The Wright-Cruz Rumor

Yesterday, Keith Law confirmed an interesting old trade rumor, noting that he was in the room in 2002 when Steve Phillips offered J.P. Ricciardi a straight up swap of David Wright for Jose Cruz Jr, which Ricciardi then declined. Given how their careers have gone since, the obvious reaction is that this was a massive blunder by the Blue Jays. However, they didn’t have any way of knowing the future, so they were left to make decisions based on the information available at the time. So, let’s go back in time and look at the proposal as it would have been viewed at the time.

In 2002, Cruz was coming off the best season of his career and in the middle of his physical prime. While we don’t have UZR data for 2001 on the site, his career fielding numbers paint the picture of a guy with good enough wheels for a corner but not enough ability to play center field regularly – a classic tweener, basically. Combined with the best offensive performance of his career (a .367 wOBA that featured both power and speed), that kind of player is worth +3 to +4 wins, and Cruz had the kind of skillset that should have aged well.

He regressed in 2002, but was still an above average player, posting a +2.5 win season and showing the core skills that could have led to a rebound in the future. There were certainly reasons to value Cruz Jr as a player.

However, trade value isn’t just about the on field value, but factors in the contract status as well, and Cruz was headed towards free agency. So, in reality, the Mets were offering Wright for a several month rental during a season in which Toronto was not a contender (they stood 20.5 games out of first place on July 31st, 2002).

So, the Blue Jays wouldn’t accept Wright as enough value in return to deal Cruz in the final year of his contract, choosing instead to keep him for the remainder of the season and let him walk as a free agent after declining to offer him arbitration. Due to that decision, they didn’t receive any compensation when the Giants signed him as a free agent the following winter.

In other words, they basically didn’t value Wright as a prospect much at all. Should they have?

During the 2002 season, Wright was a 19-year-old in the low-A South Atlantic League, a year removed from being a supplemental first round pick. He hit .266/.367/.401 in the pitcher-friendly league, but the combination of little power and a lot of strikeouts were concerns. There were reasons for optimism and pessimism, which isn’t particularly surprising for a teenager that was several years from the majors, but Wright was a prospect, even if not an elite one.

If you want to compare that offer to a recent transaction, the current version of Felipe Lopez is actually not a bad comparison for what Cruz was – talented but inconsistent on an expiring contract, a solid player but not a star. Lopez was traded for a pair of fringe prospects, and the general consensus was that the D’Backs got as much as they could, given the market for Lopez’s services. Certainly, neither Cole Gillespie or Roque Mercedes were near the level of prospect that Wright was in 2002.

Even without the benefit of foresight, it really is tough to see what Ricciardi was thinking by turning the deal down. When you’re trading a guy with an expiring contract, you expect the player coming back to have some kind of issues, and Wright’s were of the kind that could be eliminated with further development. If Cruz Jr wasn’t in their future plans (as indicated by the decision to not offer arbitration), having a prospect like Wright in the system seems like a much better alternative to letting Cruz Jr play out the string before moving on.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


48 Responses to “The Wright-Cruz Rumor”

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  1. mattymatty says:

    How dare you, Dave! Steve Phillips would never make such an offer! His reputation is beyond reproach… wait, he did what? Oh… well. Right. Never mind.

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    • HAK says:

      Judging from this article and the recent pictures I’ve seen of the intern, it seems that Steve Phillips was a bad judge of young talent in 2002 and remains one today.

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    • blueshirts26 says:

      If you’re talking about the kazmir deal, that wasn’t him. That was jim duquette. But philips is still awful and I want to throw the remote at the TV every time he brags about “discovering” david wright and jose reyes, both of whom he tried to trade 10 times.

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  2. Paul says:

    I agree in principle, but doesn’t a GM have to be concerned about the perception that he will just give away players? In the big picture, maybe he thinks standing firm and letting Cruz walk allows him to make a better deal than he would have otherwise down the road. Not sure that line of thinking can be quantified, but it seems like something that could be in play.

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  3. Jack says:

    Not a good for good ole Steve, eh?

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  4. Phil says:

    I WANT KAZMIR BACK!

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  5. Joe says:

    Also, Steve Phillips is an idiot.

