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JP Ricciardi Has Gone Insane

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
June 23, 2008

Earlier in the year, I chastised Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi for releasing both Reed Johnson and Frank Thomas without getting any value back in return, despite several teams reportedly being interested in both players.  Since departing from the Blue Jays, Johnson has gone .271/.343/.387 with 31 runs scored and 31 RBI in 209 plate appearances.  He has batted .392 with runners in scoring position.  The Big Hurt has posted a line of .319/.417/.516, including .353/.430/.574 in May and his first triple since 2002.

Coincidentally, both players are now injured, with Thomas having been on the disabled list for nearly a month now and Johnson looking as though he is about to land on the DL after missing the past six games with back spasms.  Assuming that both players would have still performed well and gotten injured had they stayed with Toronto, this would nevertheless have been a horrendous move by Ricciardi.  Not only would any ephemeral production be an improvement over the combination of Shannon Stewart, Alexis Rios, Matt Stairs, and Brad Wilkerson - all of whom have been terrible since the end of April - but even if Thomas and Johnson spent the majority of the season on the DL, the Blue Jays would likely have received compensatory draft picks upon their contract expiration. 

Of course, a competent GM would have been able to negotiate a trade and gotten value in return for these two players.  Reed Johnson was one of the most beloved players in Toronto, as evidenced by the fan reaction when he returned to Rogers Centre in a Cubs uniform, and had a fantastic 2006 season prior to an injury-plagued 2007.  Thomas had more of a history of malcontent and a far heftier contract of which to dispose, but he also had the résumé bullet point of being one of the twenty best hitters of all time.  Nevertheless, Ricciardi either failed to get value in return for these players, or perhaps failed to even try.

His days as a competent general manager are over.

This has become even more apparent in the past few days.  On his Wednesday night phone-in show on The Fan 590, a Toronto radio station, Ricciardi responded to a caller who suggested that the Blue Jays trade for Adam Dunn as follows:

"He's a lifetime .230, .240 hitter that strikes out a ton and hits home runs... Do you know the guy doesn't really like baseball that much? Do you know the guy doesn't have a passion to play the game that much? How much do you know about the player? There's a reason why you're attracted to some players and there's a reason why you're not attracted to some players. I don't think you'd be very happy if we brought Adam Dunn here ... We've done our homework on guys like Adam Dunn and there's a reason why we don't want Adam Dunn. I don't want to get into specifics."

Ricciardi would have done better to just say "I don't want to get into specifics," because the specifics he did give are either inaccurate, irrelevant, or absurd. Inaccurate: Dunn's career batting average is .247.  It's still low, but 7-17 points of average is a significant exaggeration when we're talking about a hitter with over 3,500 career at bats.  Irrelevant:  While "striking out a ton" certainly isn't preferred over a player who makes a lot of contact, Dunn's OPS and OPS+  both lead any Blue Jay by a significant margin (and the closest is Rod Barajas in 160 plate appearances - how long can that last?)  I daresay that might offset the extra whiffs.  Absurd: There are certainly ballplayers players out there who do not give maximum effort, but that's pretty rare for a player in a contract year.  Even assuming Dunn really does lack passion for the game, it's absurd to think it would affect his performance this year and classless to question it publicly while citing nebulous insider knowledge for a source.

I cannot condemn a manager solely for some ill-chosen words spoken in haste (remember that Ozzie Guillen promised to retire if the White Sox won the World Series in 2005).   But it is a useful word in the crossword puzzle of Ricciardi's idiocy, and that word intersects with the firing of John Gibbons.

I do not think that Gibbons is a stellar manager, but I also don't think that a career managerial record that sits two games under .500 or being 10.5 games behind the best team in the American League warrants dismissal.  Toronto was expected to be nothing more than a dark horse Wild Card candidate this year, so I'm not sure where the major disappointment comes from.

A cursory glance at Blue Jays statistics shows that about as many Toronto players are exceeding expectations than falling short of them, and a marginally closer examination shows that the pitchers are generally the exceeders and the hitters tend to be the ones falling short.  With the offense sputtering, it does make some sense for Ricciardi to have fired the hitting, first, and third base coaches, and I have to give Ricciardi some credit for having the courage to fire Ernie Whitt, who has developed into one intimidating-looking dude in his middle age.  But the firing of Gibbons looks suspiciously like a knee-jerk reaction to a five game losing streak against two pretty good teams in the Cubs and the Brewers (that incidentally extended to seven under new management against the not-so-good Pirates).

That really underscores Ricciardi's recent problems: he's making moves without considering them carefully first.  His baseball decisions are being made with the same forethought as those impromptu words about Adam Dunn.  Ricciardi is leaping to inferences from small sample sizes, treating batting average as though it is a good measure of a hitter's overall value, and throwing money away like a rich college kid.

Frankly, Tony LaRussa shouldn't be pleased that he traded Scott Rolen to Ricciardi straight up for Troy Glaus just because Glaus is outperforming Rolen.  LaRussa should instead kick himself for not asking an insane Ricciardi to throw in Dustin McGowan to complete the deal.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com or found at the Baseball Evolution Forum

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