Blue Jays mailbag: Growing excitement among fans as questions pour in on R.A. Dickey trade
Happy Holidays to fans around the world as we get ready to celebrate another New Year’s Eve. This one will be unlike any in a long time for Canadian baseball fans. Next year should be significant for Blue Jays fans and for Baseball Canada thanks to the recent spending spree by Jays’ ownership capped by the acquisition of a Cy Young knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, from the New York Mets.
Spring training arrives soon enough, just before Valentine’s Day, about 40 days hence. The first order of Canadian business in March is the World Baseball Classic with likely the best Team Canada ever, if everyone is healthy and steps up to play. As for the Jays, they have already been established as Las Vegas betting favourites to make the post-season and capture the World Series for the first time since 1993. Then there’s the move of Triple-A from Vegas to Buffalo, an easy commute for players and Jays fans. Thank God the Mayans were wrong.
On to the Mailbag and Happy New Year.
Q. Hi Richard:
Thanks for coming to my rescue on Twitter.
The R.A. Dickey rumours were at their height, and (there was) concern about the price the Jays were paying. I expressed my concern to (ESPN.com expert and former Jays’ executive)) Keith Law about giving up Noah Syndergaard, and I mentioned the comparison that had been made between him and a young Doc (Halladay). “Oh Come on!” was his reply, which is among the tamer comebacks Law posts. You later pointed out that it was none other than Pat Hengten who had made that comparison, maybe in a moment of giddiness.
My question is this: we’re all prone sometimes to falling in love with prospects we’ve never seen. Truth be told, improving your roster dramatically without giving up anyone on it is a great idea, when you think about it. Do organizations sometimes (deliberately or otherwise) over-hype their prospects to improve their trade value down the line? If Syndergaard was really that good, I can’t see AA giving up on him, even though you to have to give up quality to get it in return.
Douglas, Fox, Ottawa
A. Oh, there’s no doubt that many major-league organizations allow, no, make that encourage excess hyperbole when it comes to top prospects — or any prospects that have come on strong their first few years as a pro. It’s feel-good for the particular scout who signed said player and it’s good for the organization’s reputation when it comes to selling a bright overall future to fans. It also helps in encouraging trades that may involve overpayment from an impressed opposing GM. So, why not?
The worst, or maybe the best MLB organization at accomplishing over-hype with regard to its own prospects, depending on your point of view, has been the Dodgers, dating from the ’50s through to the ’90s. One would have annually thought their AAA-Albuquerque club was stocked with future hall-of-famers. When those players finally did arrive in the majors, the PR machine continued to churn.
The Rookie of the Year Award was instituted in 1947 and in its first 50 seasons, the Dodgers had an unnatural 16 winners. The list of Dodgers RoYs: Jackie Robinson (’47); Don Newcombe (’49); Joe Black (’52); Junior Gilliam (’53); Frank Howard (’60); Jim Lefebvre (’65); Ted Sizemore (’69); Rick Sutcliffe (’79); Steve Howe (’80); Fernando Valenzuela (’81); Steve Sax (’82); Eric Karros (’92); Mike Piazza (’93); Raul Mondesi (’94); Hideo Nomo (’95) and Todd Hollandsworth (’96).
As for Syndergaard and the rave reviews he received last summer from Hentgen, there was no ulterior motive other than reaching deep for a personal reference by the Jays’ former Cy Young winner when it came to a description of Syndergaard and his teammate Aaron Sanchez as reminding him of Halladay and Chris Carpenter. Pat had just returned to the Jays for a few days after a week-long stint as guest pitching coach with the Midwest League affiliate in Lansing. I had asked him what he thought of the much-talked-about trio of starters there. He thought about it and then came up with the comparison, as much about size, presence and potential as it was about their stuff at that precise moment in time.
Q. Hey Griff,
Seriously, A.A. is making this team crazy good!
With the new signing of R.A.D, what is the likelihood that he will be willing to share his knowledge and wisdom with some of the other Jays pitchers. I know the knuckleball isn’t really a pitch that you teach to a power pitcher a la Brandon Morrow or Josh Johnson, but what about a command and control pitcher like Brett Cecil? How many left-handed knucklers have there been in the majors? Is this something that could happen?
Thanks for all the hard work, I’m sure you were looking forward to a nice and low key offseason, but got this instead.
