New Beginnings


Over the holiday season I have kept up the tradition of opening old packs of baseball cards and waxing nostalgic about baseball seasons gone by.  This most recent iteration of card-pack opening led me to think about Jays teams of 1985 and the early 90’s. These teams hold a special place in my heart because they were exciting to watch but also because they were comprised of mainly home grown talent.

There have been a few studies I remember reading (but can’t cite because I can’t find them – just trust me) that ranks the Toronto Blue Jays as the number 1 farm system over the past 30 years.  The methodology was this: each player was given a score indicating his quality and then the totals for each farm system were summed up.  In fact, either last year or the year before (I know I know, bear with me) the Toronto Blue Jays organization had produced the most MLB players on 25-man rosters with over 80 active players.  These players were the fruits of Tim Wilken/Gord Ash’s and Pat Gillick’s labour.  The reason for this success was rooted in the fact that the Jays had set the gold standard in scouting and player development.

home grown baby

So then it was no coincidence that not long after JP Ricciardi gutted the scouting staff the Jays’ farm system fell into a steady decline and has consistently ranked in the 25th-30th positions out of all 30 major league teams.  I am not being a “Ricciardi-hater,” just stating the facts. I will give Ricciardi credit, he did put together some competitive teams during his tenure, such as his 87 win 2006 team.  However, I always felt disconnected from that team and here’s why: it was made up of a patchwork of free agents and reclamation projects.  The team had Lyle Overbay, Bengie Molina, Troy Glaus, Frank Cattalanotto, Shea Hillenbrand, Josh Towers, AJ Burnett, Ted Lilly, BJ Ryan and so on…  None of these guys came up through the Jays system, I hadn’t watched any of them grow up.  Just a bunch of hired guns mashed together in the hopes that success would develop.  It seemed hollow.

Reading Matthias’ post the other day on the Roy Halladay Trade Evaluation got me to thinking.  In the post Matthias states:

In the meantime we’ll get to watch this team develop. Personally I’m far more stoked for this upcoming 75ish winning season than the treading water 85 win years. We’ll get to see future stars develop, how the upcoming arbitration contracts to the likes of Lind play out (lock him up!) and the stocking of the farm system, from a draft, trade and international signing perspective.

It’s tough to lose a pitcher of Halladay’s stature but this is the start of a focussed effort to put the Jays back in the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Jays Playoffs!!!1 2012, book it!

He hit the nail right on the head.  Sure, this team might struggle to make it to 75 wins but they will be our team with our players.  Anthopoulos’ moves to strengthen the scouting and player development side of the business will mean the farm system will be replenished with new talented players I can watch and follow their progress.

Yankee fans always tell me to stop hating on them and that if I had ownership that wrote blank cheques to the top free agents I would love it up.  In fact, this is not true.  The fact is that what made the 1985 and early 90’s teams so endearing was the fact that it was home grown talent.  It is extremely satisfying to see a group of guys come up through the same system playing together and achieving success.  As a fan, you feel more connected, more a part of the team.  You hurt more when they lose and share in their triumphs.  Perhaps that’s why the Halladay trade stung so much? We were losing one of our own. We had followed him since the first day he was drafted:

babydoc(h/t Go Jays Go)

So, this New Year’s Eve I look forward to what lies ahead for the Blue Jays.  A lot of change is in store for this team – yet change can be a good thing. Funny though, how the more things change the more they stay the same.  Alex Anthopoulos is resurrecting the successful blueprint of the franchise as set by Pat Gillick and continued by Gord Ash. Everything old is new again.

Thou hast spoken right, ’tis true;
The wheel is come full circle


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35 replies on “New Beginnings”
  1. says: eyebleaf

    I get what you’re saying, but did the 92 & 93 World Series wins feel hollow to you? The Jays acquired Alomar and Carter in a trade. Ditto for Devon White. Winfield arrived via free agency. Ditto for Morris. Same deal for some guy named Paul Molitor. David Cone and Ricky Henderson were mid-season acquisitions. Dave Stewart. Were they all hollow acquisitions? Did those championships mean less to you? Come on.

    I just can’t buy that the best team Ricciardi put together was a “bunch of hired guns mashed together.” I personally don’t give a shit in which system the players are brought up in, as long as they win. A statement like this one – Alex Anthopoulos is resurrecting the successful blueprint of the franchise as set by Pat Gillick and continued by Gord Ash. – definitely brings out the Ricciardi hater in you. But it’s all good. I too am looking forward to next season, and the development of the young kids.

