The Unproductive Middle

For the longest time, Toronto Blue Jays fans can be forgiven for asking themselves, “how was this different from last year?” The question is a legitimate one. The Blue Jays, in their own way, have been inhabiting baseball limbo for years. This Great Mediocrity began in 1996. Allow me, if you will, a word or three to describe where it all began.

Let your mind travel back to 1996. Baseball has returned from the canceled World Series of 1994, and the strike shortened 1995. The Blue Jays are owned by a beer company, but it isn’t the original Canadian owner, Labatt, as they has been taken over by Interbrew, a foreign corporation. The sophomore General Manager is Gord Ash. The manager, Cito Gaston. There are still names on the roster from the World Series teams of 1992 and 1993, like Olerud, Carter, Sprague, Hentgen, Timlin, but the Jays manage a meager 74 wins, and lose 88 times. They barely avoid a 90 loss season, and finish fourth.

By 1998, a youth movement, coupled with the unstoppable Cy Young hurling of Rogers Clemens and the motivational stories of new manager Tim Johnson, leads the Jays to an 88 win season, but they fall just short of a 90-win benchmark.

With the exception of 2004, the ‘annus horriblus’ of modern Blue Jay teams when injuries dragged them down to a 67-94 record, Toronto has bounced between 89 wins and 89 losses. Their average season in that span, including the low point in 2004 is 80-82. Even in the aforementioned 1998 season, they struggled to contend because the Yankees were destroying the world with a 114-48 record and one of the greatest teams of all-time. So the Blue Jays have not climbed up the ladder of greatness, or fallen into a pit of disaster. They have sat in the middle. For 18 years.

That’s a pretty incredible feat, because in 18 seasons, they really haven’t been shy about changing things. They have had three majority owners; Labatt, Interbrew, and Rogers Communications. They have also had three General Managers; Gord Ash, J.P. Ricciardi, And Alex Anthopoulos. Finally, they have had, and this is a good one, seven managers, but they’ve come in 9 different stints. In the toughest division is baseball, you would figure that it would have all bottomed out at some point. It’s remarkable that with payroll limitations, personnel conflicts, staff dismissals, and poor drafting records, the Jays have still sailed the sea of mediocrity. Even with infusions of new blood, free agent splash moves,  and mega-blockbuster trades, the Jays have still floated along n the land where hopes start high, and fade by July.

You might be thinking this is the way it is for lots of teams. 18 years without the playoffs, and without blowing it all up to rebuild, maybe this happens to teams in the middle of the baseball landscape. It doesn’t. If you were thinking that, you would be wrong. Let us examine, briefly, the paths of the three teams who have also played close to .500 ball over the last eighteen years. Those three are the Arizona Diamondbacks (80.68 wins avg.), the New York Mets (81.28), and Seattle Mariners (80.05). The D’Backs have had one year where they won 100 games, and another where they lost 111. They’ve also made the playoffs five times in that span. The Mets have won 97 games twice, and won as few as 66, and made three playoff appearances in that window. The Mariners run included a historic 116 win season and two 100 loss campaigns. They also logged three playoff appearances.

These teams have had their ups and downs, but when opportunities have been there, they’ve managed, on occasion, to be in the right place at the right time. They have played with something on the line in September and October. Even though the overall record looks like they have something in common with the Jays, really, they don’t. So, does anybody have the same kind of consistency that Toronto has had?

The three winningest teams in baseball in this post strike era are the Yankees, Braves, and Red Sox. This is a reminder that, though a lot of things can happen in a single baseball season, in the long run, money talks, and smart money talks louder. The Yankees worst season in this span was 2013, where they won 85 games, on par with some of the Jays best. The Sox had that 2012 disaster where they won only 69, and were under .500 in 1997. The rest of the time, they’ve been a better than average team. The Braves were a 72 win team in 2008, but have won more than they’ve lost in every other year. All of these three teams have gone to the playoffs a billion times (it seems pretty close to a billion, anyway.) Good people come to work for them and to play for them because they spend where they need to. As a result, things work out much more often than not. This is consistency, but it’s much easier to see where it comes from. If the Yanks or Braves have a sudden financial problem…they might suddenly become the Mets, a team that hasn’t hit 80 wins since the Wilpon family had to refinance pretty much everything.

The three losingest teams in the same era are the Kansas City Royals, The Tampa Bay Rays, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Royals and Pirates have been awful, managing only three winning seasons in the 18 year period we’re examining here. The Rays started out awful, but then some very smart people started trying to squeeze every bit of value out from their limited resources. They suddenly became awesome, in a way that their stadium and attendance never will be. From these three teams, we can see the danger of the small market. We can also see that you can overcome those limits if you think in ways that do not follow convention.

So, how does this relate to the Blue Jays? It tells us that there are lots of ways to manage a team, but there are fewer paths to consistent high level play. One way is to have a lot of money, and be ready to spend it whenever necessary to shore up your roster and patch over mistakes. The other is to run your team as a ruthless business, seeking out any inefficiencies in the market, and to be willing to take advantage of other teams that have more conventional thinking. Billy Beane‘s teams win games because he understands how to find undervalued players. The Rays are the same. The Red Sox returned, in 2013, to a model of looking for specific value, helps along by ample resources to obtain that value. They won a World Series championship.

