident cost Scott Rolen several weeks of the season, and he never really got untracked. Compare his 2008 numbers to his 2009 numbers; what would have happened had he contributed at that level in 2008?
  • Vernon Wells got hurt twice. Whatever you think of Vernon now, he hit .300 with 20 home runs in two-thirds of a season that year.
  • Aaron Hill got concussed and missed most of the season.
  • Adam Lind had his speed bump year, and turned out to be one year away from being the hitter he is now.
  • Two starting pitchers - McGowan and Marcum - missed significant time with injuries.
Despite all of this, the 2008 Jays won 86 games and significantly underperformed their Pythagorean projection: their runs scored/runs allowed ratio normally is good enough for 94 wins. And all of this in the toughest division in baseball. It's easy to see how, in an alternate universe, the Jays could have gone on to post-season success.

Two things doomed J.P. in Toronto. First, everything went right for the Rays in 2008 (check out their starting pitching, all of which stayed healthy), which made it impossible for Ricciardi to defend his record by saying that he has less money to work with than his divisional rivals. The second was that the entire starting rotation, except for Doc, either left town due to free agency or got hurt (and now Doc is gone too). I don't think any team could have survived that.

In retrospect, it seems clear that J.P. did some things poorly. He didn't pay enough attention to scouting, which meant that his farm system wasn't stocked deeply enough. His personal communication style was less than optimal - any chance that, say, Adam Dunn would ever be willing to become a Blue Jay went pretty much down the tubes because of J.P.'s tendency to shoot from the hip when speaking. But his biggest weakness was that he was so buzzard unlucky - and a GM needs to be lucky in order to be successful. I'm only being semi-facetious here.

Ducey - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 10:02 AM EDT (#212946) #

You know, I did not mind JP's construction of a ML roster.  There were some mistakes (Thomas, the Wells contract (which may not have been his idea)) but he could always scrape together a bullpen and his teams were competitive (thanks Doc).  He identified defence as a priority and had some good finds (Downs, Scotter)

His failure was in the procurement and development of prospects.  Unlike Griffen, who blamed it on his scouting buddies being cut, the problem was in philosophy.  JP focused on conservative choices - players who supposedly had a better chance of making the ML but when they got there would not have much impact.  A lot of these guys progressed nicely but then topped out at AA or AAA.  He then switched 180 degrees in his last two drafts.

When he left, he had added Lind, Hill, and maybe Snider to field.  On the pitching side, his best home grown arm was Marcum(?), with Jessie L, Dave Bush, RRomero, Cecil, Zep, fitting in as second tier guys.

JP at first tought he was smarter than everyone else in baseball.  I doubt he thinks that anymore.  My hope for AA is that he seems to be the opposite.  Less ego. He asks everyone around him for ideas and input. 

StephenT - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 10:47 AM EDT (#212950) #
I haven't read much of Griffin's stuff over the years, but I thought

1. Griffin said Dave Stewart should've been the GM (who's known for recommending Joey Hamilton over Woody Williams, and saying Brian McRae could play centre-field after personally scouting him).

2. Griffin admitted in a 2003 article that Godfrey made the right call in hiring JP (this was after the Jays had a strong 2nd-half in 2002, and were playing well in 2003 with just a $51m payroll).

While JP was far from perfect, things could've been a lot worse.  (I think Stewart as GM could've made the Jays be like the Orioles).

I really don't see the case for "vindication" here.
Magpie - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 12:49 PM EDT (#212953) #
I really don't see the case for "vindication" here.

