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In 2001, the Toronto Blue Jays hired J.P. Riccardi to be their general manager with the thought of utilizing his ability to mine low-priced talent from other clubs, as well as employing the statistics driven draft strategy popularized by his mentor, Billy Beane, in the hopes of fielding a competitive ball club while employing a lower salary structure. Given Toronto’s expectations, it surprised a lot of people when Riccardi started signing players to pricey, long-term contracts. These signings included:
- An eight-year, $90 million contract for third baseman Scott Rolen, which pays him $11M both this year and 2010.
- A seven-year, $69.35 million contract to Alex Rios, which pays him $9.7M in 2010 and $12M for 2011 and 2012.
- A three-year $40 million dollar contract to Roy Halladay, which pays him $14.2M this year and $15.75M in 2010.
- A seven-year, $126 million contract to Vernon Wells, which including bonuses, calls for him to be paid $21M in 2010, $23M in 2011, and basically, on and on like that until the end of time.
Riccardi spent money like a drunken sailor, and now he owes five players (when you include Lyle Overbay’s $7 million contract) a total of $64.47 million for 2010. And the Jays are not a great team.
Now Riccardi is entertaining, in a very serious way it seems, trading a national treasure in Roy Halladay. He is doing it because he has to dump payroll, or because Halladay has demanded a trade so he can go win and get paid. Riccardi set about the process of dealing Halladay by cagily announcing to the world that Halladay was available. I think when a team announces that they are looking to trade arguably the best pitcher in the game, it’s a sign that the team has some problems. And Toronto does. Toronto’s payroll is stained and Halladay is the only high-salaried player the Jays can get rid of. It would also surprise no one if Halladay, at the height of his powers, yet faced with continued losing and no contract extension on the horizon, has just decided that he wants out. Whichever it is, Riccardi’s announcement that Halladay was on the block should have had other teams smelling blood.
Then, Riccardi started to talk. A lot. How much he needs to be “overwhelmed” in a deal for Halladay. How teams need to “step up” to get Halladay. Floating rumors that there is a deal in place for Halladay. (Who do you REALLY think was behind that Mets story?) He was like one of those little kids at Buckingham Palace who jumps up and down and makes funny faces trying to make the guard blink or twitch his face. So much for playing hard to get.
Tuesday we learned from Riccardi that the Jays have imposed a “self-imposed” deadline for trading Halladay of July 28. The reason given was, get this, “it wouldn’t be fair to Roy to have him go into his last start before the deadline with trade talks looming over him” or some such rot. Huh? The only thing that wouldn’t be fair to a pitcher making $14 million a year is to take his pitching arm and run it through a meat grinder. That would be about it. On Wednesday, he caught no one by surprise when he revealed that the deadline he mentioned the day before was actually a “soft” date. No kidding.
I don’t know what will happen with Halladay. But if the Jays do end up selling short it will be due in no small part to Riccardi’s inability to keep his mouth shut, and Riccardi will almost surely be fired. Throughout this whole process he’s made the Blue Jays seem vulnerable and unleveraged. Never mind that they actually are vulnerable and unleveraged, thats not the point. I think that part of being a general manager is having a little poker player in you so when you’re butt is in a sling, you can portray or spin it into to something other then weakness, and sometimes even make it look like strength. Acting arrogant and shooting off your mouth does not achieve this effect. Jackie Chan, Riccardi is not. He’s had his nose open the whole time in this. But then again maybe he’s crazy like a fox, and he’s gonna make me look stupid by walking off into the sunset with half of a team’s farm system, only to be hailed again by baseball people as the true genius he knows himself to be.