Many years ago, in the early 1980s the Blue Jays had a competitive advantage: their scouts ruled the Dominican Republic. Kids came to play at the Blue Jays camp, and would sign as international free agents. They didn’t conquer the world with this strategy, but their knowledge of a pool of players that nobody else had access to made the organization better. In the early 1990s, the Jays had the highest payroll in the game. They could bring veterans in on short contracts to fill holes on an impressively stacked roster. What do the Jays have now?

They have a smart general manager. Alex Anthopoulos is a skilled tactician, there’s no denying that. He worked over the free agent compensation system that was in place before the last CBA when paid a half million dollars to obtain Miguel Olivo, just to decline his option. Why? Because Olivo would net the team a compensatory draft pick for the ‘loss of his services’. He has traded for Colby Rasmus in a three-way trade that involved 11 players, and he isn’t afraid to try to get what he needs from other teams, even if that means taking risks with his assets.

The man they call AA has also been at the helm of two drafts in which the Jays failed to sign their first round pick. The organization hyped Sam Dyson, promoted him, and then wasted him as an asset. Anthopoulos has given away both Mike Napoli and Yan Gomes, players who have been far more productive than the players for whom they were traded. Not only that, but they both had the ability to fill in at catcher, a position of need for the Jays since AA’s arrival.

All executives in baseball make mistakes. It is a pressure packed job, and forces those who do it into taking large risks with big dollar amounts attached to them. When Billy Beane took over the A’s, he had to be smarter than 29 other GMs to be successful, but they had no idea what strategies he was employing. Now a GM has to be smarter, and more creative, than Beane. He has to be smarter than Theo Epstien of the Cubs, Ben Cherington of the Red Sox, and Andrew Friedman of the Rays. These are the great poker players working as baseball executives. You find them at the final table almost every year, even when some of them don’t start with very many chips at all.

It is only my personal opinion, but I’m not sure that the Blue Jays are playing this kind of poker very well. The results, obviously, haven’t been there. The process also shows big gaps. The team has a history of playing its veterans in lost seasons when a rookie is waiting in the wings. This past year, Marcus Stroman could have shown his worth against real hitters, and the team, and Stroman would have learned something. The injury rate for the team has been one of the worst in the majors for 2 years in a row, but the team is unwilling to commit to biomechanical research testing as a possible solution, a venture which would have minimal risk and potentially huge reward. They don’t have any idea what to do with Ricky Romero.

These aren’t all the problems that fans of this team have highlighted, just a few that I happen to agree with. It adds up to an organization that lacks a unified purpose. What is the pitching philosophy, or the hitting approach? There is no Blue Jay Way. And I don’t meant the ‘clubhouse culture’ that gets thrown around by ex-athletes on talk radio shows. I’m talking about something more fundamental than that.

Everyone in the organization should understand what it is that they are doing to advance the team closer to winning the World Series. Every man and woman working for the team should understand that every ticket sold, every extra batting practice session thrown, and every repair to the beat up Astroturf is an ingredient to a winning team. The idea of winning needs to include the coaches and trainers at each level, sharing what they know about player’s abilities, weaknesses, and injuries. It needs to include the same techniques and strategies which are reinforced to hitters and pitchers at every level. All players need to be developed and nurtured, it isn’t something they do on their own.

Without something to aspire to, and a method in which to accomplish it, I don’t think the results are going to change. There hasn’t been a guiding principle in the organization for a long time.

I love this team, but it needs to grow and change before it can get out of this unproductive rut.

Picture courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

32 thoughts on “The Unproductive Middle”

  1. Exactly why I say AA should be fired. There is no organization philosophy. It keeps changing. That’s never good.

    I like most of what you wrote, a lot of it I didn’t know about (part of the problem with being an American Blue Jays fan.) The Stroman point can be debated. Even David Price was given a shot at AAA prior to being brought up for Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay has a solid method, which you identified, and they do no stray from the model… at least, not much. There was a lot of pressure for Friedman to do what AA did and change team course in 2006-2007 and again in 2009. They never changed the course, and like you said, they are awesome now. Even in 2007, the pressure to start Price was there and the Rays wouldn’t do it, for several reasons. If the Jays use Stroman in 2014 (and I believe they should at some point in some capacity), they should wait til June at least… and give him a taste of AAA. Just my opinion though.


    1. Firing AA now doesn’t really serve any purpose. Team is committed to the 3 best bats in the lineup for another full season. None of his draft picks should really be close to making an impact. The man has made the right call on Bautista, Encarnacion, Janssen, Delabar. You could argue that Santos was a good trade, since what he gave up was nothing, and Colby Rasmus could prove him right again.
      GM’s make mistakes, but firing a guy with 3 years in because his biggest gamble, (which was praised by everybody when first made), didn’t pay off, is, in my opinion, terribly short sighted.
      If the team has less than 86 wins this year, you can fire him and blow it all up before 2015.


