Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Noted JP skeptic John Brattain of Baseball Digest Daily often writes of the Jays in a manner I disagree with, but I tend not to just make a sport out of arguing with those whose favorite pastime seems to be honing their rapier wit at the expense of the Jays GM.

Sometimes they are right even while still being irritating by being too clever by half, sometimes they are off their nut, but in any case.... we are all entitled to our opinion. For the most part, it's simply not worth the effort to try to make sure you've corrected every perceived error you come across on line.

However, Brattain has a piece up now on MSNBC Sports that's worthy of your attention. Laying aside that Brattain pays particular interest to the Jays even though his charge might be properly laid against numerous teams, Brattain argues that a team with a clear offensive need at LF or DH had no legitimate reason to not sign Barry Bonds and thus not only colluded, but such a team is actually guilty of a de facto fixing of a pennant race by not putting forth the best team they are capable of fielding. In his argument, JP actively helped the standing of the Rays and Red Sox by not adding a freely available player that might have put the Jays into a playoff spot. He says this is tantamount to breaking faith with the fans and the game itself.

Let me be clear - if the Jays, or any team, acting solely on their own initiative is guilty of this, then the executive who had the final say on that choice rightly deserves the full brunt of the criticism that fans and journalists might direct at him. More directly, if JP, acting upon his own authority and with no direction from above, chose to stick with Wilkerson and Mench and not sign Bonds when Bonds was (so he claimed) willing to play for the minimum, then he should be fired for that offense alone.

That out of the way, I do not believe that this is the case. Brattain repeatedly points the finger at JP, and in so doing he betrays his own bias. On repeated occasions the Jays upper management has overridden the sitting GM to act as the team saw fit. The ugly Alex Gonzalez contract? Not Gord Ash's doing, it was Godfrey's. Ditto Vernon Wells. Paul Beeston stepped in to get Roger Clemens signed. It happens. It seems to me only fair that Brattain present some evidence JP had the liberty to sign Bonds and chose not to before he blusters. If he didn't, then let's ask if Godfrey had that liberty. If he didn't, then let's go up the chain to Ted Rogers if need be. SOMEONE on the team made the choice. Let's ask who that might have been before we charge an employee with breaking faith with the fans in a matter he might well have had no choice about.

Once we've done that, let's ask the even more obvious question - if signing Barry Bonds for the minimum was an obvious slam dunk, why did NO team do so? Why did the D'backs give up talent for Adam Dunn instead of signing Bonds? Why didn't the Twins sign him? The Mets? The Tigers? the Indians? Hell the Rays (Like Cliff Floyd was better?)? The Dodgers (if they had room for Manny...)? Is ALL of this JP Ricciardi's fault? Can the Blue Jays be blamed for all these failures? Or shall we look at the obvious suspect.

Hiya, Uncle Bud!

Can we not all agree that the only obvious answer to this situation is that despite his used-car salesman lies, Bud Selig made it clear he didn't want Barry Bonds playing baseball in 2008? Is there some other solution to the mystery that is being overlooked? OK, fine. Then if that's the case, Brattain's case is that JP was morally obliged to defy his own ownership (without whom no deal was valid in any case) and the entire major league office and sign Bonds in spite of the consequences.

Yeah, right. THIS, my friends, is an example of exactly the sort of thing I mean when I say people have gotten irrational in their desire to hang the world's ills around JP's neck. If Bud Selig has let it be known Bonds was not to be signed, JP's hands were tied. period. If that meant not making the playoffs (and it may well have) then talk to Selig about that bad faith.

Now, perhaps Brattain or you are saying to yourselves "By god, my first responsibility is to my team and I'd have signed Bonds no matter the consequence!" Well, let me throw one more stick in your spokes. The Toronto Blue Jays, alone among all the teams in baseball, received cash payments from Major league Baseball as compensation for currency inequality (excepting 2008 because of the very unusual currency balance last spring) - money that is absolutely critical to the Jays being a reasonably well paid team. Year after year while the Canadian dollar was running at 70 cents or so to the American dollar the Jays got an infusion of much needed cash. Now that it's down, again, to 80 cents and falling, the Jays will no doubt be petitioning the commissioner for the resumption of "equalization payments."

Guess what happens to that request if the Jays had signed Bonds in defiance of Selig's will? How many tens of millions over how many years are we prepared to lose in order to take a stand on Bonds? Of all the team who needed Bonds this year, Bud Selig had a bigger hammer to wield over the Jays, by several orders of magnitude, than he did over any other team.

(And while I'm on the subject, now you know why the Jays adhere religiously to slot money in the first round of the draft.)

No, I'm sorry Mr. Brattain, as much as you want to pin this on JP, it won't stick. I am all for a finding of collusion - I believe it happened and I agree it breaks the rules (albeit there's a perverse justice in the cheater being cheated). I furthermore would be very happy to see Uncle Weasel pay the price for the action. But I don't see the logic in selectively criticizing individual teams for not trying to hold back the tide. Most especially not the Jays and among the Jays organization most especially not the man who is not the top executive.



Anonymous said...

I think John speaks for a lot of fans that are just frustrated by a few of JP's shortcomings:
1. willingness to stick with certain players for too long
2. not having confidence that his minor leaguers will get the job done (not playing the kids)
3. going after too many fringe major league players (which almost every GM does)
John is also frustrated by the lack of overall aggressiveness of JP. JP doesn't trade top prospects for established players (I agree with JP on that). JP has never added players at the deadline to make a playoff run.
Overall, I think Brattain expresses a lot of feelings that people share- frustration with the Jays and at being passed by Tampa. Everyone now knows basically what to expect from JP in that he has continued to take a risk averse approach. I think we would see a different JP if the team could FOR ONCE get into a decent position near the trade deadline for JP to do something. Timing is important during the year.

woodpeck said...

i agree with the previous post. i just want to add that someone needs to put the pressure on JP to take some risks or its your job. right now, i feel he thinks he has 100% job security. for a GM, that is not nec. a good thing. a little bit of fear in JP's head might see a better product on the field. or at least the promise of a better product on the field. i can't stand watching essentially the same team every year.