Well, you have to tilt your head exactly the right way and squint really, really hard. Even so, extremely powerful hallucinogens are probably required. In other words, there is no case. He was wrong about everything except the final outcome, which is ... well, it's a pretty big deal, now that I think about it. But still...
China fan - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 04:21 PM EDT (#212960) #
To be right about the "final outcome", in this case, is almost meaningless and certainly not a big deal at all.   Anyone can predict that a baseball team will not win the World Series.  Any pundit can be pessimistic and cynical, year after year after year.   It's an easy stance to take, and an easy prediction to make, because most teams DON'T make the playoffs in any given year, or even in any given GM's term in office.   In fact, if the Jays had made the playoffs under Ricciardi but failed to win the World Series, Griffin still would have claimed to be right.  He was making the obvious prediction, the easiest thing for anyone to say, and then claiming to be a genius afterwards.  Sniping cynically from the sidelines does not qualify anyone as an intelligent analyst.
rtcaino - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 04:21 PM EDT (#212961) #
I have seen a couple articles concerning Roger's Pres and CEO. They sure painted a rosier picture than CB's article at THT.

The one, I believe from, compares the Jays operating losses as amounting to a rounding error for Rogers.
Lefty - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 05:27 PM EDT (#212964) #
Ricciardi did have bad luck. Some might suggest it was akin to bad karma. He was a pretty nasty piece of work and things never turned well for him.
Ryan Day - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 06:40 PM EDT (#212967) #
the Ricciardi era was rife with weak links. Looking at the current rotation, a weak link can be replaced with a Cecil at a moment's notice.

Most of the depth now is a product of the Ricciardi era. 3/5 of the rotation was acquired by JP, and I kinda think he would have made a move to acquire Eveland, too. Most of the weak link replacements were brought in by JP, too: Cecil, Rzep, and Stewart, and Mills and Ray if you like them.
VBF - Friday, April 02 2010 @ 07:56 PM EDT (#212970) #
The one, I believe from, compares the Jays operating losses as amounting to a rounding error for Rogers.

If one of your strongest marketing strategies costs the equivalent of a "rounding error", this is an asset you should probably hold onto.
TamRa - Saturday, April 03 2010 @ 01:23 AM EDT (#212981) #
In point of fact, virtually every important player on this major league team right now is here because of JP, except for Vernon Wells and Brandon Morrow.
(no, I don't consider Gonzo, Gregg and Buck to be difference makers)

Unles those two men carry this team on their backs, whatever happens good in 2010 will be because of the talent JP acquired. further, except for Bret Wallace any guy with any chance of being promoted and making an impressive impact is one of JP's guys (unless you think Drabek will make a real contribution this year)

Now, that's probably faint praise for a team that almost no one expects to finish over .500, but the point is - saying "a Cecil can step in" is saying "A JP player can step in"

jerjapan - Saturday, April 03 2010 @ 09:52 AM EDT (#212986) #
In point of fact, virtually every important player on this major league team right now is here because of JP, except for Vernon Wells and Brandon Morrow.

True - but judging by his track record, JP wouldn't be planning to play so many of the young players, he would've filled the roster with more mediocre veterans to try and compete.  To my mind, his biggest weakness was a refusal to rebuild in a lost season.

That or the contracts - if we want to talk about the positive pieces JP left in place for AA (certainly lots of good young pitchers) then we have to point to the over $30 million paid out to Wells and Ryan this year.  These kind of contracts are inexcusable for a team like the Jays in the 21st century. 
joeblow - Saturday, April 03 2010 @ 09:59 AM EDT (#212987) #
Griffin being right is like a broken clock being right twice a day. 90% of all management hires (GM, manager) end in failure. So for him to call it a failure every year and be right on the last is no great feat.
Cynicalguy - Sunday, April 04 2010 @ 03:18 PM EDT (#213059) #
Griffin just had a deep hatred for Ricciardi from day one for some unknown reason, and was just praying and hoping for JP to fail.  It just so happened JP failed...had nothing to do with Griffin's read on JP's capabilities.  I also think Griffin hates the Jays and gets pleasure from their failures...must be some kind of resentment he must've had when working for the Expos at a time when the Jays were Canada's team.  I remember him writing a column comparing the Jays all-time team vs the Expos all-time team and commenting that the Expos all-time team was better...which was laughable.
Richard Griffin, Vindicated | 18 comments | Create New Account
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