      1. My opinion is that AA had a plan of slow steady growth. He had his draft picks moving up, Snydergaard, D’arnaud, had an intriguing arm in The Henderson, then he took his key and unlocked the surprise behind door Number One. Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Burhle, all appeared essentially overnight and it was either strike while the iron is hot, or lose the opportunity.

        He is brilliant. He gets a job ten days after leaving Toronto when and if he does depart this organisation. This City always wants everything right now. No patience to watch anything grow. They want to plant the tree and start picking apples in the morning.

        Paul Beeston is AA’s mentor. He knew that getting players, the likes of which we picked up last winter would land playoff baseball. The whole season tanked right along with Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero. Who saw that coming? Not me in the case of Johnson, but Ricky always worried me, his strike out to walk ratio was never what it should be.

        Here we are snap shot of the truth of the past 20 years in hand. Goins in the 4 hole, Buhrle check, Dickey check, Morrow check, catching no longer a distraction, JPA God Bless him is out for greener pastures along with lessons well learned.

        The fast forward process wasn’t AA’s plan; it was his opportunity. Beeston saw this and pushed him to see what the Marlins would actually depart with. Then the entire plan went into overdrive. Stand Pat AA was now wheeling and dealing. The casualties were Yan Gomes, and the rest of the departed we all know so well.

        Next step is real grass. The growth of young arms comes in as the second wave matures to be timed when the present staff is turning over. Don’t forget, we do have a third wave of prospects because we have been drafting young high risk, high return high school prospects instead of minor ready college boys. AA did this in three years. Unparalleled.

        The future is bright, last year was the anomaly, you watch, be patient.


      2. d’Arnaud acquired in Halladay trade. Alvarez was a Riccardi pick. I live in an area that wants everything now, living outside of Boston. It’s been 20 years now since the Jays even sniffed the playoffs. That’s not “wants it now,” that’s “we’ve been waiting.”

        When you look at who AA gave up in the Marlins deal, you make that same trade over and over again. Johnson was the centerpiece, not Reyes, but who cares! Marisnick will never be more than a 4th OF for them. Hendo will probably be a #3 or #4 at best. Nicolino will most likely be a bullpen arm only because he’s a lefty. Hechavarria will be a GG caliber SS, with no bat, just like Jose Iglesias. The Jays took on a lot of payroll with that, but yes, you make that trade if you have the cash to do it.

        Nobody banked on Romero this season. He fell apart in late May, early June 2012 and hadn’t found his way until he ditched the mechanical retraining back in July this year. He still hasn’t fully found it all just yet, but it’s gotten better. The team banked on Morrow having turned a corner last season. It didn’t happen and Jack Morris was highly critical of Morrow not being prepared for this season.

        As far as the “opportunity,” I know you might say “hindsight,” but I’m being honest. I KNEW the Red Sox would be better with the stability of a coach like Farrell as opposed to Bobby V. It was easy to predict that Tampa Bay was going to be a top team. I thought Baltimore was a fluke and I thought the Yankees were old. I thought, at worst, Toronto could end up in 4th by 1 game or something. At best, 2nd place, behind Tampa Bay. I never felt they were a World Series capable team with the moves they made. It had nothing to do with Gibbons. It had everything to do with the Jays #1 being a 39 yo knuckleballer and Johnson’s injury history.

        I wish I had your optimism on this. I don’t. All the teams currently are shaping out to be better than Toronto. If New York signs Tanaka and Pineda comes back healthy, they have a solid 4. Boston has depth upon depth, even after losing Ellsbury. Baltimore made some curious trades, but Duquette’s a real genius and Showalter is a damn good coach. Tampa Bay has Moore to replace Price if they lose him and they have plenty of unknown, highly talented arms to fill in spots 3-5 (Enny Romero, Odorizzi, Colome, Archer, Torres). Last season was not an anomaly.


      3. I’ll never knock him for the Miami trade. I will never knock him for the Wells trade (and the GM he made that trade with has since been fired.) I had mixed feelings about the Rasmus trade, and the team we made the deal with won a World Series because of it. But I absolutely never, ever liked the Dickey trade, so there was no praise coming from me if THAT is considered your version of “his biggest gamble.”

        There’s nothing short sighted about my thoughts on AA. He’s had 3 years to draft and I know his draft strategy was teenage young, high upside arms. Syndergaard was the best of that group and 2 of his top draft picks did not even sign with the Jays.

        Look at the Halladay trade. Philadelphia got 2 high quality years out of that deal. How many did Toronto get?

        Going back to the Rasmus trade, it took almost 2 years, but he finally produced. St.Louis has been to 2 World Series in that time.

        The “winner” in Buffalo? Who wants to bet Buffalo has no shot against the likes of Pawtucket, Durham, and Norfolk this season. If you’re not aware (and you’re a very solid writer, so I think that you are), those would be the farm teams of Boston, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore… and they’re all stacked.

