Bad GM or Worst GM Ever? Part 1

The prevailing though among most Blue Jays fans seems to be that the General Manager, J.P. Ricciardi, is not very good at his job. I guess that's to be expected, though, when every other GM hired since he took over in Toronto in 2002 has at least made the playoffs once.

If you compare Ricciardi to other GMs in the division, it's not favourable, obviously, as Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein have both lead their teams to the post-season multiple times and have World Series rings. And any payroll excuses that Ricciardi may have used have gone out the window when Andrew Friedman and the Rays won the division and went to the World Series last season. Even Orioles GM Andy MacPhail has the Erik Bedard for Adam Jones and others trade to hang his hat on. Basically, I guess this is a roundabout way or saying that I can see where at lot of Ricciardi's detractors are coming from. However, I think looking just a little bit deeper, things look better for him.

I don't think there's a scientific way of comparing the relative success of one GM versus another, there are just too many variables (like schedule, for example). I'll try and put my best foot forward, though, in explaining why I think Ricciardi is a pretty decent GM and not worthy of most Jays fans scorn.

(First of all, thanks to MLB Trade Rumors and their J.P. Ricciardi - GM Trade History spreadsheet)

After being hired in late 2001 and being told to drop payroll, he made a series of cost-cutting trades, the most notable being shipping Bill Koch out to his former employers, Billy Beane and the Oakland A's, for pitcher Justin Miller and minor league third baseman, Eric Hinske. Hinske was being blocked in Oakland by Eric Chavez and the A's were in need of a closer with Jason Isringhausen signing with St. Louis. Hinske went on to have a great rookie season in '02 and was the American League Rookie of the Year before hurting his hand and never regaining the same form he displayed in his freshman year. Koch spent a year in Oakland before being shipped to the White Sox for Keith Foulke. At worst, this trade was a push Ricciardi and the Jays, as both teams got one good season out of the principals involved.

Other salary dumps in his first few months on the job include sending players like Alex Gonzalez, Paul Quantrill, Brad Fullmer, Dan Plesac and Raul Mondesi packing. Perhaps the biggest name to come back to Toronto in those moves was Cliff Politte, who was acquired in the Plesac deal from the Phillies, and who was decent for the Blue Jays in '02 before having a not-so-good 2003 season and leaving for the White Sox (where he was excellent in 2005 and a contributing member of a World Championship team that season).

After the 2002 season, the first legit major league player that he acquired was Cory Lidle, again from his friend and former employer, Billy Beane. Going the other way were 2 minor leaguers who never amounted to anything in the bigs (Christopher Mowday never made it out of the minors, Mike Rouse hit .165 in 49 games over 2 seasons with Oakland and Cleveland). Probably a push

Another big move during the '03 year was sending Shannon Stewart, who was heading towards free agency, to Minnesota in exchange for Bobby Kielty. While Stewart helped the Twins regroup from a slow start to the year and lead them to a Central division title, Kielty was after the season shipped off to Oakland, in another trade with the A's, for Ted Lilly. So, turning Stewart, a departing free agent, into a starting pitcher who went to the All-Star game in 2004 has to be seen as a good move for the Jays.

About a month after the Lilly trade, a three-team trade was made between the Jays, the Devil Rays, and the Rockies. The Jays shipped out Mark Hendrickson, who went to Tampa, and received Justin Speier from Colorado. The Jays easily won this deal, as Speier had 3 very good seasons as a Blue Jay and was an invaluable set-up man. Also, when he left as a free agent after the 2006 season and signed with the Angels, Ricciardi used the compensation pick he receieved to pick Brett Cecil, so the trade has even more potential to come out in favour of Toronto.

Another trade later that off-season saw Jayson Werth shipped out to the Dodgers with Jason Frasor coming back in return. While Werth has blossomed in Philadelphia, injuries (which caused him to miss the entire 2006 season) caused the Dodgers to release him and the Jays foresaw a logjam in the outfield in Toronto, with Vernon Wells entrenched in centre, with guys like Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson already around, and guys like Alex Rios and Gabe Gross knocking on the door and needed to clear things up a bit. Getting a serviceable reliever like Frasor was a solid move.