    Happy New Year, fellas. We may disagree sometimes, but that’s part and parcel of being fans. Great job on the blog this past season. I enjoy reading it. Here’s to 2010. Cheers.

  2. says: J. Roberts

    Alomar, Carter, and White were acquired for for Fernandez, McGriff, and Junior Felix, all (essentially) home-grown talents. Morris was a free agent, but how much value did he add to the Jays by managing to pitch barely better than league average while the powerhouse offense lifted him to 21 wins? Cone, Rickey, and Stewart were, as you say, mid-season acquisitions, and were acquired during the pennant run — i.e., once the home-grown core of the team had vaulted into the pennant race, these guys were added to push them over the top.

  3. says: Callum

    Eyebleaf I do enjoy your passion for the team and baseball in general, I think we all do. But I do have to take issue with a few of your points.

    You’ll notice I referenced the 1990 team and not the 1992 or 1993 teams. To answer your question re: did those championships mean less to me? Less to me than ’85 when they won the AL East? The ’89 team? The ’91 team? Yes. The ’92-’93 teams were made up of hired guns mashed together, taking a page out of the George Steinbrenner handbook. The Jays led the league in payroll in both years. Were these teams less gratifying to me than had they had home grown talent? Yes. That’s where we differ and that is the crux of my argument in this post. It would be harder for me to take pride in being a Yankees fan where my team is made up of the best free agents cherry-picked from other teams. Compare that to the 2008 Rays led by Longoria, Upton, Crawford, Kazmir, Shields, Sonnanstine. Which team is going to be more gratifying to be a fan of? The Yankees championships won’t seem more hollow than the Rays (had they won the WS)? Come on.

    How does that one statement you reference bring out the Ricciardi hater in me? Did he gut the scouting and player development aspects of the franchise? Yes. Is the farm system in the worst shape it has ever been in? Yes. Those are the facts, there is no emotion or “hating” involved. But you’re right – it is all good. I enjoy Sports and the City as well and can’t wait to read more of your fresh smack in 2010. But maybe less non-sequiturs 🙂

  4. says: eyebleaf

    @ J. Roberts: If the argument is that home grown talent was traded to bring in guys like Alomar, Carter and White, can’t that same argument be used when talking about Overbay (Dave Bush) and Troy Glaus (O-Dog)?

    @ Callum: I guess that’s where we differ. I don’t care in which system the players are brought up in. I just want the team to win. I certainly didn’t have a problem with how 92 and 93 happened. The Jays saw an opportunity which involved spending money to make money, and they ran with it. The Yankees do it now. All the power to them. Baseball is such a game that spending money does not mean you will always win. The Yankees spent billions this decade, and have two trophies to show for it. I’d take just as much pride in the Blue Jays now than I would if they spent $200 million. Championships are championships. To me, none of them are “hollow.”

    And that one statement doesn’t bring out the Ricciardi hater in you. You’re right, I was wrong. I know coming to this blog that you’re a Ricciardi hater. It’s common knowledge, and it comes across to me, a Ricciardi apologist, when I read your work. J.P. did good. He tried damn hard to put together a winner here. I’d say there will be less non-sequiturs in 2010, but I’d be lying. Cheers.

  5. says: Callum

    I don’t really mind the trades so much, that’s part of building a franchise. It hurts to lose McGriff and Fernandez but we can say that Alomar is a career Jay. It is the Dave Stewarts, Paul Molitors (though I love him!), Dave Winfields, Pat Tablers, Jack Morrises and 2 month rentals of David Cone & Rickey Henderson that take the sheen off the WS wins. As far as being a “hater” I am guilty as charged when it comes to hating the Oakland A’s. It is not possible to switch gears and root for a guy like Rickey Henderson after he disrespected Ernie Whitt in the 1989 WS. Dave Stewart dominated the Jays in the ALCS of 1989 and no hit the Jays in the regular season. Now I am rooting for these guys to lift the Jays to a WS win? It is like putting in codes in video games – it doesn’t feel right, not as good as when you beat the game on your own.