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  6. 92-93 says:

    JP had just gotten the job, ripped apart the front office, lambasted the bare cupboard of a farm system to the media, and was going to give away Raul Mondesi for nothing. Now, you can blast him for not trying to rebuild that system, but Cruz Jr. was a fan favorite and it’s quite possible at the trade deadline JP didn’t want to move 2/3 of his starting OF and further piss off an already alienated fan base. David Wright was in his first full pro season, so for Jays fans, think of him as being where Kevin Ahrens was last year. It’s not inconceivable that JP didn’t see any utility in that sort of deal, and figured it would be better to hold on to Cruz and decide on arbitration later.

    Teams can’t just dump off every veteran at the deadline if they aren’t competing, or they will draw even less fans than they are already getting as they prove to the public they have no interest in winning. That lack of attendance just puts the crunch further on payroll the next season when you’re allegedly trying to get better for.

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    • Gary says:

      Having an interest in winning doesn’t draw as many fans as being actually capable of winning would.

      Anyway, the loss of fan attendance from dumping a veteran could be counterbalanced by the salary you no longer have to pay said veteran. It’s hard to gauge how much fan attendance drops, but lets assume that the figure isn’t into the tens of millions, just from trading away one player. One has to figure that the veteran salary might go a long way in covering it.

      You can’t just dump every veteran, not if you’re not being offered something for them, but I assume Wright, a supplemental first round pick is worth something. Even if you didn’t look at who he was, and just thought of it as getting a supplemental round talent one year removed from the draft, I’m thinking you’re getting something nice here.

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  7. WillRain says:

    It’s worse than that Dave.

    Cruz wasn’t in his Free Agent year. He was non-tendered.

    I used the case for a report on “opportunity costs” in my economics class that year.

    http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/oracle/discussion/love_me_non_tender/

    I wish Law had been specific about what point in the season the trade was proposed. For instance, Cruz had a .738 OPS at the break. It seems that if a potential non-tender was going to happen it ought to have been on their minds by that point.

    Seems like a very odd choice to make for a team cutting payroll UNLESS he had led himself to believe that he could do better than Wright and the deadline came and went without a better offer (i.e. he misread the market – which wouldn’t be shocking in a new GM)

    Anyway, I digress. the point is that Phillips would have thought he was dealing for a year+ worth of service, not a few-month-rental.

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    • Bill says:

      JP misread the market this year with Halladay an he’s been of the job 6 years. JP’s a very smart guy, but I’m not sure if he’s cut out to be the main guy.

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  8. bobo says:

    I’ve seen the NY Post pictures of Steve and his young lady friend from ESPN and I think it is very fair to say that he is not a good judge of talent…

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  9. JP Retardy says:

    Two of the worst gm’s. This doesnt suprise me any…Both are failures for this. Phillips b/c he sucks and Retardy b/c he didnt take it.

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  10. Nick F says:

    Ah, hindsight’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it. Like the hindsight I have that Fangraphs was once a site where the analysis was any good.

    If David Wright turned out to be a bust, where would all this whining about JP be? You never trade a major leaguer straight up for a guy in his first year of Low A, much less a fan favorite who just had a great year.

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    • Doug Melvin says:

      “You never trade a major leaguer straight up for a guy in his first year of Low A, much less a fan favorite who just had a great year.”

      So no one would’ve traded anything for Brett Lawrie?

      Blanket statements! Fun to make!

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    • HAK says:

      Did you not read the article, particularly the last two sentences of the first paragraph? The point was not that JP should have traded for David Wright, which we now know to be the case with the benefit of hindsight. The point was that JP should have gotten something for Cruz, Jr., a guy he ended up non-tendering after the season.

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  11. Stan says:

    I think it’s classless that Keith Law would drudge up an account like this just after Ricciardi has been shown the door. Law was probably in the room when plenty of deals went down and didn’t go down…why does he feel the need to bring this up now? This feels like celebrity gossip…”Actually, Brad Pitt slept with so and so in 2002, but you know he was with Jennifer Aniston.”

    And furthermore, why does Fangraphs have to play Monday morning QB with said heresay? Baseball is usually above this crap.

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    • bobo says:

      Yikes, I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the sched, or the brightest bulb in the bunch, if you know what I mean. But even I realize this article in Fangraph isn’t about the gossip, its about the opportunity to discuss and analyze trading a proven above average MLB player for a prospect, and the situations and circumstances it makes sense to pull the trigger on the deal.

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    • The Typical Idiot Fan says:

      Evidence that you didn’t read Dave Cameron’s article above:

      “And furthermore, why does Fangraphs have to play Monday morning QB with said heresay?”