Jeffrey Chik, Richmond Hill
A. It’s not likely that Dickey will influence any of his new Jays teammates to knuckle up. The knuckleball is a touch-and-feel pitch that needs to be perfected outside the major-league spotlight. Sometimes it takes years to master and there’s not an ego on the Jays’ roster who wants to intentionally disappear for 2-3 years as a caterpillar to try and re-emerge as a butterfly.
The most successful left-handed knuckleballer was Wilbur Wood, who posted a record of 164-156 in a career that went from 1961-78. He was mostly a traditional pitcher early on (like Dickey), but when he was traded to the White Sox after the ’66 season, Hoyt Wilhelm convinced him to go pure with the knuckleball. He was at first in the Sox bullpen, working as many as 159 innings in 88 appearances in ’68. Twice in a month that year, he appeared in six games in five days. He emerged as a 300-plus innings starter in 1971, making an incredible 42 to 49 starts per seasons for five straight years. In ’72, as a 30-year-old, he was runner-up to spitballer Gaylord Perry as the NL Cy Young winner, the highest knuckleball finisher until Dickey. In hindsight, who knows how long Wood could have stayed at that level of excellence except for a line drive by Ron LeFlore in 1976 that shattered his kneecap. He came back in 1977-78 and was never the same. For a five-year period, 1971-75, Wood averaged 45 starts and 346 innings, with four 20-win and two 20-loss seasons. Dickey has had three solid years in a row.
I’m looking forward to Florida and ready to book my flight for some spring training games.
When I initially heard that we gave away our No. 1 and No. 3 prospect for R.A. Dickey, I thought we overpaid. I went back through Baseball America’s top 10 rankings for the past seven years, and there have only been two legit star-quality players from this list — Romero and J.P. Arencibia. There’s a couple of borderline cases in Adam Lind and Travis Snider (one had a great season, the other might still have greatness in him).
Are projecting prospects like this really that much of a crapshoot? In light of this, was this a fair trade over the long-term?
Frank S, Toronto
A. The verdict on the Jays trade with the Mets for Dickey may not be fairly judged until six years from now. The reason that it’s projected as six years is because the next three seasons are the Jays’ window of Dickey opportunity, during the course of his contract extension, while the three seasons after, 2016-18, will be the time to fairly judge what the Mets have received in Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud. But just as importantly for the Jays, by 2016-18 they will have had a chance to demonstrate to themselves what they had in the system that replaced the two top prospects they just dealt to the Mets.
GM Anthopoulos was never going to get away with anyone but d’Arnaud as the centrepiece of the deal. The Mets insisted. But the Jays believe that they have pitchers in the system that in three years’ time could match Syndergaard in terms of major-league impact. That will be the key for the Jays.
Q. I often hear about teams having their grounds crew adjust the softness of the dirt or the cut of the grass near the foul lines to help the home team. If Dickey has a preference or, perhaps, if it becomes clear that it makes a difference do you think that the Jays will keep the roof closed even on days when it would normally be open when Dickey is starting?
Kevin Klombies, Calgary
A. There is no doubt that the Jays will determine specific, game-day, open-or-closed for the dome depending on the preference or the much dissected and verified open vs. shut statistics for Dickey. Even if it’s just a mental edge provided for their ace knuckleballer, they will take that into consideration. Why not? I recall the ’01 Diamondbacks during the World Series making gameday decisions for Randy Johnson at the BOB in Phoenix whether it would be open or closed. The preliminary indication is that Dickey has been very good in domes that are shut. Somehow, even if it gets uncomfortably warm at the Rogers Centre with the lid on in July, Jays’ fans won’t object if the Jays are winning.
Q. I like Dickey but would not have made trade. Hope Alex is right. Should have given up D’Arnaud or Syndergaard and someone else, not both. Why not one of them with Sierra, or Drabek, or Hutchinson. Also, why not keep prospects one more year before either bringing them up or using as trade bait. I thought they should have gone free agent route and re-signed Carlos Villanueva and possibly Shaun Marcum. Thinking that bringing in two rather than three studs all at once would be less demanding on the team as regards to egos and media attention. Basically now you can say that Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero have moved to the 4 and 5 spots instead of last year’s 1 and 2 spots.??