        In the time AA has been GM, he has been outdone by his competitors in drafting, in signing free agents, and he’s probably split down the middle in trades. He’s been criticized by a now World Series winning coach (granted, that doesn’t make Farrell without flaw, because there were plenty of mistakes to point out in 2013.) There’s been question about the development of prospects. There have been numerous, serious arm injuries dating back to before AA took over, that even though they’re being addressed, even Sherwin questions some of the new methods. The payroll for the team has never been higher and AA took over contracts that makes Wells look OK in comparison.

        I agree with you that at this point, firing AA doesn’t serve a purpose, because now it’s in the middle of the busiest time to improve the team. If it was going to be done, it should have been done in October, immediately after the season ended. The team isn’t going to have 86 wins. It will be lucky if it makes .500 in 2014 if it stays as is. Dickey and Buehrle… then who? Nobody is trustworthy or proven.


      4. you had mixed feelings about the rasmus trade? really? that was a veritable STEAL.. trading non essential bullpen pieces, zack stewart and having to pay mark teahans salary for a young controllable CF with proven success at the mlb level!?! If Colby repeats what he did last year he is going to command a 100M on the open market. Colby’s skill set was drool worthy and its nothing short of amazing they acquired him without giving up anything of real value. so you need to rethink that deal and fall in love with it…just because dotel and rzep were in that cardinals bullpen doesn’t mean we lost the deal. the cards won in SPITE of the trade.
        You also speak of the halladay trade…where the team was short on leverage and actually parlay’d the situation into a really nice return…took some additional maneuvering with trading Taylor and Wallace but Gose, d’Arnaud and Drabek in that scenario was miracle work. You have the advantage of highsight Drabek was considered to be a STUD at the time…you need to analyze the process and acknowledge that AA maximized Roy’s value in that deal as well. He was not resigning in T.O.
        AA is far from perfect but your not privy to the multitude of factors and influences which effect his decision making process. To assert he’s been outdone by his peers is flat out ignorant and wrong.
        I don’t think Greg is suggesting AA be fired this offseason, he’s saying if the 2014 team doesn’t cut it he may be on the hook heading into the 2015 offseason. Which is just how that business works. You can be sure org’s all over baseball will be lining up to offer him front office positions if and when that day comes.
        Your within your right to be a cynic about the 2014 team but you should elaborate on your reasoning for me or any educated blue jays fan to take you seriously…with good health in the rotation and improved production at C and 2B this team could very well be in the thick of it next year.


      5. While im riffing and were writing novels here this is directed at you Justin but the flack AA takes about not signing Beede or Bickford is overblown…we got Stroman with the Beede pick and we have the 11th pick in a deeper draft due to not signing Bickford. You don’t punt the pick on purpose but with the bargaining leverage of NOT losing the pick should you not sign your 1st rd. guy you can afford to evaluate him and assign a price point…Bickford is a fool for turning those dollars down.
        You stick to your process…if anything I think the criticism lies in their over exuberance on selecting HS pitchers. I think they missed on Shipley from Nevada…but that’s just me. We’ll see.
        They havn’t had a ton of success in the rule 4 but im tired of hearing the bellyaching about not signing 1st rounders…id rather not sign a guy like Bickford then overpay JUST for the sake of signing him.
        It’ll look good on Beede if he gets less in the next draft than the Jays offered him.


      6. Would you have traded Holliday plus Francisco for Dickey+ Goes+ Drabek plus save 80 million dollars, that is the real deal in the present.

        Additionally, salaries have gone through the roof because MLB is making huge monies from National Tv and ancillary revenue streams plus Regional Sports Network deal approaching 1 billion dollars for small teams.

        AA has done a credible job rebuilding the farm system, creating hope, have 4 quality players- Dickey, Jose Reyes. Joey Bats. and EE, with two young players who have all star potential.

        The third SP in Buerhle is quality and Morrow is a 4th pitcher is there.

        No the question is can you get a #2 Pitcher and from the youth of Hutchison, Happ , Stroman and Drabek do you have #5.

        Everyone agrees that AA has created a reasonably price and quality Bullpen.

        So now all we need is patience and a little more money to be spent on SP. Catchers rarely win you championships except if your last name is Molina.


      7. Yea, well when a World Series winning coach thinks that that CF is a piece of shit and is uncoachable, and they move him for those bullpen pieces and a starter that’s had success at the MLB level, I absolutely call it an IF.

        IF Tony LaRussa says “uncoachable,” are you going to argue with a man that knows a thing or 2 about changing the game? Are you going to argue with a guy that re-invented the role of the bullpen and a 5 man rotation? Are you going to argue with a guy that’s won 3 World Series titles with 2 different teams and had numerous playoff appearances? Because I’m not. What did LaRussa do in 2010? He won another World Series and he got there due to a newly stabilized bullpen and a quality starter in Jackson, not to mention Jon Jay was doing more with less in CF. They were a Wild Card team that was reeling until that trade. Go have a look if you don’t believe me.

        There was an IF there and it took a Colby Rasmus batting adjustment this season (Sherwin can vouch for what I’m talking about) to show 1.) He’s coachable, 2.) He realizes he wasn’t having fun sucking all the time. The intangibles are phenomenal for Rasmus. He was on a short list for GG, he was on a short list for Comeback Player of the Year had he not caught an Anthony Gose ball to the dome.

