Inside Look: J.P. Ricciardi

After J.P. Ricciardi was hired to be part of Sandy Alderson’s fantasy front office, I called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot Blue Jays Blogger Drew Fairservice of Ghostrunner On First to give us some insight on Ricciardi’s time as GM in Toronto.

The questions by me are in bold italic, while Drew’s answers are in the blue quote boxes. Enjoy.

After spending about 8 years in Toronto, I imagine you’ve seen the best and worst of J.P. Ricciardi. Could you briefly give us a description of his strengths and weaknesses as a GM?

I think JP’s greatest strength as a GM his ability to identify talent. His track record isn’t flawless, but he (and his team) got incredible mileage out of scrap heap relievers. He made some great trades and consistently upgraded some positions. His biggest weakness might be an inability to cut losses when a minor-league contract player (ie. scrap heap positional players) who were Ricciardi targets in previous seasons. J.P. coveted Brad Wilkerson for years only to finally acquire him two years too late.

When Ted Rogers finally expanded payroll, Ricciardi spent a good chunk of money on A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, while also signing Bengie Molina. These didn’t seem like “Moneyball” type moves; were they definitely J.P.’s idea or was there perhaps some influence placed upon him from someone higher in the organization?

The Ryan and Burnett contracts were all about marginal win value, I think. The team felt they had a strong core in place and needed to pay for players they thought would push them over the top. Ryan’s deal was ugly because of the term, but we must remember how great his 2006 season was.

Any idea why Ricciardi doesn’t like Adam Dunn? Is it really a lack of passion or something else?

J.P. is a former scout and former player. One doesn’t have to dig too deep to pick up on the type of players Ricciardi loves. Look no further than his recent Rule 5 pick-up (scrappy middle infielder Brad Eamus, a player he drafted) and a first round skeleton in his closet (mlfa Russ Adams). JP has a thing for scrappy, max-effort utility guys. Guys who play like JP did. In Dunn, J.P. likely sees a supremely talented player who squanders his talent and plays baseball because he can, not because he loves it. I think J.P. takes this personally, like a lot of people do.

Fans here in New York have grown angry with the Mets’ front office’s lies and half-truths over the past few years, particularly in regard to player injuries. So Ricciardi’s “They’re not lies if we know the truth” comment in 2007 regarding B.J. Ryan’s injury would not play well. Since there’s a chance Ricciardi will be a spokesman for the Mets, my question is, can we trust what he says?

Can you trust what J.P. says? It depends on whom he addresses. One big complaint of J.P. among the media throng was his willingness to wax poetic with American media outlets or old hack buddies while offering nothing of substance to the local scribes. As a Rogers employee (the Blue Jays telecom ownership group) J.P. knew optics matter most. I believe he followed the corporate edict and kept things bland and non-specific to avoid damaging the brand.

Assuming Ricciardi had some influence on who the Mets hired to be manager, give us an idea of what skills and characteristics he looks for in a field general.

J.P. seems to like guys that push the right buttons and stay out of the way. John Gibbons was rumored for the job and fit this mold perfectly. Hardly an iconoclast but he provided functional in-game management. It’s the GM’s team, just don’t screw it up.

What was Ricciardi’s general strategy in terms of drafting? For example, did he go over slot? Draft more college or high schoolers? Focus on pitching or bats? Judge more on raw skills or stats?
How did Ricciardi shape the farm system, and did he have any particular philosophies regarding the promotion of players?

The Jays under Ricciardi never, ever went over slot. The early years saw J.P. draft safe college-level talent on a fast track to the big leagues. Polished, athletic pitchers like Shaun Marcum and steady performers like Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. He needed to re-load the big club and did in short order. Later he took high school talents like Travis Snider but stayed safe with guys like David Cooper. Not likely to emerge as superstars but projectable talent.

Especially with pitchers, J.P. and the team fell in love with a very specific type: sinker/two-seamer guys who generate tons of ground balls and a few strikeouts. The more left handed, the better. The Jays under Ricciardi had an uncanny ability to turn just about anyone into a league-average starting pitcher. They foisted a cutter on anyone who would listen and demanded the ability to throw a decent changeup.

Is there anyone who worked under Ricciardi who may follow him to New York and play a prominent role?

Hard to say. J.P. certainly made some friends in his time here but he left a decent trail of enemies as well. Considering the frenetic pace at which the post-JP Jays hire scouts, you have to figure at least one guy got passed over and is looking for a new job.

In the end, why was J.P. Ricciardi fired, and did he deserve his fate?

J.P. was fired because he didn’t deliver. Did he deserve it? Hard to say. He built some excellent teams but couldn’t align the stars to get to the next level. His teams might have won some other divisions going away but that consolation doesn’t improve the stock price. His long time champion (former Jays President) Paul Godfrey moved on and the new (old) regime saw a potential star in Alex Anthopoulos. Better to give him a shot then lose him to another organization while holding on to a competent but doomed incumbent.

Do you see Ricciardi as eventually becoming a GM for the Mets? Why or why not?

Perhaps? He could do the job but Sandy is a rock star.

10-11 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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