Bad GM or Worst GM Ever? Part 3

Part 1, Part 2

Signing the young talent on your team in is probably one of the most difficult tasks for a general manager. It's a delicate balancing act, not wanting to sign a young player long term to big money too soon in case their production drops off, but not wanting to wait too long and seeing them drive their price up too much. At least when signing a free agent, the player has spent enough time in the league and you, more or less, know what you're getting. This is where a GM can really make his name, so let's take a look and see how J.P. Ricciardi has done in his tenure in Toronto.

The 2002 Blue Jays team had two stand-out young performers, Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske. Wells hit 23 home runs, drove in 100 runs, and provided tremendous defense in centre field. Hinske topped Wells home run total by 1 and posted a .845 OPS on his way to becoming the AL Rookie of the Year. Prior to the following season, they were inked to similar 5-year deals. Wells would earn $14.7 million and Hinske $14.75 million from 2003-2007. At the time, this seemed like a no-brainer, as both players seemed to be cornerstones for an offense that was likely to lose Carlos Delgado following the 2004 season. And, while Wells numbers would drop of slightly following an amazing 2003 season, he was still providing stellar defense, winning three consecutive Gold Gloves in '04, '05, and '06 and was still no slouch at the plate, making his second all-star team in the '06 season on his way to posting very good numbers. Hinske, on the other hand, never lived up to the hype following his rookie year. A hand injury early into his sophomore season seemed to sap his power and his numbers fell for the next few seasons before he was moved across the diamond, from 3B to 1B, and then, eventually, into the outfield and was used mostly in platoon situations or as a left-handed bat off of the bench. While one would be hard-pressed to argue that the Wells signing was a mistake, the Hinske deal never worked out. However, it's very hard to blame Ricciardi for signing what looked to be a stud third baseman up after a very good season. The deal also never really hurt the team, as ownership would soon raise payroll.

The next big decision to cross Ricciardi's plate was what to do with staff ace Roy Halladay. Coming off winning the 2003 Cy Young award, he was inked to a 4-year/$42 million deal. Aside from a sub-par '04 year and an injury shortened '05 campaign, there is no question that this deal (and the subsequent 3-year/$40 million contract that was signed to cover 2008-10) is a feather in Ricciardi's cap. Halladay has been perhaps the best starting pitcher in baseball over the life of the contract and has provided it below market value. The fact that the dollar value is so low for a pitcher of his caliber is a main attraction in the trade rumours that now surround him and could potentially land another player in any deal that may be made.

While, as mentioned, the Eric Hinske experiment didn't end well and he was sent packing in a trade to Boston, Vernon Wells enjoyed a very good 2006 season and the possibility of the best offensive player on the team leaving after the contract ended in 2007 was very real. The buzz seemed to be that the Jays wouldn't be able to spend the money required to keep Wells in town long term, but they proved to be up to the task and a 7-year/$126 million dollar contract was signed. At the time, it was the 6th largest deal in baseball history and from the start, it was assumed that the Jays needed to overpay in order to keep their start player. However, the season after the contract was signed saw Wells posted the worst numbers of his career as he was hampered by injuries most of the year. 2008, the first year of the new deal, saw some injury problems (over 50 games missed), but Wells was probably the team's best offensive player when he was in the lineup. 2009 has seen his numbers decline again, though, and the contract is looking worse and worse by the day. This is to say nothing off the sharp decline in Wells defense, as some stats have him as the worst centrefielder in baseball, by far. A move to a corner outfield position may be in order, but it seems like that decision might be in the hands of Wells himself. While this contract is awful, and there is no way to sugarcoat it, there seems to be some talk that most of the contract talk was done with then-President Paul Godfrey (and, I think it's telling that Wells is seen shaking Ted Rogers hand in that picture). However, as Ricciardi is going to take the lion's share of the praise and/or blame on how the team performs, he has to take at least some of the scorn from this outrageously bad contract.

The next 2 big contracts handed out to young players were the ones signed by Alex Rios and Aaron Hill early on in the 2008 season. Rios's 7-year/$69.835 million deal and Hill's deal, which could be worth $38 million over 7 seasons were both seen as good signings at the time but Rios's play has declined in the season and a half since. However, with the emergence of Aaron Hill as an all-star in '09, the possibility of paying him $10 million in 2014 seems very palatable. It's probably too early to judge either contract, and while the Rios deal may end up hurting a bit, it's hard to see too many problems with Hill's so far.

Obviously, Well's 2nd deal will likely be an albatross that has the potential to harm the franchise in the future, but it seems Ricciardi has a done a decent job of locking up his team's young talent, as Wells, Halladay, and potentially Hill have earned their keep during the course of their first big deals.

Next up, the draft.

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