      He didn’t. He deliberately didn’t. He even flat out mentions it. First paragraph:

      “Given how their careers have gone since, the obvious reaction is that this was a massive blunder by the Blue Jays. However, they didn’t have any way of knowing the future, so they were left to make decisions based on the information available at the time. So, let’s go back in time and look at the proposal as it would have been viewed at the time. ”

      He’s not criticizing Ricciardi for not knowing the future. He’s criticizing Ricciardi for not being able to see the present (or what was the present) and what was best for his own team. David Wright or Ryan Anderson (busted pitching prospect) it doesn’t matter. All that matters is Ricciardi, who was bitching about trying to make the farm system better, didn’t trade Jose Cruz Jr when he probably should have and ended up not getting squat from him when they finally let him go.

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    • Nestor Chylak says:

      I have to say, my favorite part of this post is the conflation of “hearsay” and “heresy.” Creativity at its finest.

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    • lvlariner says:

      Law used to work for JP in Toronto as a stats guy before moving to ESPN. I think there was no love lost between to two, but it was just another example of JP not knowing the baseball market.

      With that said, Cruz Jr was a bust for the M’s as well. Mariners didn’t get much for him either when they traded him to Toronto. Think it was for 2 RP both of whom didn’t do much while with the M’s.

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  12. Peter D says:

    A few things of things:

    A) Cruz was non-tendered, he wasn’t a free agent.

    B) I was no secret at the time that JP was desparately trying to deal Cruz, however just like every other time JP tried to trade a decent player, he asked for way too much, then lost him for very little.

    C) Cruz was not a fan favourite in Toronto, I was screaming at the time to trade him for anything, just to get rid of him. We used to call him RK (rally killer)

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  13. CJ says:

    I think this is a good example of how hindsight can color our evaluation of trade opportunities. Nobody would be talking about this “non-trade” if we didn’t know Wright’s career path in hindsight. I suspect that, at the time, people would have had a “so what?” reaction if the trade offer, and rejection of the trade offer, had been disclosed.

    Cruz, Jr., was coming off consecutive 34 and 31 HR seasons. He started off 2001 poorly (.225 BA–1st half), but his HR total in the first half (13) was high enough that one might guess that his batting average would come around and he might return to a 30 HR, high .800’s OPS by the end of the season. (He did produce better offense in the second half, .837 OPS, but his HRs tailed off badly.) I don’t think it’s surprising if the Blue Jays didn’t think Cruz was worth more than a promising 19 year old prospect in low A ball. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Phillips would view this trade as a “steal” from his standpoint.

    To me, I don’t think this trade happens unless the Blue Jays had a scout or front office executive who was just completely sold on the idea that Wright would become a future all-star 3d baseman. (Obviously, in hindsight, it’s too bad that they didn’t have someone with that kind of strong feeling about Wright.)

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    • CJ says:

      Correction…
      “if the Blue Jays thought Cruz was worth more…”

      the double negatives in the original sentence caused my mistake, I think

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    • Eric M. Van says:

      I don’t think it’s true that fans forget and ignore non-trades. Any time you have a player with value and fail to deal him at the right time and end up with nothing, smart fans will remember that and include it on the GM scorecard. If Brandon Wood washes out, folks will recall that the Angels failed to trade him when his value was sky high and he was blocked in the organization. Smart Red Sox fans still wonder why Dan Duquette didn’t deal Roger Clemens at the deadline in 1996, when the Sox were out of contention (that the two compensation picks were complete busts helps there, of course). There was a lot of trade talk at the time, just like Peter S says there was with Cruz.

      In fact, that folks are still talking about how the Jays got nothing for Cruz sort of demonstrates this point.

      General point: rookie GMs often seem to fail to understand that the market is the market. If you have a player who is going to have no value for you, the best you can get for him by definition is good enough. The version of this story in capital letters, of course, is Bill Smith trying to get the Yankees and Sox to up their final offers for Santana and then having both teams retract their offers, both of which were better (maybe much better) than the package he finally settled for.

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  14. WY says:

    I agree with Stan several posts above that it’s in very poor taste for Law to be dishing out info like this years after the fact. Law seems to think he’s above reproach, but I have to believe that if he were really as great as he thinks, he’d have another front-office job somewhere as opposed to doing what he’s doing now.

