Friday, May 11, 2007

B.J. Ryan

As you've probably heard, Ryan is out for 2007 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and his 2008--not to mention the rest of his career--is looking very uncertain.

When the Blue Jays handed Ryan his five-year, $47 million contract (the largest ever for a reliever) prior to 2006, there was a lot of talk about the risk involved, and the deal was universally panned by sabermetricians. The few writers who liked the signing said that the Jays needed to overpay to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox--as if it makes more sense, not less, for a team to spend money precisely because it probably won't be enough to make a difference.

The two years since have been a pair of opposite extremes. In 2006, Ryan was lights-out, performing far better than anyone could have reasonably expected. Several other Blue Jays--such as Vernon Wells, Alexis Rios, and Reed Johnson--also beat their projections handily. The Jays still weren't close to a playoff berth. This year, a lot of things have gone wrong, including injuries to Ryan and Troy Glaus. We're not even halfway through May yet, and Toronto looks absolutely dead in the water.

No one should be too surprised by this. Teams experience ups and downs; that's why we watch the games. The Blue Jays had roughly a 75-win collection of talent at the end of 2005. Through big-money acquisitions like Glaus, Ryan, and A.J. Burnett, they were able to bring themselves up to 80-82 wins. This still wasn't--and isn't--enough to compete in the AL East, as the Jays demonstrated last year.

Two years ago, the Blue Jays were barely at a level where they could justify paying market price for a player like B.J. Ryan. Instead, they went over and above that level. Ryan's injury doesn't change the correctness of the decision at the time, but it does illustrate the risks associated with the signing, and demonstrates why no other team was willing to go to five years and $47 million.

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