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R.A. Dickey Heading to Toronto

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The Blue Jays are all in with the acquisition of Dickey while the Mets make a strong rebuilding move.

R.A. Dickey Heading to Toronto

The long-awaited R.A. Dickey trade by the New York Mets seems to be all but complete.  The only thing holding up the deal was the extension that the acquiring team needed to work out with the pitcher, and Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Blue Jays completed that today, and it is a bargain at that.  The extension is for two years, $25 million, which will go on top of the one year, $5 million he is owed for the 2013 season.  Physicals still need to be passed, but it looks like Dickey will be a Blue Jay next year.

The framework of the trade, involving seven players, is this: Toronto receives Dickey, Mets catcher Josh Thole, and a prospect.  The Mets receive 23-year-old catcher Travis D'Arnaud, 20-year-old pitcher Noah Syndergaard (Toronto's top two prospects), catcher John Buck, and a non-elite prospect.  

There are a lot of things to consider when you look at this trade.  First, Toronto is clearly going for it.  If that wasn't clear after the Jose Reyes/Josh Johnson/Mark Buehrle blockbuster they pulled off earlier this offseason and the signing of Melky Cabrera, it is now.  Dickey gives them an ace to add to the rotation (which includes Johnson, Buehrle, Ricky Romero, and Brandon Morrow.  That has the potential to be one of the top rotations in the game.  There are plenty of question marks (durability concerns with Johnson, whether Dickey can keep this level of pitching up, whether Romero rebounds, etc.).  

But on the other side, there is plenty of reason to believe Dickey will continue to pitch well, even at 38 years old (his improved strikeout rate, lower walk rate, durability, etc.).  The lineup, built around Jose Bautista, Reyes, and Cabrera, should be improved.  Toronto seems to have a legitimate shot at playoff contention, and that makes giving up top prospects D'Arnaud and Syndergaard much easier to stomach.

For the Mets, this was as good of a win as they could have hoped for after a sticky situation.  The Mets were able to get top market value for an older pitcher.  Here's what SI.com's Jay Jaffe had to say about New York's haul:

D’Arnaud, who turns 24 on Feb. 10, is a former 2007 supplemental first-round pick by the Phillies who was sent to Toronto exactly three years ago on Sunday in the Roy Halladay trade. He has since made Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list three straight years, ranking as high as 17th coming into the 2012 season. Other sources ranked him even higher coming into the year; Baseball Prospectus put him at 16th, while ESPN’s Keith Law placed him sixth.

This past season, he hit .333/.380/.595 with 16 homers in 303 plate appearances at hitter-friendly Las Vegas, but a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee ended his season on June 25; he didn’t undergo surgery, but he didn’t play again. Across the board, prospect experts view d’Arnaud as an above-average hitter for a catcher, with good contact and power potential. Defensively, he’s a good receiver with a strong arm but an occasional tendency to rush his throws and lose accuracy (he threw out 30 percent of would-be base thieves in 2012, and was at 27 percent the year before). Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks, who recently ranked d’Arnaud as the team’s top prospect, described him as major-league ready, with future potential as a “first-division player” who could develop into a “top shelf bat at [the] position, with .275-plus batting average and 17-25 HR power potential.”

But wait, there’s more. The Mets also get 20-year-old righty Noah Syndergaard, a 2010 first-round pick out of a Texas high school who ranked number two on BP’s list, and number three on that of Baseball America. Syndergaard spent 2012 in the Low-A Midwest League, delivering a 2.60 ERA while striking out 10.6 per nine and walking just 2.7 per nine in 103 2/3 innings. More important than what he did at that level is what he could be: “a high-end no. 2 starter” down the road according to Parks. A 6-foot-5, 200-pounder, Syndergaard normally throws his fastball in the 94-96 mph range but can work in the low 90s as well as touch 100. As Parks notes, the heater is thrown on a steep plane and has heavy sink and boring action. He also offers a curveball and changeup that both show signs of becoming plus offerings.

So what is the downside from acquiring two blue chip prospects like that for a 38-year-old knuckleball pitcher?  Dickey became a beloved figure not only in baseball, but in New York sports.  His rise to success this late in his career is a truly inspiring story.  That was made even more inspiring when he opened up about the sexual abuse he endured growing up.  When Dickey wanted a contract extension, the Mets front office was reluctant to give him the two years/$26 million that he was looking for, then openly went about trying to trade him.  It was a messy situation, especially when Dickey had said he would like to remain in New York.

While some might be upset that Dickey is gone, they are foolish to be upset at the return.  How much of an impact was Dickey realistically going to make on this current team going forward, or even in the next three years had they agreed to the extension?  The team agreed to a large eight-year extension with David Wright, but aside from him New York is in rebuilding mode.  Dickey doesn't fit in with that piece, and they maximized his value by getting two top-level prospects in return.  Of course, the prospects might not pan out.  That's always the risk.  But the Mets weren't going anywhere with Dickey, and fans that think they were are kidding themselves.  

Is it the fan-friendly move?  Maybe not.  But it was the right move for this franchise moving forward and one they needed to make.  The timetable of success for this trade is different for each team.  The Blue Jays need to parlay this deal into a playoff appearance within the next three years, and the Mets need to develop their prospects into players that can contribute in a couple years.  But both teams pulled the trigger on moves that could change the direction of their respective franchises.

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