  6. says: Kman

    Re: The whole rental argument

    If the Jays wanted to add to the roster late last season for a playoff run (dreaming here) who would they move out? A struggling Justin Jackson, an under-performing Cooper, one of the multiple lower-ceiling starters? Outside of Snider and a couple of others the system was so thin that ‘rentals’ would have been virtually impossible.

    Back in the day the scouting, drafting, rule V and international signings created such depth that the Jays could deal from the farm whenever they wanted. They did it time and time again in the comment examples and were able to restock and do it all over again. A strong system creates this opportunity. This is something that the new roster should be able to accomplish.

  7. says: Dave

    It’s a scientific fact that you reach another level of enjoyment in watching kids, who grew up through your system, succeed as a team. However, if I had to choose between a couple A.L. East pennants without winning the two World Series I’m picking winning big. That’s the name of the game.

    Overall point is exactly right though. Going to be a lot of fun watching this team grow and make a run as opposed to just breaking even year in and out.

    (ps: your comment section makes me crosseyed)

  8. says: guy caballero

    Bill James has a “young player” index that scores contributions from players 25 and under (I believe). The Jays have done really well in this index over the past few seasons, due to the contributions of Marcum, Janssen, Hill, Lind, Litsch, McGowan, Accardo, and Rios – predominantly Ricciardi additions.

    You should dig up that study and see if your assertion that results have tailed off in the Ricciardi years is accurate or just bullshit.

  9. says: guy caballero

    by “that study”, I mean the study you cite that measures developed talent contributions over the past 30 years.

  10. says: guy caballero

    Oh it is also a James study – how can you suggest that results have tailed off over the Ricciardi years? James doesn’t assert it and his young player index suggests otherwise.

  11. I appreciate your insight as always, but it would be a bland and decaffeinated world if we all agreed. I see a great deal of sentimental value in the homegrown team – ’08 Rays, ’02 Angels, ’90-’92 Pirates. However, from my experiences the ’84-’90 Blue Jays always left me hollow, let down if you will. Those teams that went all the way, however, earned my trust because they fought hard and bloody to realize their goal(lemma: ’94-’95 broke my heart).

    I agree that a homegrown culture would make a champion that much sweeter to revel in. I just think Champion > Homegrown loser.

    Aside: The dramatic back-and-forth in the ’92-’93 World Series adds more esteem to those teams. We were tremendously fortunate for two exhilarating contests in lieu of any four-game anticlimactic blowout-clinching-game affairs. Continuing to enjoy your blog.

  12. says: Callum

    I don’t think I suggest anywhere in this post that results have tailed off under the Ricciardi era in terms of the quantity of players brought to the big leagues. What I do suggest is the results in the quality of players in the farm system has tailed off. The Blue Jays farm system is consistently ranked in the basement when stacked up against other MLB teams.

    From John Sickels:

    The Jays under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi took a lot of flak for focusing on polished college players in the draft. However, even when they brought in tools players, such as the high school hitters drafted in 2007 and various Latin American investments, the results were poor. The debacle of the 2009 draft is a huge blow: failing to sign the second, third, and fourth round picks speaks to serious problems with the Jays organization as a whole and hampers depth at the lower levels of the system for ’10 and beyond.

    Baseball America ranks the Blue Jays system at 28 out of 30. Toronto would be No. 30 if not for last summer’s Scott Rolen trade, which brought needed pitching talent from the Reds.

    Read more:

  13. says: Callum

    Tools of Ignorance, welcome to the Blue Jays blogosphere and thanks for posting your thoughts. I agree with your point that Champion > Homegrown loser. But for me it is, as you put it, sweeter to revel in a homegrown 75 win loser than a mish-mash 87 win water-treader.

  14. says: guy caballero

    I should say that I wouldn’t be surprised if the effectiveness of our farm in putting players in Toronto had tailed off under Ricciardi, since he was forced to slash budgets and apparently the scouting/player development system was not spared.

    I think that the likes of Sickels/BA/BP may rate ceiling to highly and not judge likelihood of achievement well enough. That would explain how an apparently poorly ranked farm system can consistently graduate prospects to the pro ranks. The likes of Janssen, Litsch, Marcum and Rzepcynski were never highly valued by the pundits, but maybe our scouts picked them because they saw a higher probability of some measure of major league success.

