After weeks of speculation, the Mets finally did the right thing and dealt R.A. Dickey, sending him to the Blue Jays in a seven-player deal. New York sent Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to Toronto in exchange for John Buck and prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra.
The trade reached completion when the Blue Jays and Dickey agreed to a contract extension. The knuckleballer was set to make $5 million in 2013 and Toronto added two years and $25 million to his pact. All told, he'll earn $30 million over the next three seasons. The Blue Jays hold a $12 million option on Dickey for the 2016 season that includes a $1 million buyout.
There are three parties to grade in this deal, with Dickey joining the two clubs as he held considerable power.
Beginning with the Blue Jays, the rationale is obvious. After completing a megadeal with the Marlins last month -- which netted them Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson -- Alex Anthopoulos wants to win now. There is clear weakness in the American League East with Baltimore failing to make improvements after a surprising 2012 campaign, Tampa Bay dealing James Shields to restock for the future, Boston failing to sign a superstar despite clearing payroll back in August and New York pinching pennies for the first time in what seems like forever.
d'Arnaud is considered one of the top prospects in baseball -- he entered 2012 as Baseball America's No. 17 prospect -- but the Blue Jays opted to use him to fortify their starting rotation right away. Three-fifths of their rotation, and likely the top three spots, consists of new faces as they prepare for lofty expectations in the coming year.
After adding a handful of stars via trade and signing Melky Cabrera as a free agent, Las Vegas has pegged the Blue Jays as the favorite to win the 2013 World Series. Of course, that means little in the grand scheme of things, but the expectations in Toronto will be very real when pitchers and catchers report.
d'Arnaud hit .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs in 67 games this past season and there are some questions surrounding his future because of knee trouble. The Mets reportedly reviewed his records and have no concerns. Syndergaard is another core part of his deal. MLB.com ranked him as Toronto's third-best prospect and he was the 38th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Just 20, he had a 2.60 ERA and averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings over more than 100 innings with Class A Lansing in 2012.
Becerra just turned 18 in October and projects as a speedy corner outfielder, but is far from a sure prospect. It will likely be several years before we know if the Mets acquired another difference-maker in this deal.
Ultimately, there are two things that will fall on the shoulders of Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays front office. The first is whether or not they can turn all these acquisitions into not only a playoff berth, something they haven't accomplish since 1993, but at the very least an appearance in the World Series. If their new stars lead them to an American League Championship and perhaps the club's third title, dealing high-level prospects like d'Arnaud and Syndergaard for a 38-year-old pitcher will have been a calculated move.
The risk is that they won't win over the next few years, however you choose to define 'win,' and the failure is compounded by the possible emergence of d'Arnaud and/or Syndergaard as Major League-level starters or even stars. There remains a possibility that the Blue Jays can win at a high level without needing strong production from Dickey, who I believe carries a bit of uncertainty given his age and the unpredictability of his pitch.
That said, he is the reigning National League Cy Young winner and could very well be the main reason, or one of the main reasons why, this Blue Jays team becomes the cream of the AL East crop over the next three or four years.
By next October we will know how Year 1 of the new Toronto blueprint went. I'd deem an appearance in the ALCS the level of success they need to validate all they have done over the last month. If they don't win a playoff series, there will be questions as to whether Anthopoulos and Co. should have cashed in a good chunk of the chips they worked hard to acquire in recent years.
Grade for Blue Jays: B-
Adding Dickey to this offseason's haul has added percentage points to the likelihood that Toronto will be highly successful in 2013 (and 2014, 2015), but as mentioned previously I have reservations about how productive he will be. As a knuckleballer there is an unpredictability, although he seems to have mastered nuances that someone like Tim Wakefield, the most recent successful knuckleballer, didn't.
The important thing is not to expect 20 wins, a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts from Dickey.
Grade for Dickey: A-
It's hard not to grade Dickey highly because he held a significant amount of power. Had he not reached an agreement on a contract extension with the Blue Jays, the deal would have fallen apart. However, it's safe to assume that his first choice would have been to sign an extension with the Mets. He was comfortable in New York, pitching at Citi Field and emerging as a household name for both his performance and outspoken nature on the sexual abuse of children. When he received a call from Sandy Alderson that a trade with the Blue Jays was in place, pending an agreement on a new deal, Dickey described the feeling as a sort of "numbness."
While I have expressed some doubt about whether Dickey can maintain an elite level of production, he has pitched close to 617 innings for the Mets over the last three seasons with ERAs of 2.84, 3.28 and 2.73. He struck out 568 batters over that span.
That makes the value of his contract extension surprising. Dickey will make $29 million over the next three seasons, while Zack Greinke will add $70 million to his bank account thanks to the Dodgers. Greinke is nine years younger than Dickey, but his recent performance hasn't come close to matching that of the knuckleballer.
If Dickey were in his late twenties or early thirties, he would have received a contract worth at least double what he did -- repertoire not withstanding.
The Mets absolutely had to trade Dickey, despite Alderson proclaiming that signing David Wright and Dickey to long-term deals was the club's top priority this offseason. I don't believe the Mets were ever serious about keeping Dickey long-term.
Even signing Dickey to a new contract at a "reduced" rate wouldn't have benefited the Mets going forward. They aren't going to contend in 2013, or perhaps even 2014, and it wouldn't have been smart to commit significant resources to a pitcher like Dickey in their situation.
Grade for the Mets: A
It's hard to determine exactly what the Mets could have, and might have been offered, for Dickey, but landing a package that includes d'Arnaud and Syndergaard, along with a Major League player in Buck and a flyer of sorts in Becerra is a great return.
Many consider d'Arnaud the top catching prospect in baseball and project him as a good defender that can hit 20 to 25 home runs with a solid approach at the plate. His 2012 season ended prematurely when he tore the PCL in his left knee on June 25. He was in line for a potential September call-up before the injury.
The Mets will control d'Arnaud and Syndergaard for the next six seasons, the kind of security that a team in transition desperately needed.