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Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi introduces new manager Cito Gaston at a news conference in Pittsburgh on June 20, 2008. (DAVID DENOMA)
Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi introduces new manager Cito Gaston at a news conference in Pittsburgh on June 20, 2008. (DAVID DENOMA)

Jeff Blair

Canning Ricciardi is the easy part Add to ...

But at the time, Ricciardi was widely lauded locally because after a messy split with Carlos Delgado, keeping Wells especially was seen as an article of faith with Blue Jays fans - even though the terms of the contract have now become a millstone around the franchise. And Anthopoulos, his replacement, was involved in the negotiations. Rios was cut; Wells has five years remaining on a $127-million deal.

Ricciardi's strength was filling in the edges with bargain basement free-agent signings and under-the-radar trades for players such as shortstop Marco Scutaro and pitcher Scott Downs. His major fault was spending money and "sunk costs," something high-payroll teams like the Yankees and Red Sox can afford to do. He gave Burnett an opt-out clause (giving in to an 11th hour demand), gave free-agent Frank Thomas a vesting option that ended up costing the club $8-million when he was cut in the second year of the deal, and had to swallow $15-million this year when Ryan was released with a year and a half left on his contract after a sudden drop in velocity and effectiveness. The Blue Jays also had to swallow some of Corey Koskie's $17-million deal when they traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ricciardi came in at a time when baseball was embroiled in a bizarre sort of civil war resulting from the publishing of the book Moneyball, in which author Michael Lewis went behind the scenes with the Athletics and trumpeted Beane's statistics-based system of management. Many of the book's anecdotes painted a harsh picture of old-time baseball guys, particularly scouts, as tobacco-chewing dinosaurs more comfortable with qualitative than quantitative analysis. One of Beane's tenets was that small and mid-market teams needed to focus on drafting as many close-to-major-league-ready players as possible, even if that meant eschewing higher-ceilinged high-school players.

Ricciardi was a proponent of that system initially and while Hill, Shaun Marcum, Adam Lind and Ricky Romero are products of it, Ricciardi has never lived down drafting Russ Adams with his first ever first-round pick and it was only this year that his choice of Romero ahead of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki stopped looking like one of the worst Blue Jays draft decisions of all time. By the end of his tenure, Ricciardi was no longer regarded as a Moneyball guy.

Ricciardi's personality emerged as an issue very quickly. His firing of long-time Blue Jays employees effectively ended a comfort zone that had surrounded the team stretching back to the mid-90s, and it didn't help that he and Godfrey contributed to the sense that he was coming in as what one former Blue Jays official called "the smartest kid in the class … when all he's doing is trying to invent the wheel."

Ricciardi was outspoken, preceded Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke in using the airwaves to his advantage (Ricciardi was a Fan 590 staple), and enjoyed a riposte. Much of that came from his New England background, where discussion of the Red Sox' trials and tribulations is part of the daily bread. But Ricciardi got his back up when he felt attacks became personal - particularly rankling at continued shots taken at him for moving his family back to Worcester, Mass., after just a year of living in Toronto.

Earlier this year, Beeston asked Ricciardi if he would consider moving his family to Toronto in order to become president of the team. It was not a job offer as much as an inquiry of interest, but Ricciardi said no.

Ricciardi was unafraid to use the media to further his agenda and was particularly at home currying favour with certain U.S.-based correspondents. In the Internet age, he was a dream to have on your side and a nightmare to work against. He treated some segments of the Toronto media rudely - writing off Ryan's elbow injury as a back problem three years ago led to his now-infamous assertion that "It's not a lie if we know the truth," - and while Halladay's availability at the trade deadline was pretty much a given from the start of the year, it was when Ricciardi openly discussed trading Halladay first with Danny Knobler of CBS Sportsline and then Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the issue exploded.

But in the end, Ricciardi's dealings with the media have the stuff of parochial, inside-baseball skirmishes that would have mattered naught to the fans had his teams won.

But they didn't. The bottom line is that after eight years the Blue Jays are no closer to the postseason than they were when Ricciardi took over and they have a fan base that is almost completely disengaged.

This was the first step in changing that disengagement. The easiest step. It can't be the last.

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