You gotta credit the Toronto Blue Jays: for once, they’re actually treating their fans to a meaningful September.
J.P. Ricciardi’s demise wasn’t surprising; Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun has been reporting it as fact for months already. News of clubhouse revolt, of a group of players turning on manager Cito Gaston, certainly was—if it was, in fact, a true story. The Jays’s disappointing 2009 season might’ve wrapped up yesterday in Baltimore, but these developments seem certain to keep the team in the news as the off-season begins. Taken together, there are signs of extreme organizational duress (extending all the way to the top, if published reports are to be believed) that’ll have to be rectified if the Jays are going to amount to anything next year. With Ricciardi gone and with Gaston having lost some his players, it’s not clear who’s going to step in and do it. Alexander Anthopoulos, who assumed Ricciardi’s duties, couldn’t have asked for worse circumstances to start his general managerial career.
Ricciardi arrived in Toronto like Harold Hill sweeping into River City, Iowa, promising fans he’d build a contender from the skills acquired as Billy Beane’s right-hand man in Oakland. Beane, who guided the Athletics to moderate success on a limited budget and whose exploits were famously chronicled by Michael Lewis in Moneyball, was one of the first Major League Baseball general managers to rely on rigid statistical analysis in order to counteract traditional means of player assessment and to give his team a competitive advantage in spite of limited financial resources. But while Ricciardi might’ve arrived as the next Billy Beane, he quickly moved in an opposite direction. And after Rogers bought the team, what had begun (presumably) as a second Moneyball experiment quickly turned into an arms race—one that Ricciardi had no chance of winning, not with bona fide heavyweights in the mix. Ricciardi threw big money at free agents A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, then did likewise in order to keep Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in Toronto, yet it was becoming clear his “five-year plan” was gone. Problematically, there didn’t seem to be much of a Plan B.
Meanwhile, managers kept coming and going. Buck Martinez and Carlos Tosca were fired without warning; Tosca’s successor, John Gibbons, was allowed to stay even after his proclivity for fistfighting was uncovered. Last year, when Cito Gaston returned amidst much sentimentality, it looked like the Blue Jays had finally found their man, yet the current unrest seemingly indicates that this wasn’t (or at least no longer is) the case. Ultimately, the Jays’s inability to find a manager points to a leadership vacuum within the organization. An in the last eight years, the most visible common denominator has been J.P. Ricciardi. Ricciardi promised much, yet accomplished little. Eight years is a long time for that to continue; thus, it was simply time for him to go.
Amidst the euphoria of Joe Carter’s home run, who could’ve predicted we’d be waiting sixteen years and counting for the Blue Jays to make another playoff appearance? We’re eagerly awaiting further developments and details from the Blue Jays’s front office regarding 2010 and beyond (such as clarifying the seemingly opposite expectations regarding payroll next season), but perhaps this change in senior management should mark the beginning of a total rebuild. At least that would ensure the new regime isn’t simply carrying out years nine to thirteen of J.P. Ricciardi’s five-year plan.