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Blue Jays Overpay, But Make Right MovePosted on December 17, 2012 at 10:22 PM.
The winter of the Toronto Blue Jays continued as they were able to come to terms with reigning National League Cy Young Award winner RA Dickey on a two year extension worth $25 million. The deal also includes a 2016 option worth $12 million. With the two sides coming to an agreement, the trade between the New York Mets and the Blue Jays is finally complete. The Blue Jays will receive Dickey and two catchers, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. The Mets will receive highly touted catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, right handed pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, and 18 year old outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.
The trade not only illustrates the directions that each franchise is heading, but it also is confirmation of a new way of operating for each club. For Toronto, it means they are operating strictly in the present.
When Alex Anthopoulos first took over for JP Ricciardi as the Blue Jays GM in October of 2009, his objective was clear: he was rebuilding. His first move was to trade Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays’ ace and, at the time, the best pitching in Major League Baseball. He spent the next couple of seasons drafting well, trading for young talent, and quietly acquiring talent like Edwin Encarnacion. 2011 was supposed to be the season that they truly competed, but injuries thrwarted any hope of that.
Rather than continue with stocking the system, Anthopoulos decided that this would be the winter he would go for it. Ownership surprisingly gave him the approval to add payroll and with the AL East in flux, the time was now. Anthopoulos acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Emilio Bonafacio in the big trade with the Marlins and then signed Melky Cabrera to upgrade their outfield production.
But, there was still a hole in the rotation, especially with the uncertainty of Ricky Romero and Josh Johnson. The Blue Jays look like a talented team, but they are loaded with questions. Anthopoulos dealt away two of his best prospects to answer a big question by acquiring the 38 year old knuckleballer RA Dickey.
The price is high and there is no debating that. Alex Anthopoulos, a GM with a reputation of always getting the better end of trades, overpaid in a big way. On face value, Anthopoulos gave away an elite catching prospect and a high end pitching prospect for a 38 year old with a trick pitch. There isn’t another way to spin it. d'Arnaud is nearly Major League ready. Syndergaard is an elite arm. Becerra was highly thought of last spring as a 17 year old and was off to a great start until he was hit in the face by a pitch. Anthopoulos gave a ton of potential to the Mets for three years of a knuckleball pitcher and catchers who can handle his pitch.
But, RA Dickey has been one of the steadiest, best pitchers in the game over the last three years. More importantly, the Blue Jays are truly making a run to win now. Sometimes an organization has to overpay to put a complete contender on the field. Dickey makes the Blue Jays a complete team. Since 2010, Dickey has averaged 206 innings pitched, 8.2 H/9, 2.2 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, and a 2.95 ERA. After struggling as a traditional pitcher for the first seven years of his professional career and then a few more as he learned the knuckleball, Dickey mastered the pitch late in 2009 as a member of the Minnesota Twins bullpen. He will be counted on to pitch 200 or so above average innings for a contending team. And, it seems like a safe bet, even with his age.
Knuckleball pitchers age far differently than traditional aged pitchers. Dickey still has some high level, likely elite seasons left. Considering how well recent knuckleballers have pitched, the Blue Jays are getting a bargain at $30 million over the next three seasons. Tim Wakefield, who was never as dominant as Dickey, pitched until he was 44, much of it in line with his career norm. Phil Niekro averaged 18 wins and a 3.28 ERA from ages 38 through 40. He pitched until he was 48. Although he hung on one season too many, he did win 16 games at age 46. Charlie Hough averaged 17 wins and a 3.63 ERA from ages 38 to 40. He pitched until he was 46. If a pitcher can master the knuckleball---RA Dickey has indeed mastered it--he can pitch well into his 40’s. Giving Dickey a contract that is in line with those of three and four starters is a smart investment.
The prospect price was too high, but the financial commitment is a bargain. Consider that the Kansas City Royals will pay Jeremy Guthrie just $6 million less over the next three years. The Blue Jays obtain a top of the rotation starter with a unique pitch and gives their rotation the type of variety that can frustrate teams during a three game series. Opposing teams could see Dickey, followed by a power pitcher like Brandon Morrow or Josh Johnson and then a soft tossing left hander like Buehrle. It will be a difficult rotation to battle.
Because Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher, there will always be the irrational concerns that it will all go away. But, this isn’t just about one season. Over three years, he has proven he can pitch and pitch well. Of course, there will be concerns about Dickey’s ability to pitch in a dome or in the American League. Again, those are unfounded. Domes are climate controlled. It can be adjusted to suit Dickey’s needs. And, the idea of not having to fight elements in half of his starts has to be a good thought for both Dickey and the Blue Jays. Additionally, he did one-hit the Rays in the Tropicana Dome in 2012. It’s all anecdotal, but nothing Dickey has done since mastering the knuckleball has given doubt to any of those concerns.
Catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas come to Toronto with Dickey. Thole was Dickey’s full-time catcher and Nickeas also saw time with the knuckleballer. Thole and holdover JP Arencibia will form the catching tandem for the Blue Jays while Nickeas will be organizational depth in case Thole gets hurt. Anthopoulos addresses one of the biggest issues with knuckleball pitchers--finding someone to catch them. In a part-time role, Thole can be effective as he has a lifetime .261/.331/.333 slash line. Obviously, he won’t supply power, but he can get on base and is a solid defensive receiver.
The Blue Jays are not a perfect team and they do still have to compete in a tough American League East. The Yankees are forgotten because of their lack of spending this winter, but they did win 95 games last season and are returning their rotation while also getting back Mariano Rivera. The Orioles surprised many last season are looking to build on that. The Red Sox were awful last season, but they are adding pieces that will make them tougher. And, always forgotten, the Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games last season, are a young team, and still have the division’s toughest rotation. The Blue Jays have made the splash moves and have the most talent they’ve fielded since 1993. They have shifted from a prospect organization to a team trying to win now. Anthopoulos has done what few General Managers are willing to do. He’s going all in on a season. He traded his best prospect and another one of his better prospects for knuckleballer.
If it works, his reputation as a genius is cemented. If not, the Blue Jays have been set back for a number of years and he will likely be out of a job. But, 2013 is the right season to go for it. The Yankees aren’t spending and are older; the Red Sox are down and thin on talent, while the Orioles are still an unknown. Only the Rays pose a sure threat heading into the season.
RA Dickey has been a quality pitcher over the past three seasons and gives the Blue Jays a reliable source of 200 innings. He completes their rotation and will ease the burden of a bullpen that was one of the bottom three bullpens in the American League last season, coming in at a 2.4 WAR. Much of that has to do with overexposure, which shouldn’t be a problem because of Dickey and Buehrle.
Alex Anthopoulos started the winter by making acquiring high end talent in an effort to compete. He finishes his winter by acquiring another high end talent to complete his rotation. He didn’t go half way by trading for Reyes, Johnson, and Buehrle and then valuing his prospects over 2013. The Blue Jays are putting their best team on the field in 2013. Whether or not it will be good enough to win won’t be answered until October. But, if all goes according to plan, RA Dickey will have another first on his resume--a postseason start.
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