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    • MPC says:

      Haha. You think that baseball teams actually hire people best suited for the job. Naivete at its finest.

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      • WY says:

        Watch the name-calling, ok?

        Based on his writing, I get the sense that Law would be difficult to work with, not that I’ve ever met him. But the arrogant tone of his writing (which is sadly par for the course for many stat-centered baseball writers) suggests that, at least.

        I am amused at how people who post and comment on blogs consistently seem to think that they somehow know more than people who work for the teams. I won’t get into name-calling, though.

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      • MPC says:

        Saying you’re naive is name-calling? Wow. Dude, baseball is a fraternity. The same people keep getting hired, regardless of competency. Law won’t get hired because the guys in charge don’t like how he talks, not because he’s not good at what he does.

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      • WY says:

        I think that calling it a “fraternity” is a blanket statement that’s not necessarily true. After all, Law DID get hired, and new-school analytical folks with Ivy League-type educations like him have been getting hired more and more in recent years.

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  15. Stan says:

    “To me, I don’t think this trade happens unless the Blue Jays had a scout or front office executive who was just completely sold on the idea that Wright would become a future all-star 3d baseman. (Obviously, in hindsight, it’s too bad that they didn’t have someone with that kind of strong feeling about Wright.)”

    Well Law and Dave Cameron seem to think they ought to have. Here’s a suggestion….how about Law? You’d think if were so moved to drudge this up he would have been in the room battling to trade for Wright. But he wasn’t. He says in his own article that he wasn’t familiar with Wright.
    Why don’t we go back and do some checking on Law and Cameron. There’s got to me an article written by Law fawning over Lars Anderson from last year. Let’s analyse that. Wow, what an idiot. Likewise, I’m sure Cameron had some positive words to say about the Cubs signing Milton Bradley. How about a blog post that goes into detail about that?

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    • MPC says:

      1) Someone asked Law about the trade rumor. Now that JP’s not the GM, he was okay with talking about it. He didn’t just bring it up out of the blue.

      2) Everyone was fawning over Lars Anderson. Hindsight’s 20/20, of course.

      3) Law has admitted many times when he’s been wrong.

      4) Any intelligent baseball fan knows that Bradley has no business being in the NL.

      5) Is your name JP Ricciardi?

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      • divakar says:

        Nice MPC. I agree. My post was too long (as usual) – but even if Bradley stays in the NL, he has a chance to justify this contract in some way.

        I agree, though, that he’s best suited the AL as a DH and part-time OF.

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    • divakar says:

      Dude… It was a chat, not an article, and he was responding to a readers question, not “drudging something up” – he even admits that he remembers that conversation better than some stuff from last week. That’s a sign that it made an impact on him, not that he is looking to dish on JP. We all learn from important moments in our lives – and that was an important moment he is willing to share now that JP’s career in Toronto is over.

      Also:

      1. Lars Anderson just turned 22 on September 25, meaning he played the whole season as a 21 y/o. The average age in AA is 23. Lars may have lost some luster, but he is far from a failure. His season sucked and no one predicted that. It wasn’t just “not good” it was “puke-tastic.” Let’s see what he does going forward, because his past suggests he can RAKE. One season does not a prospect make (or break).

      2. Did Cameron say some “positive words” about Bradley? I don’t recall… If you want to write about what a bust Bradley was, go right ahead. In March, Seidman wrote a fairly balanced article about the value of Bradley and his lack of ability to stay on the field.

      Bradley signed a 3yr/30m dollar contract. This was based on an outlier 08 season in the Texas Launching Pad where he hit nearly 25% of his balls for Line Drives (!). His career average before 08 was below 20%. This added up to a $20m season, which would be unreasonable to expect again. Yet even after his 09 disaster, Bradley’s average production per year is worth 10m.

      His 09 performance was worth 5m. He was 4th on the team in OBP, but saw a dramatic decrease in his power numbers. With most of his peripherals remaining intact, should he can regain ANY power, he’ll easily put up his 10m/yr average that he has in the past. Expecting him to put up a 20m year like he did in Texas is dumb.

      If the cubs get 80% of the value of their contract from Bradley, they should be happy. Bradley will be 32 and 33 in the next two years. There is a more than reasonable chance that he will allow the Cubs to make peace with this deal when it’s over. Of course, there is an even bigger chance the Cubs get rid of him ASAP.

