Ricciardi out as Blue Jays GM
Turbulent season marks end of eight years in Toronto
BALTIMORE -- In this disappointing season for the Blue Jays, the organization took a major step toward altering its course on Saturday, parting ways with general manager J.P. Ricciardi. It brings an end to an eight-year era, during which Ricciardi fell short in his attempts to return the Toronto franchise to its previous heights.
Effective immediately, assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos will assume Ricciardi's role. On Saturday at Camden Yards, Anthopoulos sat to the left of interim president and CEO Paul Beeston during a pregame news conference to explain a decision that came two days before the offseason's arrival.
"He's very competitive," Beeston said of Ricciardi. "He worked very hard, and he lived and died with every win and every loss, particularly. At the same time, I think he would tell you for certain that he wasn't satisfied with what he'd set out to do, which was to take the Blue Jays back to postseason play."
In that regard, and playing in an increasingly-difficult American League East, Ricciardi came away empty-handed. Among active general managers, Ricciardi had served the longest with no playoff appearances on his resume. The closest the Jays came was in 2006, when the club won 87 games and placed second in the division.
During this turbulant season, the Blue will finish with a losing record for the first time since '05. A poor economy led to a slash in team payroll last winter, Toronto's home attendance decreased this year for the first time since '03, and an alleged in-house feud between a group of players and manager Cito Gaston was made public on Friday.
It was a culmination of events that begged for a change at the top. Ricciardi was not available for comment.
"We've made a tough decision today," Beeston said. "It was very tough from my point of view, because I have a good friend in J.P. Ricciardi. But at the very end of the day, we determined we were going to make a move and we would make it right now."
Out of respect for Ricciardi, Beeston said he wanted to inform him of the team's decision in person in Baltimore, rather than wait for a scheduled season-end news conference on Monday in Toronto. Tony Viner, the president and CEO of Rogers Media, which is the division of Rogers Communications Inc. that oversees the Blue Jays, was also at Camden Yards.
Beeston and Viner met with Ricciardi and then held a meeting with the team at the stadium to talk about the front-office move. Beeston also met earlier in the day with a handful of players to discuss recent reports of a clubhouse rift between the players and Gaston, but no one offered specifics about the nature of those talks.
It was the removal of Ricciardi that was the focus. For Anthopoulos, who served as one of Ricciardi's assistants since the '05 season, it was a bittersweet day.
"I wouldn't be sitting here today if it was not for him and evetything he has done for me," said Anthopoulos, referring to Ricciardi. "He's done a lot for me, and going forward, I'm very grateful for him."
Ricciardi's tenure was marked by criticism over a variety of issues.
Ricciardi has a history of openly speaking his mind -- sometimes to a fault.
|"J.P. always looked out for my best interest and I think that was lost in a lot of that."|
|-- Roy Halladay|
Ricciardi was also hit with criticism for some of the large contracts he handed out.
The GM signed Ryan to a five-year, $47 million deal prior to the '06 season and released the former closer in July with $15 million left on his contract. Ricciardi signed Frank Thomas to a two-year, $18 million before the 2007 campaign and released him in May of last year. Ricciardi was behind the lengthy extension for Alex Rios, who the Jays let go in a waiver claim to the White Sox in August, receiving nothing in return.
This past July, Ricciardi was once again criticized for his handling of trade talks involving Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay -- a process that led to a media circus. Toronto turned down multiple offers and decided to keep the star pitcher in the fold, though Halladay may still be shopped over the winter. On Saturday, Halladay said he had no issues with how the general manager approached the situation.
"J.P. always looked out for my best interest and I think that was lost in a lot of that," Halladay said. "I think people blamed him for that and I think that was something where, knowing the situation the team was in and my situation, he was looking out for my best interest. He took a lot of flak for that in certain cases that he shouldn't have.
"I always appreciate the fact that he did stand up and defend me, and I always felt that he was in [my] corner."
Beeston said the way Ricciardi managed the Halladay talks earlier this year had nothing to do with his dismissal.
"The Doc situation had nothing to do with it," Beeston said.
Throughout his tenure, Ricciardi noted how difficult it was to survive in the AL East against teams like the Yankees and Red Sox with their robust payrolls. Toronto was in first place in the division as late as May 23 this year, but injuries and other problems led to a season-long tumble down the standings. The Jays are 75-86 with one game left on their schedule.
Given the team's performance, and a bleak outlook for 2010, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Gaston -- brought back to be Toronto's manager after an 11-year absence from the game -- said the move did not really come as a surprise, but that did not make it any easier. Gaston made sure to call Ricciardi to thank him for making it possible for him to return to his current role.
"He got me back in the game," Gaston said. "I appreciate what he did for me here. I think he worked hard here with what he was trying to do. It's hard. No matter what, no matter what you think, when you get let go, it hurts."
The Blue Jays did draft and develop a group of talented young players under Ricciardi's watch.
Second baseman Aaron Hill and designated hitter Adam Lind -- both selected by Ricciardi -- have enjoyed breakout seasons this year. While Toronto's pitching staff has been riddled by injuries, young arms with promise, including lefty Ricky Romero this year, always seemed to be waiting in the wings. Toronto may also have a future star in young slugger Travis Snider.
Many of the Blue Jays' players said it was hard to learn that Ricciardi had been let go.
"It's disappointing," Halladay said. "But I think we have to move on. It's fortunate we have the offseason to do that."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.