Angelo Romanin, Woodbridge
Albeit I think the addition of Dickey does make us stronger; I am concerned that the price was too high in the young talent we gave up to get him. With quality free agent arms available like that of Anibal Sanchez, wouldn’t it have been better to get a top tier free agent even if the average annual salary was higher and still keep our farm system stocked with great young talent for the future? Could you please speculate on why AA went the trade route vs the free agent route?
Doug Martin, Dalmeny
A. It’s clear that Alex Anthopoulos regards his minor-league stockpile of talent as both a means of future sustainability and a way of obtaining current competitiveness. He tried the same strategy last winter with Mat Latos and the Padres but was rebuffed because his prime trade bait was not close enough to major-league ready. It was a lesson he needed to learn as a young GM that when you are trading minor-league talent, the partner organization must be able to sell the haul of prospects to their fan base as being a solid trade. The Mets were clearly able to sell to their fans a package of d’Arnaud and Syndergaard for their Cy guy. They would not have been able to sell Sierra, Drabek or Hutchison in the same way. The deal would not have been done for anything less that what AA surrendered. Make no mistake about it, AA would have done the deal for less talent if he possibly could have.
The suggestion of Villanueva or Marcum as free agents instead of trading for Dickey is absurd when thinking of leading the Jays’ rotation into a contending year. As for your statement . . . “Thinking that bringing in two rather than three studs all at once would be less demanding on the team as regards to egos and media attention,” that makes no sense whatsoever.
In terms of Anibal Sanchez, Dickey’s $30 million over the next three seasons is chump change for the Tigers’ free-agent right-hander. What people underrate is that with the Mets taking on the entire salary of John Buck, the 2013 payroll balances at the same level as if the Jays did not add a Cy Young winner to the top of the rotation. That’s the main reason why they went trade rather than the free-agent route.
If Anthopoulos had had to go free agent, he would have instead stuck with J.A. Happ, who is a solid MLB talent. In terms of slotting the rotation, you would want to reward Dickey with the opening day start because of his Cy Young, but, personally, if it was based on 2013 ability and potential, I would slot Morrow No. 2 ahead of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Romero. Your opening weekend rotation against Brian Butterfield’s Boston Red Sox would be — Johnson, Romero and Dickey. I can’t wait.
Q. Hey Richard,
With the acquisition of Dickey it looks like Romero is now pushed down to the fifth starter. This has to be the first time in league history where the Opening Day starter from the year before has dropped down to No. 5 on the depth chart, no? Don’t get me wrong, this sounds like a good problem.
Barry Choi, Toronto
A. There are two things that are important for Romero and will be of benefit as he attempts to make a comeback to the Jays’ form he flashed in 2010-11. First is that no longer does he have the pressure of being a No. 1 in the rotation with all the leadership responsibilities it entails. In fact, the pressure to succeed is now internal and is all too real because of the presence of Happ on the roster as a swingman able to fill in for RR if he fails. The worst thing for a major-leaguer is not having anyone ready to replace him either on the roster or at Triple-A. They get too comfortable. Everyone needs motivation. Hopefully, Happ has not become so discouraged by losing his rotation spot that he asks AA for a trade. They need Happ to remain in the Villanueva role. The second thing about Romero being No. 5 that could work in his favour is that in 2012 Ricky had better results with extra rest. Because Dickey is a workhorse and RR is better with extra rest, the schedule can be manipulated with Romero on his sixth and seventh days more often. He can still get his 32 starts and 190-200 innings, but it will allow him a chance to re-establish himself as a solid major-league starter.
Q. I have attended maybe one game a year for 20 years at the Skydome/Rogers Centre, but I will make a personal pledge to attend 10 games if they install grass from March to October, complete with hydroponics and maybe even install a giant window beyond the centre field fence. What will it take to convince Rogers to spend the money? I will even pay for a Sportsnet package if required.
Charles Besko, Toronto
A. One thing at a time. I agree about the grass and the window in time, but damn, they have made some solid roster moves and if I had a choice of where to spend the Rogers money right now, I would choose talent over grass. I guarantee that if you are a baseball fan and the Jays start strong and stay competitive near the top of the AL East, that you will attend those 10 games even if they played on glass. The truth is the Jays need the Argos to find their own home stadium before they ponder the grass. There might be a chance they can fit an NFL configuration and moving grandstands and make it work with grass, despite the nebulous arguments that Paul Beeston makes against it being possible.