  15. says: Dragonzigg

    I think that it’s always a good idea to encourage the development of homegrown talent, but I don’t think that ‘our’ players necessarily need to come from the system. Smart trades and clever free agent signings can produce franchise players as well. Joe Carter was drafted by the Cubs and played for five other teams, but he’s a Blue Jay and everyone knows it. Having said that, the system is in a pretty poor state at the moment, and the fact that Drabek, Wallace and D’Arnaud basically instantly became the top three prospects is telling. I like AA’s increased emphasis on scouting and I think that this upcoming draft (I believe we’ll have up to 9 picks in the first and sandwich rounds?) will be absolutely crucial to any future championship team.

  16. says: bkblades

    I think it’s a equal balance of both worlds. While John Sickels is right for pointing out that most of JP’s international signings haven’t panned out yet, it’s a little disingenuous to say Ricciardi gutted the farm system solely out of his own volition. JP did draft a lot of players that were accelerated into the majors without much minor league time. And 2009 was not entirely on JP either, so I don’t hold that against him that much. As much as it’s refreshing and sentimental to see homegrown players grow and succeed, rare is a team that doesn’t need to sign free agents. It’s not like the Yankees didn’t develop a farm system either, since they consistently used their minor league talent to acquire big names and used their financial clout to sign/draft high ceiling talent as well. Money goes hand in hand with drafting and development, and Rogers just didn’t invest the finances into player development as effectively.

  17. says: Callum

    Of course our players don’t *have* to come from our own system. I just find it more enjoyable when they do. You make a good point with Carter, DragonZigg. The same can be said for Alomar and to a certain extent Devon White. It is the Dave Winfield/Rickey Henderson types that strain my satisfaction. A former Yankee and a former Athletic in a hired-gun role tarnishes the success for me. Perhaps hollow was a poor choice of wording because I would still take the win with those guys over the loss without them.

    Bkblades, at the risk of turning this into a JP-debate (which I don’t want to do) I don’t understand your comment regarding it being disingenuous to say Ricciardi gutted the farm system out of his own volition. That was his modus operandi and he stated it in his interview with Paul Godfrey. He was going to slash and burn scouting/player development because he could draft college players who were closer to the majors based on their statistics. They didn’t need much minor league time because they had similar developmental experience at the college level. On the other hand they didn’t have the same upside. David Purcey was picked over Phil Hughes because he was “closer” and less of a risk.

    I am not advocating a ban on free agency and trades, I just like me some 1985 Toronto Blue Jays.

  18. says: guy caballero

    JP didn’t have an option when it came to cutting costs. He likely decided that focusing on college players was one way of reducing costs in an effective manner. But we shouldn’t pretend to understand what sort of cost retraints he was up against when he took the job.

  19. says: guy caballero

    And we’d all like us some ’85 Jays. That’s approximately when the Jays stopped being my number 2 team and became my 1a team.

  20. says: bkblades

    You’re right that this shouldn’t devolve into a JP debate because that wasn’t the topic of the original point. I guess it’s just inevitable his name pops up because of the drafting situation. Again, unless I ask JP, Godfrey, and Beeston personally, I can’t say for sure what happened during the draft/free agent signing periods. But what I can ascertain from second hand reports and quotes are that JP drafted a lot of college players with the approval from ownership. JP slashed scouting when Rogers saw that he could drastically cut costs. So while JP had his flaws, I think it’s safe to say AA got much more financial clout for player development than JP had for awhile. The 2009 draft seemed like the final straw, since Beeston himself tried to negotiate the Paxton contract and ended up not releasing the funds.

    In any case, I think I’m already way off topic and will not talk about JP in this thread anymore.

  21. says: Dave

    Come on EB, the 1985 team had a great slogan that you would have totally gotten behind:—%22The–Drive-of-85%22—The-Toronto-Star-_W0QQitemZ270507468166QQcmdZViewItemQQimsxZ20091229?IMSfp=TL091229164001r3674

    This year needs something catchy like that. How about; “Reclamations in Twenty-Ten!” or “Young Men in Twenty-Ten!”

    OH! T-shirts that say “Fan of The Plan” Someone get the Blue Jays store on the phone. I’m on a roll here.

  22. says: Callum

    Eyebleaf and others, I am curious as to what you think about the following possible scenario. Let’s say in a combination of trades and free agency the Blue Jays land a conglomerate of douches: John Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, A-Rod, Brett Myers, Sidney Ponson, AJ Pierzynski, Joba. Let’s say this Jays team wins the World Series. How do you feel about it? Who cares as long as they win?

