With the return of closer Scott Downs, former Blue Jays closer BJ Ryan found himself expendable today. Ryan was part of a big off-season for the Blue Jays following the 2005 season, inking a five year, $47 million contract, giving the Jays the lockdown closer they had been missing. Ryan was coming off a 36 save season as a the closer of the Orioles, and it was at the time, the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher.
Ryan rewarded the Jays in 2006 with an all-star appearance, 38 saves and a microscopic 1.37 ERA. However, injuries derailed him the next season as he pitched only 4.1 innings, and his WHIP was almost double his previous seasons ERA. He rebounded in 2008 with a 2.95 ERA and 32 saves, but was far from the Blue Jays most effective reliever. This year, the lights-out Downs, a product of former AGM Bart Given, seized the closer role after Ryan struggled with more injuries and inconsistency. Limited to mop-up duty and unhappy with his role, Ryan now finds himself without a job.
Ryan is only one of several failed big free-agent deals of the last couple of years. Jeff Suppan, recently listed on Ebay for the bargain price of $0.01, signed a four year, $42 million deal with the Brewers following his 2006 World Series season with St. Louis. He has rewarded the Crew with a 27-28 record over two and a half seasons, and has yet to post a better than league average ERA. I could go on and on with the likes of Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Jose Guillen, Matt Morris, and Barry Zito, but you get the picture.
These crippling contracts are a big reason for a dynamic shift in the way baseball teams are doing business. Most teams are realizing that free agents should simply be compliments to a young, inexpensive core, not franchise saviours. Teams are putting a vice grip on their top prospects as they understand that the bank for the buck they will get from these players is much greater than what they would find on the open market. This really became seen by the public when both the Red Sox and Yankees refused to part with their top prospects in order to obtain Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season.
It also has cooled the free agent market, as teams have realized that many Type A free agents are not worth the high draft picks that they would be giving up. This led to solid players like Orlando Cabrera and Juan Cruz searching for jobs for the majority of this past off-season. Five years ago, these guys would have been lavished with multi-year contracts.
This topic is particularly interesting as Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi has made it known that he will be listening to offers for Roy Halladay, who is signed through 2010 at a very reasonable $15.75 million. It will be interesting to see what type of prospects the Blue Jays will be offered in return for the perennial Cy Young candidate. It is my opinion that the Blue Jays will get an excellent package from a GM in win-now mode, but I do not think the offers will be as numerous or bountiful as in years past.