As for the centre field window thing, it would mean knocking down the hotel. Not many would object to that, but, OK, I stayed there during the ’93 World Series as a member of the MLB volunteer PR staff, so it may now qualify as a “historic site.” As an aside, a flashback, my favourite memory of the ’93 WS Game 6 is Phillies TV broadcaster Chris Wheeler passing me in the SkyDome press box as Joe Carter was settling into the batter’s box to face Mitch Williams. Wheeler earnestly said, “Rich, do you think we could borrow (Expos’ closer) John Wetteland for an inning or two?” Touch ’em all, Joe.
Q. Hi Richard,
Other than finding depth in starting pitching to fill AAA and the final bench spot player is there anything more you see AA doing? All that is left and good in the minors are Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra. Kind of scary how the talent (trade bait) has been depleted.
How many picks (in what rounds) do the Jays have for the upcoming draft? Lastly, what are your predictions in terms of W’s for best case and worst case scenario?
Thank you Richard . . . Happy Holidays!
Kam H, Richmond Hill
A. It’s silly to say that “the talent has been depleted.” The talent pool will still supply the Jays a Nos. 1-3 prospect to fill in for d’Arnaud and Syndergaard. The Jays’ farm system will definitely drop down into the teens from the Top 5, but there are still many talented young prospects who are 4-5 years away who are just forced into a higher prospect slot at a younger age.
Baseball America’s Prospect handbook is a must for any baseball fan’s personal library each year, but they rank the Top 30 prospects in every system and how many of those will ever have an impact? An organization is lucky if it’s five of the 30 listed. Besides, the organization has a big say in the rankings so it’s entertaining and informative, but not necessarily the gospel according to talent.
From the Jays’ 2012 BA Top 30 Prospects, they have traded away — 1. d’Arnaud; 3. Jake Marisnick; 5. Justin Nicolino; 7. Syndergaard; 10. Asher Wojciechowski; 13. Adeiny Hechavarria; 14. Carlos Perez; 17. Kevin Comer; 20. Joe Musgrove. In return, still on the Jays’ MLB roster are — R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Josh Thole and Emilio Bonifacio. That’s 28 per cent of the 2013 roster and 60 per cent of the starting rotation for 30 per cent of the Top 30 prospects.
As for what AA has left to do, if the GM is conceding second base to Maicer Izturis, then I would say he should be looking for a starting second baseman. If he is willing to allow Bonifacio to compete for the second-base job, then I would agree they’re OK. The final roster spot could be a DH type to replace Adam Lind (but that would still leave a final spot) or it will be the choice, in AA’s words, of “a talent guy who won’t see much action or a clubhouse presence who won’t see much action.” My opinion is they will go ahead and bring in a clubhouse guy in January or February and not worry about offence.
Q. Hey Richard,
It looks like AA is just about done with the roster, but I am still wondering about the possibility of bringing in Lance Berkman to DH and dumping Lind. The respective salaries wouldn’t be far off and Berkman would give us another switch-hitter with great on-base skills, which was the Jays biggest offensive weakness last year. He can also play OF and 1B on the very occasional day as well. Bringing in Berkman would bring back memories of Pat Gillick adding the finishing touches of Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor on those World Series teams so many years ago.
Adam Walberg, London
A. The problem with that scenario is that Berkman plays the same positions as Lind and unless they can find a team to take Lind’s $5 million contract for 2013, then they do not want to be redundant with the last spot on the roster. A fit for Lind with another team is becoming more and more difficult. He may be a good fit with the Jays as a platoon DH and pinch-hitter with 1B capability. He’s not a stiff.
Q. Dear Richard,
I value your constructive observations on R.A. Dickey. I hope you are correct. I’m a senior who has spent 50-plus years watching baseball. I also spent 38 years as a conservative financial advisor. I saw many investors buy junk at the top of the dot-com craze. Is A.A. making a similar error investing in Dickey, Inc. “at the top of the market” especially as Dickey moves up from Quadruple-A (National League) to the AL? Good chance this will be this generation’s Brock-for-Broglio fiasco (young fans, look this one up!)
Selby Martin, Toronto
A. Initially I was just as surprised as you were in terms of Anthopoulos seemingly going outside of his philosophy to trade for a pitcher “at the top of the market.” However, after several conversations with the GM and listening closely to his message, I can see where he’s coming from. Anthopoulos does not normally like to pay for a guy who may have peaked already. But AA compares signing Dickey for three seasons, $30 million, to the signing of Jose Bautista at five years, $65 million. Both deals were seen as taking a chance with a player who has had one great season at what, in baseball terms, is a relatively advanced age. The Joey Bats contract has worked out well as he immediately repeated his MLB home run title and upped his OPS. The Jays are hoping for similar success from the Dickey gamble.
