R.A. Dickey worth the hefty price tag for Blue Jays | Baseball | CBC Sports

MLBR.A. Dickey worth the hefty price tag for Blue Jays

Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012 | 08:58 PM

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Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, along with catcher Josh Thole, were traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday. Dickey won the National League Cy Young award in 2012 after posting a 20-6 record with a 2.73 ERA for the New York Mets. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, along with catcher Josh Thole, were traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday. Dickey won the National League Cy Young award in 2012 after posting a 20-6 record with a 2.73 ERA for the New York Mets. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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If you weren't convinced that the Toronto Blue Jays were going all in to win a championship in 2013 after their blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins last month, then you should be now with the acquisition of R.A. Dickey.
If you weren't convinced that the Toronto Blue Jays were going all-in to win a championship in 2013 after their blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins last month, then you should be now.

With the acquisition of National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey on Monday, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has added another elite arm to the club's starting rotation, which also includes Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. That's now arguably the best in the majors.

The Blue Jays did, however, pay a steep price for Dickey, shipping prized catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, heralded young hurler Noah Syndergaard, veteran catcher John Buck and teenage outfielder Wuilmer Becerra to the New York Mets. The Blue Jays also receive catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas in the trade.

The deal for the 38-year-old knuckleballer, who will make $5 million US in 2013, wasn't finalized until he passed a physical and signed a two-year, $24-million extension (that includes a $12-million club option for 2016). According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the trade had been contingent on Dickey signing an extension by 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The Mets decided to part ways with Dickey after they couldn't come to terms with him on an extension.


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Long road to the majors

It hasn't been an easy road to stardom for Dickey. The six-foot-three right-hander was drafted in the first round by the Texas Rangers in 1996. But after selecting him, the Rangers discovered that Dickey had no ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. Fearing that Dickey's arm would break down, the Rangers signed him for just $75,000.

With an arsenal that included an average fastball, an unimpressive changeup and a mysterious forkball, Dickey did eventually make the big leagues and pitch for parts of five seasons for the Rangers with limited success. Prior to the 2005 campaign, he realized his forkball was similar to a hard knuckleball and he worked to perfect the pitch.

But success continued to elude him for several years, and after two mediocre seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins in 2008 and 2009, respectively, he signed a minor league deal with the Mets.

After spending the first month of the 2010 season in Triple-A, Dickey was promoted and finally excelled at the big league level, pitching superbly for the Mets in 2010 (2.84 ERA in 27 games) and 2011 (3.28 ERA in 33 games), before notching 20 wins and posting a 2.73 ERA this past season.

Naturally, there are questions about Dickey's advanced age and how his knuckleball -- which he throws harder than a traditional knuckler -- will fare against explosive American League East offences. But in six interleague starts against AL East clubs in the past three seasons, Dickey has recorded a 1.71 ERA in 42 innings. And over the past three seasons, the soft-throwing right-hander has been extremely durable. This year he topped the National League in starts (33), innings pitched (233-2/3), complete games (five) and shutouts (three). It's also important to note that knuckleballers' arms generally don't age as rapidly as other pitchers' arms.

Thole, Dickey's light-hitting batterymate, was also acquired in the deal. He'll likely serve as Dickey's personal catcher and save J.P. Arencibia from having to purchase a larger catcher's mitt.

Born in Vancouver, B.C., Nickeas, who hit .174 in 47 games with the Mets last season, will provide the Jays with catching depth in Triple-A.

Lofty cost

Dickey definitely makes the Jays better in 2013, but they paid a lofty cost for him. Acquired in the Roy Halladay deal in 2009, d'Arnaud was the club's top prospect. The promising 23-year-old catcher was hitting .333 with 16 homers in 67 games at Triple-A Las Vegas this past season before he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The injury has left some wondering how well his knee will hold up behind the plate. And as heralded as d'Arnaud is as a catcher, talent evaluators point out that if he were moved to another position, his offensive output would look more pedestrian.

The 20-year-old Syndergaard was one of the Jays' top pitching prospects. The six-foot-five flame-thrower struck out 122 batters in 102-2/3 innings in Class-A this past season, but scouts are split on him. Some believe he'll be a No. 2 starter, while others suggest his lack of an effective breaking pitch will eventually relegate him to the bullpen.

Buck, who's set to make $6 million in 2013, was never really in Toronto's plans, while Becerra is an 18-year-old Venezuelan outfielder who made his professional debut in Rookie Ball this season. His power and speed convinced the Jays to give him a $1.3-million signing bonus in 2011.

The acquisition of Dickey is another "win now" transaction by Anthopoulos that nicely complements his November 19 mega-deal in which he landed Johnson, Buehrle, Buck, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins.

After a dreadful 73-89 campaign, the Jays desperately needed to improve their starting rotation, and what Anthopoulos has accomplished to enhance the staff this off-season has been remarkable. In addition to dealing for All-Stars Johnson and Buehrle, he has now reeled in the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner.

Market value

But was the price for Dickey too high?

I don't think so. The Royals surrendered Wil Myers, arguably the best offensive prospect in baseball, in a package for right-hander James Shields. Free agent Anibal Sanchez, a less successful pitcher than Dickey, just secured a whopping five-year, $80-million deal. So the price for top-flight starting pitching is incredibly high.

In isolation, this move might look like an overpay by the Jays. But when you analyze it in conjunction with the players acquired from Miami and the comparative inactivity of the Jays' American League East rivals, it's a transaction that makes sense. Next season, the Jays have a rare opportunity to rise to the top of the American League East and Dickey just might be the final piece to help them do this.

So although I hate to see the Jays part with d'Arnaud and Syndergaard, the acquisition of Dickey is the type of brave, bold move that the Jays need to make to capitalize on the short-term vulnerability of their division rivals.

It's also a clear statement that they're going all-in to win a championship in 2013.  

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