Blue Jays fire GM Ricciardi

BALTIMORE -- J.P. Ricciardi is out as the Toronto Blue Jays' general manager. As for embattled manager Cito Gaston, he isn't going anywhere.

The Blue Jays fired Ricciardi on Saturday, ending an eight-year tenure marked by an inability to get past the Yankees and Red Sox and into the playoffs.

"I have a good friend in J.P. Ricciardi, but at the very end of the day we determined we were going to make a move and we would make it right now," said Paul Beeston, Toronto's acting president and CEO. "J.P. took it very, very well. He's a real gentleman and he obviously has some real compassion for the Toronto Blue Jays."

Ricciardi, who joined the Jays in 2001, had one year left on his contract. The Blue Jays (75-85) are finishing off a mediocre season in Baltimore, with the team embroiled in locker-room unrest with Gaston.

Referring to Gaston, Beeston said: "He's under contract and I would expect him to be back."

The Blue Jays said 32-year-old assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos will assume Ricciardi's duties. Beeston said that it will be his "high recommendation" that Anthopoulos remain the GM when the Jays' search for a permanent chief executive officer is completed.

"[Anthopoulos] knows the organization, he knows the players, he knows the farm system, he knows the scouts," Beeston said. "We're very, very pleased Alex has accepted the role."

Ricciardi declined to comment in an e-mail sent to The Canadian Press and calls to him were not immediately returned.

"It's another sad and bad day in the Blue Jays organization," outfielder Vernon Wells said. "Anytime you lose someone, it's a rough day."

Anthopoulos said his first call upon learning of the promotion was to Ricciardi, the mentor he added left the organization on an upswing.

"I'm certainly excited about the upside of this club. ... The arrow is pointing up with this organization," said Anthopoulos, who joined Toronto as a scouting coordinator in 2003. "It may not seem that way right now, but there's a lot to look forward to."

The move came a day after disgruntled Blue Jays players went public with pointed criticism of Gaston's old-school managerial style and asked to meet with Beeston.

Beeston, Anthopoulos and team president Tony Viner addressed a players-only meeting before Saturday's game at Camden Yards. Neither executives nor players would divulge what was discussed, but the new general manager said, "Those [concerns] are things we will take care of in-house."

Added Beeston: "They raised the issues with us and [we] met with them. Were they addressed? They were listened to. They've not been addressed at the present time. It's the end of the season. ... I had my ears open and I kept my mouth shut."

Gaston continued to deny that there were any problems within Toronto's clubhouse, insisting that none of the current players had criticized him and any concerns had been fabricated from outside of the organization.

"I've had players coming to talk to me [today] and a lot of them told me, 'I wasn't the one to say it, I wasn't the one that started it.' Each one. ... That's why I'm thinking it came from somewhere else," Gaston said.

Ricciardi's firing was widely expected. He had been criticized for poor free agent signings and off-field missteps.

The team posted four winning seasons and four losing ones under Ricciardi, never making the playoffs in an AL East dominated by New York and Boston. Toronto last made the playoffs in 1993, when the team won its second straight World Series.

The best finish by one of Ricciardi's clubs came in 2006, when the Blue Jays went 87-75 to finish second in the AL East.

The 2009 campaign was a microcosm of Ricciardi's tenure as GM. There was a hopeful start, a sudden collapse, a lack of resources to turn things around, a spate of injuries, some painful decisions related to bad contracts and ultimately, pessimism for the future.

Adding to the Blue Jays woes this season were the clumsily handled Roy Halladay trade talks. Other missteps included allowing A.J. Burnett an opt-out clause in his contract, giving Frank Thomas an $18 million, two-year deal with a vesting option, and signing B.J. Ryan to a $47 million, five-year deal.

Burnett left to become a free agent last fall, Thomas had to be cut in the second season at a cost of around $8 million, and Ryan was released in July with $15 million left on his contract.

Other bad contracts he signed included a $17 million, three-year deal for Canadian Corey Koskie and the monster deals for Wells and Alex Rios.

"You live and die by ... your decisions, hope all of them will work out, but that's obviously never the case," Wells said.

Wells has five years remaining on his $127 million, seven-year deal, a contract that will handcuff the club for seasons to come. The team managed to escape the $60 million remaining on Rios' deal when he was claimed off waivers by the White Sox, but the team got nothing in return.

The Blue Jays also had a spotty record in the draft under Ricciardi, who produced several decent major leaguers but very few elite players.