Your Brock-for-Broglio comparison makes me smile. That was indeed one of the worst trades in history as the Chicago Cubs, in a six-player trade, dealt the electric future Hall of Famer, 25-year-old Lou Brock to St . Louis where he set many stolen base records and batted leadoff for two World Series winners (1964-67) in exchange for the 27-year-old Ernie Broglio, who won 18 games for the Cards in ’63, then a total of seven in his three years with the Cubs. One of the worst deals ever, even for the Cubs.
Q. Wow, it feels great to be a Jays fan again! I’m so confused by all of the “the cost is too high” comments that I’ve been hearing from other fans and bloggers. Seriously? I don’t care about Noah Syndergaard in 2016, I want playoff baseball in 2013!
Also, with AA’s stated desire to have eight major league “capable” starting pitchers on the roster, do you see him offering a minor league contract to Eric Bedard? Does AA have anything else percolating on the back burner? Keep up the great work, Griff!
Cory Snyder, Cambridge, ON
A. The future is now! Plus, I would not object to a January minor-league deal for Bedard with an invite to major-league camp. Not just because he’s Canadian, but because he has had major-league success and needs to re-establish himself somewhere after a series of injuries. He will be 34 years old by Opening Day and has not worked more than 130 MLB innings in a season since ’07, all as a starter.
Q. Mr. Griffin,
A very well written and balanced column on the trade. Nice to read a column like yours. We’re still big RA fans here and many of us Met fans are not lovers of the Yankees so go Jays! Hope the trade works well for all.
Bob Grossman, New York
A. The best deals work well for both sides. I think that the fact the Jays and Mets are looking at different windows of success in terms of evaluating the trade and if everyone remains healthy, it will be a trade that helps both franchises. No GM wants to be seen as an opportunist. They need to be thinking of the next trade and the next. A healthy d’Arnaud has a chance to be an exciting major-league contributor. By the way, many Jays fans are not lovers of the Yankees, either.
Q. Hi Richard,
This may sound ludicrous, but hear me out. If the Angels don’t know what to do with Vernon Wells now, why doesn’t AA call up the Angels and offer to take Wells back, on the condition, of course, that the Angels absorb the bulk of his salary? We don’t need him, no, but he’d be a solid bat off the bench, a potential upgrade over Lind at DH, and a reliable backup outfielder. I’d rather see Wells riding the bench in Toronto than in California, he’s a great guy and a fan favourite to boot, especially if we’re liberated of his contract. I realize he’s maybe not the talent he once was, but in 2013 we won’t need him to be a superstar, just productive when called upon. And on a team and in a city where he’s comfortable and no doubt keen to prove himself again, he might be a nice addition. It could be the smoothest move AA ever makes.
Matthew McKean, Ottawa
A. I really like the idea. Wells could be for the Jays what Andruw Jones was for the Yankees the last couple of seasons. He could be that clubhouse presence, the connection to the past with the ability to contribute a little to the present. We saw him in Anaheim last summer and his role was already diminished to the point where he was clearly not very happy even though he had a beautiful home in SoCal and great weather every day. His buddy Torii Hunter is gone and he is pushed far down on the outfield depth chart. It’s a great idea if the Angels would pay the huge majority of the remaining two years, $42 million for VW. That is a ridiculous contract. Who would have signed him to such a deal??
Q. Hi Richard,
Like every Blue Jay fan, I am very excited about the recent transactions and I am optimistic about the Jays chances in 2013. However, I was wondering about Jose Bautista and if the injury he had this summer will affect his swing and offensive output next season. What are your thoughts about this subject.
Spencer Atin, Toronto
A. That Bautista health thing is a fingers-crossed situation to watch carefully this spring. Even a slight loss of strength in the offending Joey Bats left wrist would be alarming. I don’t believe you can compare the type of wrist surgery to anyone else who has had it in terms of gauging its success. Rays’ outfielder Sam Fuld is the main predecessor in this form of “tendon-sheath” surgery. It’s nice that Sam came back to play, but the major issue for Bautista is — he’s Sam Fuld, goddamn it.