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Bluebird Banter Q & A: Part 3

The final part of the roundtable. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Bluebird Banter: Can the Blue Jays realistically compete in the AL East, both now and long term?

Alpheus: If everything breaks right, I don't see why not. The Jays definitely have enough talent to win this upcoming season. However, we also need some of our prospects to break out and perform at or near their talent level. The biggest problem the Jays had the past couple season was due to hot shot prospects not living up to expectations (Josh Phelps, Guillermo Quiroz, Dustin McGowan, to name a few). Aside from Alex Rios, there hasn't been a top prospect in the Jays organization that actually made significant contribution at the major league level since Vernon Wells. I think we are due for some better luck with prospects. However, even if some of our prospects bust out big time, we also have to best the revamped Red Sox and the rebuilding Yankees (as much as you can rebuild with a $150mil payroll). I think the team to beat in the AL East in 2007 is the Red Sox, although there are uncertainties, their rotation has the potential to be deadly, which will offset any problems they have in their bullpen. In addition, any team with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz hitting 3-4 will not have problems scoring runs, the rumours of them getting Todd Helton only made me more concern about facing this Red Sox team this upcoming season. On the other hand, I feel like the Yankees are at a transitional stage this moment, they are set to peak a year or two down the road. Despite his struggles, trading away Randy Johnson is going to hurt the Yankees this upcoming year. The back end of the Yankees rotation looks even more suspect than the Jays before the signing of Thomson and Ohka. In addition, losing Gary Sheffield will not help their chances in 2007, his bat will be missed by the Yankees this upcoming season. On the other hand, the moves that Brian Cashman made this offseason set them up for prolonged success in the future. The Yankees have arguably the best group of Right-Handed pitching prospects in baseball. Philip Hughes looks to be the real deal but likely won't be ready to make a huge impact until 2008. For the Yankees, age and injuries is always a concern, I say 2007 will be an off year for them but they will storm back with vengence in 2008. For these reasons, I believe the Jays has a better chance to win it all in the near future than the long term future. Our farm system and economical situation indicates that the Yankees and the Red Sox will once again come out on top going into the next decade. The upcoming draft, with 7 picks in the first 100, will be crucial to our long-term success.

bigearcreations: It has frustrated me these last number of years when people say that the Blue Jays can NEVER compete with the Red Sox and Yankees.  That's extremely shortsighted perspective.  Everything is cyclical.  Dollar values change.  Ownerships change.  Minor League Systems change.  Philosophies change.  It wasn't that long ago that Mike Pagliarulo and (still free wheeling) Yankees where the laughing stock of the East.  Long term is LONG TERM and there are many variables so of course they CAN compete.

This year, I think the Jays are still a couple of starters short of being a genuine contender.  Add a Buehrle or two mid-season if they are able to stay close (and I think they can stay close) and then the situation changes.  But "adding a Buehrle" is not easy.  If was easy, the name Josh Towers would never be heard again.

easyrichboy: Hells yeah the Jays can compete. They're just going about it the wrong way. Save that money that keeps getting thrown your way- stop spending every available penny you have on mediocrity. Fact: free agents demand more $$$ to come to Canada . SO, stop pissing about with free agents- trade expensive talent for cheap talent.

At least we aren't trading much in the way of talent for big names (yet).

Sadly, the Jays are looking a lot more like Baltimore than Oakland right now.

hugo: I think so.  I think the Yankees' spending is coming down to earth now that the full implications of the luxury tax has hit and they realize that not only are they wasting money, but when they do so they are actually kicking money back in for other teams to lock up their Santanae, and Bondermen, and Sheets'.  I also think the Jays have increased payroll to the point that the only thing remaining to do is to continue to improve the farm system, and to make smart moves to keep the team moving in the right direction.  While I agree it is tough to compete in the AL East, its rigor means that once the Jays make it through, they will be that much more prepared for the playoffs.  Who wants to see a team squeak through a weak division year after year only to get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round because they have not addressed a significant element of the game?  The rigor of the East has forced the Jays to acquire top players and to attempt to improve all areas of the team while also preparing for the long haul.  That's not a bad thing.  I also think this draft (and all the picks) represent a great chance for the Jays to restock the farm system and get some real high-ceiling guys, some difference makers, into the system.

