Blue Jays GM: J.P. Ricciardi

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

The general manager had just completed his sixth year running the Blue Jays.

The GM's team was coming off an 83-win season and he soon would re-sign his free-agent shortstop at baseball's winter meetings.

Gord Ash's seventh campaign wasn't as fruitful, and with five days remaining in the 2001 season, Jays president Paul Godfrey fired him.

Fast-forward to the present where J.P. Ricciardi is about to embark on his seventh year as Blue Jays GM. Like Ash, Ricciardi has had three winning seasons.

Like Ash, Ricciardi has not reached post-season play.

As baseball teams continue with their winter improvements to keep off-season undefeated records intact, the obvious question is: Will 2008, Ricciardi's seventh season, be his final one running the Jays?

When Ricciardi was hired Nov. 14, 2001, his philosophy was similar to Billy Beane's Money Ball theory with the Oakland A's: Little importance was placed on speed or defence, bunting was a dumb idea, and the organization preferred collegians over high schoolers in the draft.

This despite the fact every Jays team always has had a strong-armed shortstop, and in 2002 the Jays' best players -- Carlos Delgado, Shannon Stewart, Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter -- had not played college ball.

Ricciardi's philosophy has changed -- in 2006 he drafted Travis Snider with their first pick, and four of the first seven this past June were high schoolers, led by No. 1 pick Kevin Ahrens.

It's good to be branching out -- why close off one river of talent? But following a dramatic overhaul in the scouting department -- this was the first spring the new Jays scouts had concentrated on high schoolers. Time will tell how well they have done.

He also has been well rewarded for his work. Ricciardi originally signed a three-year deal in Toronto but, after the 2002 season, with the Boston Red Sox looking for a GM, he was given a five-year extension with the Jays.

At the winter meetings in New Orleans in 2005, a day after signing free-agent A.J. Burnett, Ricciardi signed another three-year extension.

While front-office salaries are not publicized, sources say the GM cracked the $1-million US mark in 2007.

This latest extension ensures he will be paid through the 2010 season.

Ricciardi enters 2008 with the longest-running streak among current GMs -- six seasons of not having reached the post-season.

BAD TRADES

- Paul Quantrill and Cesar Izturis dealt to the Dodgers for Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts, when L.A. was offering Eric Gagne.

- Felipe Lopez, a future all-star, for John-Ford Griffin and Jason Arnold.

- Shannon Stewart to the A's for Bobby Kielty.

GOOD TRADES

- Ted Lilly from Oakland for Kielty.

- Justin Speier from Colorado for Mark Hendrickson.

- John McDonald from Cleveland for Tom Mansty.

- Jeremy Accardo from San Francisco for Shea Hillenbrand.

BAD DECISIONS

- Releasing Brandon Lyon with three years remaining.

- Not keeping future Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter when all he wanted was the $300,000 minimum.

- Giving Eric Hinske a five-year $14.75-million deal after one season.

GOOD DECISIONS

- Drafting Aaron Hill with the Jays No. 1 pick in 2003

- Locking up Vernon Wells to a seven-year $126-million extension.

- Landing closer B.J. Ryan, although he was on the sidelines for most of the 2007 season.

- Signing Matt Stairs.

Mostly under Ricciardi it has been one step forward, one step back -- six years without contending for top spot in the AL East or a wild-card berth.

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GETTING TO KNOW J.P.

Born: Sept. 26, 1959

Highlights: During his six seasons the Jays have averaged 80.2 wins ... The Jays have finished third in the AL East four times, placed second once and fifth once, and never have been closer than 10 games out of first ... On Dec. 6, 2005, Ricciardi signed a three-year (2008-10) extension, with an out clause -- if president Paul Godfrey leaves the Jays.


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