        My advantage of hindsight was simply this, and I’ll admittedly tell you my knowledge and heart for the Jays in 2009 was waning from all the other bullshit years leading up to knowing Halladay would be traded… again… this simple. “If the Jays are going to fucking trade Halladay, they better get some phenomenal players back in return.” That’s my hindsight. That was my stance from the beginning. It has not budged from that. I knew trading Halladay was necessary, but also necessary was a good return. That return is now a 39 yr old knuckleball pitcher, a 25-yr-old-2x-TJ-surgery-can’t-locate-his-fastball-but-was-a-STUD-due-to-great-lineage pitcher, and Gose. Where’s d’Arnaud? Don’t get me started…

        And if not being privy is a point you’re trying to make, let’s just re-hire Gord Ash and J.P. Riccardi while we’re at it. We weren’t “privy” to them either but other people clamored for them both to get canned. That’s a horrible point. I don’t give a shit what influences are effecting him. He’s the fucking GM! Why be a GM if you don’t have control of the team? Is he just trying to impress chicks? C’mon man!

        Educated? I wouldn’t call it an education. I would call it “drinking the kool aid.” What Greg wrote was educated. My thinking may be a bit harsh, but I’m a HUGE believer that if you change your organizational philosophy, like Anthopoulos did, and it doesn’t pan out, you should be fired or re-assigned. Danny Ainge, that famous Blue Jays SS, won my Boston Celtics an NBA title… HE SUCKS! But he gets to cover it up in the fact he won an NBA title. He HAS an NBA title and I believe he is a WORSE GM than AA. I believe AA isn’t awful, like Ainge, I just think he’s out of his league. Good GMs have plans. They stick to it. The Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, San Antonia Spurs, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and now even the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals. Have a good look at those teams and you will absolutely see how it is done. Go read The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri, and you will get a solid idea of team building. Then talk to me about being educated outside of Toronto. I see very clearly what AA is doing. He aged the team to be one of the oldest in baseball and they finished in last place. There’s a 3 year plan in there somewhere though, right? You got to be kidding me.


    2. They’ll likely give Stroman some run in aaa but it will be as much about seasoning as it is service time and the extra year of control they gain…like how tampa bay handled myers last year.


    3. It takes more than 4 years to fix 15 years worth of messes left behind by Gord Ash & JP Ricciardi. If you know the history of the Blue Jays from beginning to the present, you’d realize that GM AA has actually strengthened the franchise enormously.

      The best GM in Blue Jays history was Pat Gillick, and it took him 6 FULL years (1977 – 1982) before he was able to field a winning product.

      BUT when the Blue Jays became competitive, they remained competitive for the years to come. (from 1983 to 1993, the Blue Jays averaged 91 wins per season)

      The casual fan doesn’t realize it, but JP Riccardi left the team in a much bigger hole than originally anticipated.

      JP Riccardi left the Blue Jays with
      – a farm system lacking in talent
      – a system that is very thin on scouting
      – the worst player development (think about who was drafted & debuted with the Blue Jays from 2002 – 2009)

      Sustained success starts from the minor leagues (ie. build from the ground up). That’s why Pat Gillick took his time to properly build the minor league system. That’s also why the Blue Jays were able to maintain their success thereafter.

      It’s no coincidence that the Blue Jays’ franchise fell into shambles after Gillick’s ‘retirement’.

      GM AA has largely fixed the first two points (much improved scouting & quality of minor leaguers), but he’s working hard on fixing the 3rd point. Thus far, he’s been an excellent GM. Real sustainability takes a long time to build. It takes more than just a few years.


      1. The voice of realism is seldom heard these days, but I believe what you have written is spot on. I know for a fact the first thing Riccardi did when he was hired was to cut loose all of the baseball men and replace them with a hoard of nodding geeks who were nothing more than statistic people. That cut the heart out of the franchise as Riccardi tried to recreate himself as Billy Beane North,

        If you look at the organization from a growth standpoint and listen to the podcast episode 33 you learn that what you write tbj_fan is exactly right. What Blue Jay fans, (and I mean the real ones) have to realize is what AA is actually doing. He has three waves. We all know that. The third wave will be the rebuild phase of the entire Blue Jay system. The first wave was used as trade bait to get the on the field unit we are currently watching.

        When the current group is out of shelf life, we will need replacements. Check the schedule of arrival of the 2nd and 3rd wave. It will be after the current squad has outgrown the Team. We now have the talent on the field to give us very competitive baseball for two years. In my eyes we need a pitcher. Stroman is the other one. Take that to the bank.

        I don’t know why all the Blue Jay fans aren’t taking notice of what AA did. They changed the rules of the compensatory draft picks because of him. Then he loaded the cupboard full of High School draft picks when everybody else was drafting college and two high schoolers, AA drafted NOTHING BUT high schoolers. What this ostensibly did was give the Blue Jays a shot at the best talent available in the entire USA.