Over the next year, a few minor moves ensued. Perhaps the biggest was sending Adam Peterson to Arizona in exchange for Shea Hillenbrand. Peterson never amounted to much and Hillenbrand filled a need on the team, so you can't say that it was a bad trade.

The first 2 big trades that Ricciardi made were both in December of '05. Gabe Gross, Dave Bush, and Zach Jackson were sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Ty Taubenheim and Lyle Overbay. While Bush has shown brief flashes in his time with the Brewers and won their first playoff game since 1982 last season, he's been inconsistent since the trade. Gross is showing that he's probably not much more than a platoon player, but did have pretty good numbers with the Rays last year on the way to their American League championship. Overbay, on the other hand, had a very solid first season in a Blue Jays uniform before injuring his hand and never completely regaining his form (especially against lefties). However, he has continued to provide Gold Glove caliber defense, which has definitely helped the pitching staff. At worst, I put this at a push for the Jays, as Overbay probably hasn't lived up to expectations, but none of the guys going the other way have done anything out of the ordinary.

A few weeks later, the second big trade of that off-season was made, bring Troy Glaus over from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Miguel Batista and Orlando Hudson. Hudson was coming off a Gold Glove season at second and would improve as a hitter while in the desert, while Batista had another mediocre season in Arizona before signing with Seattle, where he's gone back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. Glaus, on the other hand, had a very good first season in Toronto, making the all-star team and hitting 38 homers, giving the Jays their first big slugging threat since Carlos Delgado had left. Probably a win for the Jays, based on Aaron Hill stepping in at 2B and what the return for Glaus has been since his trade.

Acquiring Glaus made incumbent 3B Corey Koskie expendable, and another trade with the Brewers was made. Koskie was sent to Wisconsin in exchange for Brian Wolfe. Player for player, the trade isn't awful, considering the situation (especially considering Koskie's injury problems caught up with him and his career is now over, unfortunately, because of a concussion) and Wolfe has been, at times, a decent choice out of the bullpen. However, the Jays had to pay the majority of Koskie's contract, which may have hurt their chances at adding another player later on.

At some point in the 2006 season, Shea Hillenbrand's vagina became sandy. He wanted more playing time, despite not doing anything out of the ordinary to deserve any more than he had been getting, and when the team didn't send him a Congratulations card after he and his wife adopted a baby girl, challenged the entire clubhouse to a fight. He was quickly shipped to San Francisco, along with Vinny Chulk, with Jeremy Accardo coming back to the Blue Jays. Accardo was amazing in 2007, stepping in as closer when BJ Ryan went out for the season with Tommy John surgery. An injury last year slowed him down, but he's been decent since returning to the big club this season. Considering the circumstances around the trade, this has to be considered a big win for Ricciardi.

The last big trade (so far) on Ricciardi's resume, is the one that swapped third basemen with St. Louis. Glaus was sent to the Cardinals in exchange for Scott Rolen. While, during the first season, it might have been easy to put this one in the loss column. While Rolen wasn't necessarily having a poor season, injuries limited him to only 115 games while Glaus played nearly a full season and had 27 home runs while his old team needed someone to hit 2 on the final day of the season in order to have just one player reach the 20 homer plateau. However, Glaus has missed the entire 2009 season (so far, at least), while Rolen, apart from not having the home run power that he showed early on in his career, is having a tremendous season, both at the plate and on defense. It's looking like this will be another tally in the win column for Ricciardi and the Jays.

There are some other, smaller, trades that I didn't mention here. Trades like Matt Stairs to the Phillies, getting Marco Scutaro from the A's, or sending David Eckstein to Arizona have potential to go either way, but when you consider that maybe the worst trade that the Blue Jays have made since Ricciardi was hired was having to pay Milwaukee to take Corey Koskie, I'd say he has a pretty decent track record. The only knock against him I could see is that he hasn't made a huge steal of a trade, really ripping of another team, but I wonder how many GMs today have one of those on their record.

Anyway, this has gone on way longer than I originally intended, so I will continue this later, looking at free agent signings and trying to compare him against other GMs in the game today.

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