Gord Ash was the only one who could take the fall for the Toronto Blue Jays' underachieving ways. In truth, he was form-fitted for the role the second that Buck Martinez was appointed manager of the club.
Martinez, the popular former broadcaster, has worked with the benefit of a honeymoon phase new managers usually receive. President and chief executive officer Paul Godfrey was also in his first year overseeing the team for Rogers Communications. So when the Blue Jays started losing ugly, looking way too smug at times for a group that has never won anything, it was clear that Ash was going to sacrificed. The only question was when, and whether the move would come in the form of a demotion or some type of parallel move upstairs, or whether, as it turned out, he would be fired.
Godfrey indicated that the Blue Jays, whose payroll next season will certainly not be more than this year's $75-million, won't be outbid for the right person. "Put it this way: When you spend $70-million-plus on players, you won't bypass the best general manager based on dollars," he said.
Blue Jays assistant GM Dave Stewart deserves consideration for the position, but he's not a sexy name like Pat Gillick, the architect of the Blue Jays' World Series championships and the GM of the Seattle Mariners. He has been everybody's favourite since rumours of Ash's dismissal first surfaced. Gillick is under contract through next season, however, and for him to join the Blue Jays, Godfrey would likely need to give him the club presidency to allow him to get out of his Mariners contract.
Perhaps Godfrey's good friend Paul Beeston, major-league baseball's chief operating officer, could act as a go-between in making back-channel approaches about Gillick or another GM with the track record that fits in with Godfrey's desire: Florida Marlins president and GM David Dombrowski, who might be tiring of the uncertainty surrounding that franchise.
Dombrowski would frankly be a better fit than Gillick. He's won a World Series with a huge payroll, then stripped down and rebuilt the franchise. And he has a proven track record of developing young players. He has built teams that play the style of baseball favoured by Martinez.
"I don't think you are going to find a GM who agrees 100 per cent with what Buck does or did," Godfrey said when asked how closely the new GM would need to share Martinez's vision.
"As far as I'm concerned, you can't have an organization built on needing a three-run home run to get back into the game. But I'm not going to tell a general manager that he has to stick with a certain way of doing things. You can't bring a guy in and tie his hands and feet."
Other names that will surface include Bob Watson, a former GM with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees who now works for major-league baseball, and Doug Melvin, the Texas Rangers' GM and a native of Chatham, Ont., whose job is said to be in jeopardy. New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman is not under contract for next year, either.
Then there's a group of bright young things such as New York Mets assistant GMs Omar Minaya and Jim Duquette, Paul DePodesta of the Oakland Athletics and Dan Evans, who should be a lock for the Los Angeles Dodgers' job. But Godfrey, who made it clear there will need to be some sort of chemistry between him and the new man, doesn't sound as if he views the position as an entry-level job.
The Blue Jays' payroll will likely remain about $75-million. It is the 10th biggest in baseball this year, but teams with smaller salary budgets, such as the San Francisco Giants ($63.3-million), Houston Astros ($60.38-million), Philadelphia Phillies ($41.6-million) and the Athletics ($33.18-million), have contended or are in the postseason.
"I think we did spend enough," Godfrey said. "Maybe not as wisely as we should, but we spent enough money."
Ash's year was difficult from the start. Mike Sirotka, the centrepiece in the David Wells trade, showed up needing surgery and didn't throw a pitch in anger. The Blue Jays complained to the baseball commissioner's office, but the deal with the Chicago White Sox was upheld. Then, third baseman Tony Batista was claimed on waivers -- not the worst thing to happen to the franchise, but a case where Ash failed to get anything in return for a player who at the start of the year was a marketable commodity. Those occurrences, in the first year of Rogers Communications ownership, brought back memories of the bad old days, such as the Tim Johnson fiasco.
"It's not one or two incidents," Godfrey said. "You make a decision based on several years of overall time and reflect back on it."
And with reflection, only one person was form-fitted to be fired.