        The other teams all drafted (and divyed up) the mature college aged players. AA simply went younger and got the top of the list of High School players and very successfully convinced nearly all of them to sign,the top ones over slot, then with his lower picks signed guys who were simply happy to get their name mentioned, and signed them under slot. What a genius.

        Be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day and this man of ours AA is certainly thinking Blue Jay baseball and building for the future all of the time.


      2. You need to properly develop those arms. It was a major criticism by Farrell about the Jays system while he was hear. Drafting high profile arms is fantastic, but if they’re not developing or they’re getting injured or they’re just not signing, what good are any of those waves in regards to pitching? AA also drafted a 2 sports star. When do you figure this franchise is going to be seeing him? After he fails out in football?

        I’m not saying AA is unintelligent. He definitely has an eye for drafting some talented pitchers. What about the rest of it though?

        And how exactly do you tell a fan base to be patient when the tight-lipped GM said “We see a vulnerable AL East and we’re going to try to win now?”


      3. “And how exactly do you tell a fan base to be patient when the
        tight-lipped GM said “We see a vulnerable AL East and we’re going to try
        to win now?””

        So Gord Ash & JP Riccardi ruin the franchise for 15 somewhat years, and you’re telling me it’s AA’s job to fix ALL their mistakes in 4 years or less?

        Utter nonsense.


      4. I do agree with you tbj_, but what I kept hearing from the Rogers side was ticket sales matter. In trading away two blue chips and getting back the jump in talent level it is a good starting point. We officially threw our hat in the ring. Fans noticed, sales increased, that is just as important to the health of the franchise as wins. The whole country was talking Blue Jays.

        We have a lotta guys to grow, very young little saplings. We have a much better group of talent than in 2008. Don’t lay blame on the GM Ash too too much, Interbrew wasn’t in it for the sport, it was an investment. Rogers is in it for only the sport Championship and it’s revenue.

        After reading what Justin wrote about Farrell and his comments, I remember him saying that, it sounded like sour grapes to me. His job was to manage the players and he knows zero about what the long term plan for Blue Jay baseball is. He bleeds Red Sox anyway,

        AA has done such a remarkable job rebuilding this entire organisation from the ground up. If you assess the metamorphosis of Blue Jay Baseball from the day Beeston was brought back in, it is night and day.

        I had thought that we were building a team from within also. D’arnaud, Snydergaard, The Henderson, one day all on the field together. We have not traded away, we have traded. Like Justin mentioned, you make that trade with Florida seven days a week. We got their attention. That was a necessary evil. We have a competitive group. It all falls back to depth. Last season we could not afford for anyone to be long term injured. Instead nearly everyone was. It is an emerging process and it will get better every year.

        I am in it for the long haul, and I have more hope than I ever have had since the 1995 baseball strike.


      5. Having a foreign company (Interbrew) buy out your parent company (Labbatt) usually means complications with ownership. I realize it isn’t 100% Gord Ash’s fault.

        Ultimately JPR was brought in because he was Billy Beane’s protege, and was expected to replicate the Athletics’ style of business.

        For the first few years, it worked (sorta), but it fell apart after ownership began to interfere. That’s when JPR lost it, simply because he didn’t know how to steer the franchise.

        My fear is that ownership might start with their interfering ways. It’s always so troublesome when the architect can’t work his craft, undisturbed.


      6. We have a famous saying in Boston, thanks to Rick Pitino. Pat Gillick is NOT walking through that door. So let’s stop comparing his day and age to what AA is currently experiencing. It’s apples and oranges bro.

        Think about who was drafted and debuted? Ok, I think I can do that.
        -Aaron Hill
        -Shawn Marcum
        -Ryan Roberts (ARI & TB)
        -Adam Lind
        -Casey Janssen
        -Litsch (who would still be pitching if it weren’t for an infection)
        -David Purcey (not here, but still playing in CWS)
        2005 (easily his JPs worst draft)
        -Ricky Romero (if you criticize him, that’s hindsight right?)
        -Brett Wallace (didn’t sign)
        2006 (Gets a pass when you look at the 1st Rd names)
        -Travis Snider (once consider a STUD)
        – JP Arencibia (more hindsight?)
        – Brett Cecil
        – Trystan Magnusen (Oakland)
        – Marc Rzepczynski
        – Darin Mastroianni (16th Rd)
        – David Cooper (coming back)
        – Tyler Pastornicky (once ATL’s SS of future)
        – Eric Thames
        – Danny Farquhar (current Mariners closer)
        – A.J Jimenez
        – James Paxton (well well, isn’t that interesting)
        – Chad Jenkins (oops)
        – Jake Marisnick (Reyes, Buehrle, and Co)
        – Ryan Goins
        – Aaron Loup
        – Yan Gomes (that guy AA didn’t know what to do with)
        – Drew Hutchison

        And because the Blue Jays were relatively good playing in an extremely difficult division, most of these picks game in the mid to late Rds during the draft. AA’s success rate on draft picks looks pretty similar.