    Another question: does being a fan of the Jays mean that management has carte blanche to do as they please without risking the loss of your support? Is there a point in time where you say “I’ve had enough. I admire the way other organizations are doing business/developing players/putting an exciting product on the field. I am no longer a fan of the Jays.” Please no comparisons to the Leafs/NHL, if you don’t mind.

  23. says: Kman

    I’m having a hard time thinking of a baseball team (non-big market such as NY, LA, Chicago) that’s even made the playoffs without building the core from within.

    The Braves would be a good example for the Jays. Build the core assets in house and then go out and add a few semi-star level pieces. The last regime in Toronto attempted the opposite by bringing in big gun free agents (Ryan, AJ) to mix with a so-so core.

  24. says: eyebleaf

    @ Dave: “The Drive of 85” was pretty nails. There is definitely satisfaction with home grown talent, there’s no denying it. But even the guys on that team will tell you that team didn’t get the job done. Because they didn’t.

    @ Callum: RE: douchebaggery. I cheered and LOVED Darcy Tucker as a Leaf. I cheered for Shayne Corson, and even Bryan Marchment, when they wore blue and white. I justified, in my own mind, Tie Domi’s rampant douchebaggery when he wore my team’s colours as well. If the conglomerate of douches wins the World Series, I’d love them, because they’re my conglomerate of douches. I used to hate Mike Peca. Until he became a Maple Leaf. I’m sure I’d feel the same way about guys like Papelbon and Joba. When they’re not on your team, you hate. When they’re on your team, you appreciate. You defend. That’s sports fandom. Mine, at least. Irrationally awesome.

    To answer your other question: yes, management has carte blanche to do as they please without risking losing my support. I am a Jays fan, I have always been a Jays fan, and I will always be a Jays fan.

  25. says: Emilio Estevez

    Wow what a lot of comments.

    If the Jays sign a rapist you appreciate? You defend? I don’t know if that is irrationally awesome. More like irrationally lame.

    As the father of two young boys I would think twice before bringing them to the ballpark with Joba Chamberlain and Sidney Ponson pitching. Guys who drive around drinking from an open bottle of Crown Royal aren’t the role models I had growing up and not the kind I want for my boys.

    Kman you are right about the Braves for a model of consistency. But they won once or twice in how many post season appearances? 11? You might as well put them with the ’85 Jays. Not that that is a bad thing.

  26. says: Emilio Estevez

    Also Guy Caballero: That would explain how an apparently poorly ranked farm system can consistently graduate prospects to the pro ranks. The likes of Janssen, Litsch, Marcum and Rzepcynski were never highly valued by the pundits, but maybe our scouts picked them because they saw a higher probability of some measure of major league success

    I can graduate my mother-in-law to the pro ranks if I choose to. I would hardly say that Janssen, Litsch, and Rzep have had any significant measure of success at the major league level. Marcum, perhaps.

  27. says: Callum

    For me, I can’t be a fan of an organization whose values don’t align with my own. A team that employes wife beaters, drunk drivers and those who disrespect the game is not representative of who I am so I can’t in good conscience throw my support behind them.

    I think that sports fandom involves having a mind of your own and not following blindly whatever schlock is put in front of you.

    Emilio, I get what you are saying but I doubt that taking in a Joba Chamberlain or Sidney Ponson will cause your sons to funnel whiskey and do lines of cocaine off the dashboard.

    Eyebleaf, I don’t know that athletes are the last people on the world you want your children to look up to. Players like Cal Ripken, Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay are all players I would be happy for my kids to emulate if I had any.

    Kman, another good organization template would be the Orioles from the early 70’s to early 80’s. They had home grown talent and an actual philosophy on how to play the game the right way – known as “The Oriole Way.” It was a philosophy that remained consistent from Rookie League ball to the Major League club. It preached playing fundamentally sound baseball and having players conduct themselves in a professional manner. It was based on the belief that if every coach, at every level, taught the game the same way, the organization could produce “replacement parts” that could be substituted seamlessly into the big league club with little or no adjustment. You never saw guys being benched for not running out grounders because they always hustled. Guys weren’t losing focus in the OF and having fly balls bounce off their gloves and over the wall for a home run. The Orioles were fun to watch, successful (WS in ‘83) and easy to get behind as a fan of the game.

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