Allan: They better.

Bluebird Banter: Do you think J.P. Ricciardi is the right man for the job? What are his strengths? Weaknesses?

Allan: No idea. When he is fired/resigns I will evaluate his success entirely. Who knows, he may win us a championship or make the worst trade in history. Time will tell.

hugo: It is difficult to evaluate J.P. because he has not been, in my opinion, particularly creative in his tenure as GM.  I think this is a significant weakness, and probably his biggest.  His drafting has not been horrible but has certainly not been shown to have been great, his free agent acquisitions have mixed records but have certainly helped the team more often than not, and his trades have generally been fine.  But he hasn't shown a true long-term vision or skill for outmaneuvering other GMs when it comes to identifying overlooked areas and exploiting market inefficiencies/bargains.  I think a GM needs time (so long as they show something), but I sense that JP's time will run out quickly if the Jays have a disappointing season this year.  I don't think that will happen, but I do think JP could benefit from a little more strategic thinking.

easyrichboy: Yeah he's the right man for the job! He just seems to be caving in to pressure. Admit that we're gonna suck for a couple years and build a decent team. Stop spending money just cuz it's there.  J.P. needs to remember his roots and read Moneyball one more time. Yeah I know the A's haven't won since 1989- but they've contended almost every year. There's a good reason for this.

      ***As an aside, if any of you haven't read Moneyball, you really need to. It is a fantastic baseball book with TONS of brilliant insights and frankly just a damn good story. i read it to my son Hudson while he was still in the womb. So far he's looking like a totally awesome (under-rated) left-handed pitcher. Sweeee-eeet.

bigearcreations: Honestly, it's been a rare occasion that I haven't agreed with his moves at the time they were made.  But I've always been a believer that he came into Toronto with a long-term plan, and many of his decisions have been made within the framework of that plan.  Therefore, I believe that he's been justified in choices like dumping Carpenter (which hurts now, but remember how you felt at the time?)  

That said, its fish or cut bait time.  Either it comes together or it's time to evaluate again.  One area that he's been shockingly poor at is building the farm system.  Evaluating talent doesn't solely fall under a General Manager's job description... but as the visionary... he sets the course.  And JP's course has been white American college kids.  It's been too narrow a focus (duh), and it's coming back to bite him pretty good and hard.  Oh for the days of Eppy Guerrero and the San Pedro de Macoris baseball factory!  

Alpheus: Like every GM, J.P. Ricciardi has his strength and weaknesses. I think he has done a good job identifying and acquiring established talents that has continued their production in a Blue Jays uniform (e.g. B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett, Lyle Overbay), and finding washed up ballplayers that rejuvenates their career as a Blue Jay(Greg Zaun, Greg Myers, etc.). However, I feel like Ricciardi lacks a long term vision that is an essential quality of a good GM. Unlike Billy Beane, who is very good at selling high and buying low, Ricciardi has an opposite tendency of buying high and selling low. In many instances over the past couple seasons, Ricciardi refuses to trade his impending free-agents for one reason or another to improve the future prospects of the team. For example, Ricciardi should've pulled the plug on Hillenbrand before it boiled over into the Hillengate scandal; Hillenbrand should've been traded in April when his value peaked. I also thought Ricciardi should've pursued trading Ted Lilly and Justin Speier actively at the deadline, where there was high demand for pitchers. I am afraid that the Vernon Wells signing is another case where Ricciardi is buying high at a time where he should be selling. If the Jays don't get to the playoffs by in the next two seasons, I predict the Jays will fire Ricciardi.