        Criticize JP all day on those back laden contracts for Wells, Hinske, among a few others, but so far, Riccardi’s teams have a better winning % than that of AA’s… and his 3 yr plan is going to blow up in his face. Buy in all you want. I’m not.


      7. *I’ll separate my arguments for easier reading*

        A. Minor League System

        I’m impressed a Bostonian can come up all the highlights from the past drafts. (though it’s not that hard to research).

        But I’m surprised you’re actually defending JPR in this regards.

        Look at those drafts again. In what ways are they a success?

        In that time (2002 – 2007) only TWO players are still full-time positions players (Aaron Hill, Adam Lind).

        NONE of those guys are considered MLB starters.

        Everyone else either flamed out, are relegated to the bullpen or are backup players.

        So two full-time players in seven years? That’s in itself is the epitome of pathetic. It’s very surprising that you would defend JPR in that regard.

        Even John Farrell remarked about the lack of player development in the minor leagues.

        Earlier, I said:
        “JP Riccardi left the Blue Jays with
        – a farm system lacking in talent
        – a system that is very thin on scouting
        – the worst player development”

        Inheriting a broken minor league system takes more than 4 years to fix.

        Alex Anthopoulos is still working on it. And if you’ve noticed BA recently ranked the Blue Jays to have the #12 best farm. That’s something that was never achieved by JPR.

        B. The winning percentage

        Try adjusting to the same time frame (first 4 years)

        Gillicks’ (1977 – 1982)
        – averaged 58.25 wins

        JPR’s (2002 – 2005)
        – averaged 77.75 wins

        Anthopoulos (2010 – 2013)
        – averaged 78.25 wins

        So really, if you’re talking about MLB performance, AA has done a lot better job than any other Blue Jays’ GM.

        C. Three year plan?

        What three-year plan? That’s just non-sense created by journalists.

        It’s based about the contract status of many players (the vast majority of the team is signed through 2015 or 2016) That’s why they coined the idea of a ‘3-year-plan’.

        However, that is a flawed perspective.

        Within 3 years, the prospects-of-today will be the stars-of-tomorrow.

        And it starts by building up a farm. PROPERLY.

        That’s something that Gord Ash & JP Ricciardi didn’t care about.

        Now consider:

        1977 – 1982
        – winning percentage .381
        – averaging 61.8 wins per 162 games

        1983 – 1933
        – winning percentage: .563
        – averaging 91.2 wins per season

        Pat Gillick himself took 6 years of building before the franchise was poised for success. If Toronto gave Gillick 6 years of patience, then I’m going to do the same for Alex Anthopoulos.


      8. I take pride in knowing what I know despite being so far away. I read what I can through the Toronto Star, ESPN, SI, Blue Jays Plus, I occasionally try to tune into The Score, and find news from credible sources on Twitter. Even the group I write for, often gives me info of which I was not aware.
        Believe me, it’s not easy living in Rhode Island (small state 30 minutes south of Boston, Maxim Magazine’s Top 50 Dumbest Ideas of All Time) being a Jays fan. It means dealing with the craptastic combination of Red Sox and Yankees fans. I’m pretty sure I’m the only Jays fan in the state.
        It is nice, however, being on the outside looking in. It lets me see what kind of job AA is doing in comparison. For example, you mean to tell me that Dan Duquette (a guy you guys are probably familiar with from his Montreal days) had more to work with in Baltimore when he arrived in 2011? Check out that barren wasteland of a system he acquired, not to mention a stingy, whiny ownership group with which he has to tolerate. Not one pick from 2009 has cracked the majors. At least SOMEBODY from 2008 made it up, but Matusz and Hoes are far from established. Anyway, point is, Duquette, in 1 year with the help of Buck Showalter, took that trainwreck team that other coaches had tried, yet failed with, and led them to the playoffs. You can site the “record in 1-run game” stat all you want from 2012. They were still over .500 this season.
        I’m not saying it’s the greatest book on teambuilding, but again, read The Extra 2% if you haven’t already. That tells you about how Friedman took over the crappiest of crap franchises in one of the worst venues to play, and with the help of the new ownership group, transformed it into present day TB. Yea, sure, you can mock the crowds, but the place hold 43,000 people. In 2007, I went to games where the attendance was regularly 7,000. As of last year, it was typically closer to 17,000. Pretty impressive in 5 years time. Good ownership will do that for a franchise.
        I shouldn’t use Boston as an example. It’s almost unfair. Theo had more money to work with and initially rebuilt the system, then he broke away from it, kind of like AA and 2012 happened. When the ownership group finally took the reigns off Cherington mid-way through 2012, it didn’t take the guy long to prove he knows what he’s doing. Much like AA, Cherington was a scout first. Much like AA, Ben pulled off a ridiculous trade that freed the franchise from bad contracts made by his predecessor. And after he did that, it was automatically assumed he would spend big again. He didn’t. He made smart, but admittedly headscratching choices, that only made sense to people who really knew the game. He also revamped the farm system, like Duquette, in a smaller window of time. AA has had 2 more drafts to work with than all of them.
        And again, to address your “types of pressure” point, try running an organization that bases decisions off of keeping a sell-out streak alive. AA has to deal with Beeston. Cherington has to deal with Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino, with the latter 2 sometimes being ridiculous. Pick up Terry Francona’s book if you want to hear about some of those and what Theo Epstein had to deal with.
        So if it’s not the GM that’s the issue, then it’s the player development that’s the issue. It’s been an issue. It was an issue prior to AA taking over for JPR. So if you want to continue to sit back and watch everybody else go to the playoffs, watch how Duquette and Friedman do more with less, and watch Cherington make the most of what he has, well, you will. I don’t see that in AA, regardless of how well he used to manipulate the pick system or not. Regardless of how well he tried to toy with the waiver system last year. There’s no doubt he’s creative, but that doesn’t guarantee success. All the GMs in the AL East, except Cashman, are creative. You can’t take the “We can’t all be winners approach” in how you look at this either. Other teams are doing it better.