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      • WY says:

        I think it’s short-sighted to try to reduce the success of the Bradley deal to Fangraph-calculated win values. Being a “good clubhouse” guy obviously can’t be quantified, and it’s probably an overrated notion anyway, but seriously — Bradley’s off-the-field issues have to be taken into account. Besides, who was going to pay him close to what the Cubs offered? It was a bad signing.

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    • WY says:

      “Why don’t we go back and do some checking on Law and Cameron. There’s got to me an article written by Law fawning over Lars Anderson from last year. Let’s analyse that. Wow, what an idiot. Likewise, I’m sure Cameron had some positive words to say about the Cubs signing Milton Bradley. How about a blog post that goes into detail about that?”

      Well put, Stan. I think it’s very strange to see how many people come to the defense of people like Cameron and Law when it comes to things like this. Mind you, both of these people know a lot about baseball and statistical analysis, but there is an arrogant quality to their writing that really detracts from it and makes it hard to take it as seriously as perhaps it should be taken.

      I don’t recall Cameron writing about Bradley, but I recall numerous other posts about the likes of Edwin Jackson/Matt Joyce, Jason Kubel/Eric Hinske, Mark Ellis, Pat Burrell, and others during last offseason when Cameron (a) used very strong language (often calling someone in a front office somewhere an idiot, or something along those lines and (b) being completely wrong in the end.

      There’s nothing wrong with being wrong now and then or with making predictions that don’t pan out. It’s when you treat projections as “facts” and then use these “facts” to argue that others are stupid, incompetent, etc., that you start to look really silly. I am not trying to attack Cameron (or Law) as much as I just wish these people would take this kind of criticism to heart — or at least consider it — in hopes that they might pare down some of their excesses and maybe alienate fewer readers.

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      • WY says:

        Whoops. This…

        “I don’t recall Cameron writing about Bradley, but I recall numerous other posts about the likes of Edwin Jackson/Matt Joyce, Jason Kubel/Eric Hinske, Mark Ellis, Pat Burrell, and others during last offseason when Cameron (a) used very strong language (often calling someone in a front office somewhere an idiot, or something along those lines and (b) being completely wrong in the end.”

        …should read:

        I don’t recall Cameron writing about Bradley, but I recall numerous other posts about the likes of Edwin Jackson/Matt Joyce, Jason Kubel/Eric Hinske, Mark Ellis, Pat Burrell, and others during last offseason when Cameron (a) used very strong language (often calling someone in a front office somewhere an idiot, or something along those lines and (b) ENDED UP being completely wrong in the end.

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    • wobatus says:

      I have seen 2 folks use “drudge this up”. I think the word is dredge y’all are looking for.

      Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

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  16. Steve says:

    Bradley’s ability isn’t the problem. I think it’s clear that he’s shown he can be a productive major league player. The problem with him is his durability. He’s only topped 500 plate appearances in a season twice in a 10 season career. He’s also psychotic which is a whole other issue…

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  17. WY says:

    “3) Law has admitted many times when he’s been wrong.”

    Really?

    “5) Is your name JP Ricciardi?”

    Is your name Keith Law? ;)

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    • MPC says:

      Read the chat. Law admits multiple mistakes in the transcript. But I suppose that’d be too much work for an obvious hater like you to do, right? :)

      Go read Jayson Stark. I think his drivel is more what you and Stan are looking for.

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      • WY says:

        Whatever. I’m trying to calmly make some points about writing style and perceived arrogance among certain writers. I’ve read plenty of Law and plenty of the other ESPN writers. I didn’t read that particular chat, and I don’t read much Law lately b/c it’s behind the insider wall. I found him interesting but needlessly arrogant in his tone. I’ve never seen him admit a mistake. That’s why I asked, “Really?”

        Stark is actually pretty entertaining, but he and Law are like apples and oranges — there’s no reason why someone who likes Law couldn’t also like Stark (or vice versa). They do different things.

        I don’t appreciate the hostility or the above insinuation that I’m naive. I put a little “;)” in there to emphasize that I was kidding.

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  18. Mike Green says:

    “Drudge” and “heresay” in the same comment thread. This is surely a sign of the apocalypse.

    It should be noted that in 2002, Eric Hinske who was a Ricciardi favourite was in the middle of a RoY campaign at third base. This of course has only a little to do with the potential long-term value of Wright, then in low A ball, to the Jays.

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  19. West says:

    His choice in women is much worse than his baseball knowledge.

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