Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Zen Dayley: Rios' release is a payoff kvetch

Saying something is hard really is code for wanting an easy way out, hardly a human failing.

The cynical, snarky response to the hue-and-cry over the Rogers Jays letting Alex Rios go was, "Too bad they don't have a 21-year-old outfield prospect who has popped 14 extra-base hits in his last 45 at-bats in Triple-A. Wait, they do!" That is rather insufficient, on some people.

It is understandable why jettisoning Rios was upsetting to Jays followers. No talk of financial flexibility or how much God's Gift of Sunshine, Travis Snider, is smacking the ball around in Las Vegas is going to brighten the picture immediately, especially for a lower-revenue team. Rios getting the ax is a splinter under the fingernail.

It's right to be irrational and kvetch about the salary dump, for a day or two. There is no reason to buy a full-priced Rogers Jays ticket for the duration of this season, although there are the 20,000-30,000 diehards who keep turning out. The lone reasons to attend a game are to watch Roy Halladay and Ricky Romero pitch or throw support to the Tampa Bay Rays (who come to Rogers Centre Aug. 24-26).

If that smacks of being fair-weather, so be it. Being a sports fan is not supposed to be exceedingly difficult. It is supposed to be fun. Only a deranged few, guilty as charged, get their jollies peeling back the onion and trying to understand the how and why of a team being only-OK when people's vanity and egotism demands awesome. The rank-and-file have enough on their plates. Adding the burden of being emotionally involved with a ballclub which is trying to mow the lawn with a pair of fingernail clippers by playing in the AL East is a little much to ask.
"Toronto is not Cleveland, with its budget problems, Pittsburgh, with an organizational model that has been a complete failure, Kansas City, which is awful but still wastes money on second-tier journeymen who don't know how to win, or San Diego, which will check out of the contending business for the next couple of years until its farm system improves. Toronto's problem is that it is a good team in the wrong division. 'Good isn't enough,' Ricciardi said. 'You have to be great.' "

Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated, Aug. 4
In that regard, The Tao was nails for saying, "Then there is the 'fan' in us, who is totally irrational and has spent roughly about a thousand hours over the past couple of years irrationally feeding into the hopes and dreams and misery and agony of Jays fans through this very blog. And that part of us is really finding it difficult to root, root, root for the home team's corporate ownership's bottom line."

That is where good friend Dan Rowe got the idea of terming Rogers' approach to its holdings "uninterested ownership." (Jan. 18, 2008). There is scarcely little rebuttal. Jeff Blair's column was spot on: There is every reason to believe Rogers is trying to sell the team. It probably ties in with their NFL ambitions, since that league dictates that owners cannot own teams in another sport.

There is stability with having a corporate owner. Stability is close to stagnation and stasis in the dictionary. The playoffs are a pipe dream with the current ownership and divisional alignment, but the unknown could be worse unless Jim Balsillie is a secret Seamhead.

Within the past couple months, greater minds such as Ottawa residents Howard Bloom of Sports Business News and Pete Toms of The Biz of Baseball have each voiced some variation of "baseball is dead and dying in Toronto." Pete's point is supported by sociologist Reginald Bibby's findings that only one in 10 Canadian teens follows Major League Baseball, down from one in three in the early 1990s.

Rogers can sense the break of the waves. It might well believe Blue Jays baseball is being affected by what Business Week calls the "incredible shrinking Boomer economy" or has run its course as a consumer product in Canada. (That might not necessarily be right.) Stephen Brunt recently related the story about when the late Ted Rogers wanted to invest in wireless. The vote among his company's directors was however many opposed against one in favour, but Rogers was the one in favour. Now you know the rest of the story.

They might have decided to punt, the way so many Buffalo Bills possessions end. The fact the aforementioned Rays might be before to trade leadoff man extraordinaire Carl Crawford (Jonah Keri, SI.com) is an indication that baseball has swung back toward the unfair system it had in the late 1990s.

That being said, talk about the Jays being headed down the same path as the late and lamented Montreal Expos is a bit much. For that to happen, there needs to be a viable market for relocation. MLB already has one lame-duck franchise, the Oakland Athletics, which cannot move.

Toronto is stuck with a stadium no one likes, a corporate owner who does not seem to care and a stacked deck for a division. People can hardly be blamed for begging out of the situation.

As for Rios, the player was often accused of being a no-brainer. It remains to be seen with the move. Baseball Prospectus and Game of Inches thought the White Sox must be out of their minds for taking on Rios' contract. FanGraphs thought it was a steal for Chicago. Walk-Off Walk pointed out if you want to blame anyone, blame Paul Godfrey and Vernon Wells:
"Ricciardi's hand was forced because Rios' talents could not fully shine when an even larger bag of waste was blocking up the dollar flow. Blue Jays CF Vernon Wells is owed almost $100 million before 2014, at which point he'll be 35 and have a mailbox clogged with AARP junk mail. In a move reminiscent of Sophie's Choice, J.P. was stuck choosing between the two big OF contracts and ended up giving up the more attractive one. If Wells wasn't around, Rios could rotate into center. But Wells will be around, jingling the pocket change from his Albert Belle-esque contract without the Albert Belle-esque production."
Bottom line, the anger over Rios is understandable, but misdirected. Whether the Jays pried a player loose from Chicago is irrelevant. Since Kate Hudson was at Monday's Jays-Yankees game, you at least wish they could have got $50 and a case of Heineken, like in Almost Famous, but would people really feel any different if Dayan Viciendo was now in the Jays system? No, they wouldn't. No one wanted to hear about the players whom J.P. Ricciardi got in return for Scott Rolen. Try to be consistent, please.

The point is the obvious, it was right to give into emotion for a while. It's a little rich to start being doom-and-gloom and always blame Ricciardi, who is out the door in October. At the end of the day, the desire is to always want Major League Baseball in Canada, in the worst way. Hopefully that's not the way you'll start getting it in Toronto.

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