      9. I can 100% agree with what you wrote here. (BTW I have two disqus accounts for some odd reason…)

        Everything comes back down to player development. That’s something that AA has yet to fix.

        I have yet to read the book, The Extra 2%, but a lot about Andrew Friedman reminds me of what Pat Gillick did in the early days. In the mid-80’s the Blue Jays kept on churning out home-grown players.

        The problem started back in the early 2000’s, because the new owners (*ahem* Rogers *ahem*) wanted to create a competitive team on the cheap.

        That’s why Ricciardi was hired. Not many fans realize this part, but Ricciardi was Billy Beane’s protege. Riccardi was previously the head of player development over at the Oakland A’s organization.

        One area of focus was to draft college players because they would be sooner to break into the big-leagues. So that means less $ allocated to scouting / player development.

        It’s not a surprise that the Blue Jays lost a lot of their best scouts at that time either.


      10. I’m well aware of Riccardi and why he was hired. I was excited. He was into his third year when I met him outside of a Lowell Spinners game. We talked baseball for a good 30 minutes. I was clearly in over my head because the advanced stats he talked of I had yet to make myself aware. I liked his idea of short term contracts based off player productivity. The concept was if a player shows development (Hinske and Wells), then the team was to pay him more early and lock him in cheap for his best years. The initial contract to Wells was fantastic (5 yr/$25M for prime years.) It was the extension they gave him that was the albatross. That was a bit un-Riccardi like, at least according to what he said he was trying to do. It was nice of him to give me that kind of organizational insight. He, like you, was impressed with what I knew about the Jays, considering I lived in the Boston area (as did he), so he kind of threw me a bone.

        Anyway, enough tooting my horn on that. You hit it on the head in the scouting department. I honestly was just getting into prospects and the importance of a farm system around 2001-2003. I didn’t know Riccardi’s drafting philosophy, nor did I really pay attention to it, but it sounds like a Billy Beane approach. If Beane had a need that needed to be filled immediately and he liked the position strength at the college level, he drafted an older arm, knowing he would be ready to go sooner. Huston Street is a good example. The Orioles tried something similar with Chris Ray.

        Friedman’s story is pretty cool. It’s worth the read, so I’m not going to ruin it for you. If you don’t follow Jonah Keri on twitter, you should. Excellent numbers guy.

        Anyway, tune into the podcast we got coming up. I kind of tipped my hand by this friendly debate, but there will be more info to come. The player development and arm injuries to pitchers has been two of my biggest gripes, prior to the massive trades last season. So it should be fun. I don’t like seeing anybody get fired. I got fired back in February. Not having a job sucks, though AA shouldn’t have a problem being picked up on somebody’s staff. I will say this, if there are owners in baseball willing to give Jim Bowden another chance (Reds disaster, then Nationals disaster), AA will get another chance. I just hope he learns from his mistakes. These Jays rumours going on right now and the players named… Keri’s right in saying that it’s too much and AA is trying too hard to right the ship.


      11. “The initial contract to Wells was fantastic (5 yr/$25M for prime years.)”

        I’m not trying to nit pick, but it was actually 5yr/$15m. A same contract was handed out to Eric Hinske at the same time. The Wells’ deal worked great; Hinske, not so much.


  2. Greg, I enjoyed your piece. You speak of a winning organizational philosophy which I admit isn’t present. But then one looks at the Cardinals and they have developed that winning philosophy through, well, winning and by reaching the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 years. That unlikely WS win in ’06 I think really propelled them. Before that happened, they kept on bowing out early in the playoffs.

    The Rays are awesome, but they’ve had to stay the course because they can’t do anything else. The Jays I believe were on that same course, building from within, collecting assets, until last offseason because the Jays have greater $$ available and made the move to compete now. They accelerated their initial plan. Was that right or wrong? I think we’d all be lying if we said we weren’t excited by last offseason.


    1. Last offseason was exciting, and I was hopeful. I guess one of the things that became apparent was that there was no ‘Plan B’ if a couple of guys didn’t come as advertised. Like, say, Josh Johnson. I think real pitching depth, and a bench with 4 real roleplayers on it would begin to give the team a chance when the first guy gets hurt.
      Also, the first guy not getting hurt would be super helpful too.


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