Organizational Rankings: #20

Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals

#20: Toronto Blue Jays

Ownership: C+

Being owned by a corporate conglomeration is generally not a great thing for a baseball team. While every team is run as a business, there is less incentive for the team to try to win at the expense of making money, and therefore, more emphasis is placed on profit and loss statements than on winning records. However, among corporate owners, Rogers is better than most – they’ve expanded team payroll significantly since taking over, and with a 2008 payroll of near $100 million, the Jays certainly had enough money to build a contender. Whether they will be allowed to sustain that level of payroll remains to be seen, however.

Front Office: C

J.P. Ricciardi does a lot of things well. He’s done a good job of identifying undervalued talent, has built up a terrific bullpen by acquiring players other teams didn’t want, has put an outstanding defensive team behind his pitching staff, and has built a team that is somewhat competitive in a ridiculously tough division. However, he also does a lot of things wrong; driving significant amounts of good talent out of his front office with his abrasive personality, being over-involved in draft day decisions, and publicly insulting random players for no particular reason. The team’s scouting department was dismantled when he took over, and it still hasn’t recovered. It doesn’t help that Tony LaCava is interviewing for every possible GM job that opens up, which will add to the brain drain in Toronto when his predictable departure comes to pass. At this point, it’s a legitimate question how much longer J.P. is going to be the guy calling the shots in Toronto.

Major League Talent: C+

For the last few years, the Jays have put a very good defense behind a very good pitching staff to make up for a weak offense, and it’s been somewhat successful. However, the Jays lost A.J. Burnett to free agency and both Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum are recovering from significant injuries, leaving their rotation as a land of question marks. Their deep, strong bullpen and still quality defense should allow them to cover for the loss of three good arms to a degree, but it’s going to be nearly impossible for them to have the lowest ERA in baseball again. To add to their 87 win total from last year, then, they’re going to have to score more often than they did last year, and it’s hard to see where that kind of boost is going to come from. In reality, this is a team that is going to have to fight the Orioles to stay out of last place, and that probably means they should be looking at getting young, but they have some onerous contracts on the books that won’t be easy to move and J.P. might not be willing to start a rebuilding project that would probably mean the end of his job.

Minor League Talent: B

The Jays have done a good job of drafting lately, snagging quality prospects such as Travis Snider, J.P. Arincibia, Brett Cecil, and David Cooper. Hitting on their first round picks with college players has given them a core of young players with some real upside who could be in Toronto sooner rather than later, and for a team that could use an infusion of talent, that’s a life saver. The dropoff after those four is fairly substantial, however, and while there’s some interesting players, the system isn’t deep enough to support a full scale rebuild, if that’s deemed necessary.

Overall: C+

From a micro perspective, there’s quite a bit of talent in the Toronto organization – high quality players such as Alex Rios and Roy Halladay, surrounded by good young role players such as Aaron Hill, and some useful veterans like Scott Rolen. However, from a macro perspective, the team has enough flaws to make them significant longshots to keep up with the New York/Boston/Tampa triumvirate in 2009, and another year of middling success might not save Ricciardi’s job. The Jays are in a tough division, but as the Rays have shown, a well run organization can overcome competition. The Jays don’t qualify as a well run organization right now.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Matt B.
13 years ago

This is likely to be a quiet thread. Not sure there are many Jays fans that visit fangraphs very often.

Wish I could argue the ranking, but unfortunately it is pretty damn accurate.

I would think JP is on his last legs as GM as his 5 year rebuild is nearing 8-9 years. His draft record has been abysmal at best. Ricky Romero (an off the board pick scouts said) over Tulowitzki was another big mistake.

Thank god for Roy, the best pitcher/person in baseball. He has never once complained about the Jays dire straits playing in the AL East (best division in sports). I would have to wonder what kind of package he would bring in. Though I doubt JP is the man to bring in that package. He seems to have an pretty exlcusive list of GMs that will actually trade with him (Oakland for one) I don’t know if he keeps getting terrible offers or if he has ticked off the other teams but his trade record isn’t all that hot either.

Saying all that, the Jays could’ve been knocking on the playoffs door in a lot of other divisions the past few seasons.

Evan
13 years ago
Reply to  Matt B.

I think that’s unfair. His rebuild produced one of the five best teams in baseball in 2008. It just so happened that 3 of the other 4 top 5 teams were in his division.

Ricciardi’s immediate problem is that 2008 was his contention year, and he’s likely to fall back from that, and he’s going to lose Halladay before he can contend again. He did rebuild successfully, and he produced a team that probably would have won its division had it been in the AL West, AL Central, NL West, or NL East.

What he needs to do now is rebuild again – something he’s already done successfully – but chances are the owners don’t see 2008 as a successful result (even though it was) so they’ll think his first rebuild failed and fire him for starting over (and he knows it, so he won’t start over, and the entire episode will damage his resume pretty badly).

Matt B.
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

The Jays were a top 5 team in 2008?

Eric Walkingshaw
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

Matt:
It’s not such an outlandish claim. The Jays had the fourth best run-differential in baseball while playing a disproportionate number of games against the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.

Matt B.
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

I’m sorry, as an avid Jays fan I have to seriously disagree with this thought process. The division is the toughest in sports possibly but they were not a top 5 team in the majors.

There pitching was very solid, as well as defense. But there offense was brutal. A top 5 team can’t hit .264/.331/.399 as a team with 126 HRs and expect to compete in ANY division IMO.

Evan
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

Except they were. As Eric points out, the numbers completely support the conclusion that the Toronto Blue Jays were probably the 4th best team in baseball in 2008 (behind the Red Sox, Rays, and Cubs).

Ricciardi built a solid team that would have won divisions other than the AL East (and NL Central, because the Cubs were awesome), but they looked entirely mediocre because of the strength of their schedule.

Adjusting for strength of schedule also makes Roy Halladay look better, and he should have won the Cy Young.

Dumb Sports Fan
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

If only stats won baseball games.

Eric Walkingshaw
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

“If only stats won baseball games.”

I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. The Blue Jays won 86 games in by far the best division in baseball.

Matt B.
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

You’re telling me a lineup of Scutaro/Inglett/Rios/Wells/Overbay/Rolen/Barajas/Lind/DH spot is a top 5 contender??

They were seriously lacking in offense all season, with that pitching staff, it’s a crime they didn’t finish better than that. Even an “average” MLB offense wins the pennant.

They had huge flaws, JP failed.

Matt H.
13 years ago
Reply to  Evan

They had flaws, but their run prevention was excellent, and they played some serious competition. They were a really good team that could have won a few other divisions.