Ricciardi in frustrating spot with Jays

Ricciardi in frustrating spot with Jays

When J.P. Ricciardi was named general manager of the Blue Jays on Nov. 14, 2001, he promised to rebuild the farm system with the goal of using home-grown talent for the framework of a contending team. The free-agent market would be used to augment that framework.

Ricciardi's plan seemed like a sensible one for a team in a tough division, especially one that didn't have the wherewithal to match budgets with the Yankees or Red Sox.

Unfortunately for Ricciardi and the Blue Jays, they strayed from the script and the result has been the continuation of a playoff drought now approaching 15 years.

Such frustration comes with a cost, and for manager John Gibbons, the price was his job. Gibbons was let go Friday after three-plus years at the helm because the Jays have "underachieved at this point with a good club," as Ricciardi put it during his news conference.

No doubt. And clearly there's a sense of urgency to turn things around in Toronto.

Ricciardi is right in his view that the Jays have underachieved. But you also must wonder if the sense of urgency isn't greater for Ricciardi, who may be on thin ice himself despite a contract that runs through the 2010 season.

He is the only current GM who has been on the job with his present team at least five years without a playoff appearance to show for it. He hired Gibbons, as well has Gibbons' predecessor, Carlos Tosca.

Under Ricciardi, the Blue Jays have finished above .500 three times, but only once (2006) did they finish higher than third place in the five-team American League East.

The player pipeline that was supposed to supply the nucleus of a contending team hasn't produced the hoped for yield. In 2001, it was thought Ricciardi would build a player development mechanism, perhaps as productive as the one he witnessed first hand in Oakland while serving under Sandy Alderson and then Billy Beane. But the Jays' Drafts and player development results the last five years have been underwhelming.

Some of the Draft picks since Ricciardi arrived, like Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch and Aaron Hill, have contributed. But the key home-grown Jays -- Roy Halladay, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Dustin McGowan -- were drafted under Ricciardi's predecessor, Gord Ash.

With only a trickle of talent coming from the system spigot, Ricciardi altered his game plan.

Nicknamed "Just Prospects" Ricciardi by media wags early on for his deals for prospects, the GM went the other way a few years ago.

The Blue Jays became serious players on the free-agent market, spending $102 million on pitchers A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan and $18 million on Frank Thomas.

The spending didn't stop there. Wells was given a seven-year extension worth $126 million. Halladay ($40 million over three years), first baseman Lyle Overbay ($24 million, four years) and outfielder Alex Rios ($69 million, seven years) helped push a Toronto player payroll that was $50 million three years ago to $98 million today.

That kind of capital expenditure is not unusual for a contending team. But it's usually intolerable for a cellar dwellar. Heading into Friday night's game at Pittsburgh, the Blue Jays were in the AL East basement, four games under .500.

Perhaps putting Cito Gaston back in the dugout as manager will be the spark that ignites this talented team. Detroit climbed out of the AL Central cellar. Seattle on the other hand, did not and it cost GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren their jobs this week.

The Blue Jays have the talent to bring a happy ending to this revised plan, and plenty of time to turn things around.

No one would love to see that more than their GM.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.