Former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi was named Sandy Alderson’s Special Assistant To Something Or Other yesterday, and with the Worcester native’s move from the broadcast booth back into the front office of an MLB club, it’s worth remembering he accomplished more in Toronto than merely slandering Adam Dunn and trashing a former colleague “Nobody likes a loud loser,” mused Amazing Avenue’s Sam Page, “yet I emphasized with the guy.”
In particular, I loved the 2008 Blue Jays, a team Jay Jaffe called, “the strongest fourth-place team in Wild Card-era history.” Though Ricciardi’s constant whining about the Yankees and Red Sox was at best grating in light of the Rays’ success, the 2008 Blue Jays seemed unfairly obscured by their division.
Before the A’s and Rays made it trendy, Ricciardi built teams with an extreme emphasis on pitching and defense. That 2008 season, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett combined for an incredible 467 innings, while pitching at career-high levels. Those two, along with unheralded youngsters Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum, and Dustin McGowan created a formidable staff that lead the American League in Innings Pitched, ERA, FIP, and GB%.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had swapped Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen at third base, completing a defense-first infield that included SS Marco Scutaro, 2B Aaron Hill, 1B Lyle Overbay, and utility-man John McDonald. Not even the gradual unraveling of Vernon Wells’ career in center field could undermine an outfield defense made great by Alex Rios’ incredible range. They easily lead the American League in Dewan’s +/- , doubling the total of the next best AL team (Oakland).
In Moneyball, Ricciardi left the Athletics after promising Blue Jays’ president Paul Godfrey, “These people are all replaceable by people you’ve never heard of.” He nearly proved himself right. Perhaps even more so than the more successful 2008 Rays, Ricciard’s Jays typified a new “Moneyball” that glorified players antithetical to those in Moneyball.
If playing Boston and New York 36 times a season put Ricciardi’s Blue Jays at a competitive disadvantage, presumably he’s not intimidated by the prospect of going toe to toe with the Phillies and Braves an equal number of times.