Ricciardi returning as Jays' GM
Godfrey explains decision on day Toronto keeps Gaston on
TORONTO -- Paul Godfrey is a realist. The Blue Jays president and CEO is well aware that his announcing that general manager J.P. Ricciardi will be back for the 2009 season won't go over well in all circles. Godfrey and his critics will simply have to agree to disagree.
"I know that this will be received with mixed emotions," Godfrey said. "Not only in the media, but with the fans as well. But I believe that J.P. is still the one to do the job as the general manager of the Blue Jays."
That was the message Godfrey relayed recently to club ownership, which he said completely backed his stance on the issue. So, on the day Toronto announced that manager Cito Gaston agreed to a two-year contract extension, Godfrey revealed that Ricciardi would be retained next season as well.
Ricciardi has received his fair share of criticism over the years -- this season being no exception -- in light of Toronto's continued lackluster showing in the American League East. Earlier this year, the Blue Jays overhauled their coaching staff in response to the team's struggles, but Ricciardi avoided the axe.
The last three campaigns have produced winning records for the Jays -- the first such run since 1998-2000 -- but the club has finished no higher than second place in the division over that span, and hasn't reached the playoffs since 1993. This year, Ricciardi made the third managerial change of his seven-year tenure and watched his club slip to fourth in the AL East.
Still, Godfrey is convinced that there has been progress under Ricciardi and that the club will continue to move in the right direction with him at the helm. Whether or not Godfrey will be back in his current role in 2009 to see that through remains to be seen. Godfrey said he'll likely announce a decision about his future some time next week.
"It isn't acceptable," Godfrey said of Toronto's persistent struggles. "Hopefully, we'll be better next year. At the same time, I think a lot of the fans understand that this team is better now -- I believe -- than when J.P. Ricciardi took over.
"I believe not only the Major League team is better, I believe that the Minor League system is better."
Godfrey was quick to point out that three of Toronto's top players -- outfielders Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, and pitcher Roy Halladay -- are holdovers from the previous regime. Godfrey went on to list a handful of young players -- Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider, among others -- who are beginning to make an impact, or could play a prominent role next season.
That's one reason Godfrey said Ricciardi given an extension through 2010 three years ago, providing the GM time to develop some of his top Draft picks. There's no denying that the Blue Jays, who have entered each of the pats three seasons with playoff aspirations, have underachieved, though.
Since Ricciardi was named the club's general manager prior to the 2002 season, the Blue Jays -- operating on a near-$100 million payroll this year -- have placed third or lower in the division six times. It didn't help matters that the Tampa Bay Rays -- with their $44 million budget -- climbed to the top of the AL East this year.
"We're all judged on record -- I understand that," said Godfrey, when asked about the team's performance under Ricciardi, who is the longest tenured GM without a playoff appearance to his credit. "Knowing what I know about the club, and knowing what I see coming for the future, I'm very supportive of him."
That includes on the handful of occasions that Ricciardi has stirred up controversy with some ill-advised public comments.
In June, Ricciardi was the target of national criticism after questioning Arizona slugger Adam Dunn's passion for the game during a radio call-in show. Dunn and Ricciardi engaged in a minor war of words in what turned out to be a regrettable ordeal for the GM. A similar situation occurred last season.
In May 2007, on the same weekly radio show, Ricciardi took some heat for openly admitting that the club fabricated a story about closer B.J. Ryan's left elbow injury. During Spring Training '07, the Blue Jays indicated that Ryan was suffering a back injury, but it was later revealed that Ryan really required season-ending elbow surgery.
Godfrey shrugged off the pair of embarrassing episodes.
"J.P. Ricciardi wears his emotions on his sleeve -- there's no doubt about that," he said. "These things about Adam Dunn, or the B.J. Ryan incident last year -- and I've said this to his face, so he's knows I'm not saying anything behind his back -- he usually says them on the talk show after a loss.
"He's a very passionate guy. He has slipped up a couple of times. He knows that and I really don't have to say anything to him. He usually comes in and says it to me. I think it's only because he cares and because he really gets emotionally involved in the game. That is one of the flaws in his character."
As far as Godfrey is concerned, incidents such as those were hardly reason enough to show Ricciardi the door. Prior to Thursday's game against the Yankees, Godfrey held a clubhouse meeting with the players to thank them for their effort this season, and to inform the group that Gaston and Ricciardi would both be back next year.
As for Godfrey, not even Ricciardi, who can opt out of his contract if the team president decides to walk away, knows which direction he is leaning.
"He's asked me," Godfrey said. "He's asked me on a couple of occasions what my intentions are. I said I'm discussing it with my family and I'll let him know when I make a decision -- the same thing I'm telling you guys."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.