Blue Jays newest starter R.A. Dickey will be fan favourite: Griffin
Every aspect regarding the newest Blue Jays' starting pitcher, R.A. Dickey, seems slightly offbeat, curiously refreshing. Let's start with the righthander's circuitous career path from being a Rangers' first round draft selection in '96, to being labelled a career bust 10 years later, to discovering and harnessing the knuckleball, now, to a 2012 NL Cy Young Award an accepting a sudden career detour north of the border to Toronto with little fanfare.
The list of the unusual with Dickey continues. Consider the fact that the now-38-year-old Dickey was born without an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow, as Jays' fans are aware, the villain in every Tommy John surgery. Move ahead to January 2012, with his climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise money for a charity that attempts to free women from sexual slavery in India. Yes, this is a different breed of pro athlete.
Dickey clearly lives by his own guiding principles, which may help explain his unexpectedly brief and obviously civil negotiations regarding a contract extension with Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos on the weekend at his home in Nashville. It was always anticipated Dickey was in the financial driver's seat. The Mets had renewed him for $5 million for 2013. They had offered to extend him two more years for $20 million, a deal that would have kept him in New York for an average of $8.3 million, through 2015.
That's clearly a bargain for a man that produced the numbers he has, the past three Mets seasons. The veteran fan-favourite capped a three-year comeback in '12 with an NL Cy Young Award, posting a 20-6 record with a 2.73 ERA in 223-2/3 innings.
On the heels of that success, with $5 million already in place, Dickey was reportedly asking the Mets for between $25-26 million for that two year extension both sides coveted. But that was too rich for a Mets franchise that had had ownerhsip issues and was itself not expecting to truly contend for the next three years, even with Dickey. Besides, at the end of it, he would have been 41. Instead, Mets' GM Sandy Alderson began to shop him.
The Jays were the ones. There was a buzz starting on Friday, but a horsehide cone of silence seemed to descend on the proceedings on Sunday. The deafening silence from inside the Mets' office, the usual source of leaks, indicated that the ball was in the Jays' court and that negotiations for an extension were proceeding behind Anthopoulos' self-imposed veil of secrecy. Nothing new. That's just the way he rolls.
But on Monday morning, even though as Fox Sports had reported on Sunday, the Jays had been given a 72-hour window of opportunity to satisfy Dickey's demands, earlier Monday The Star suggested that a deal had been struck and that all that remained was a physical exam at Jays' spring headquarters in Dunedin. The news was quickly confirmed by Ken Rosenthal of Fox, who expanded with the dollar values.
Surprisingly, the two-year extension was reportedly for just $25 million, the same amount Dickey had been asking for from the Mets. Clearly, Anthopoulos and the Jays expected that the cost of doing business would go up because he was changing franchises, that his price of staying in New York would be off the table, that his demands would go up, with a new team, new country, new taxes, etc.
Instead, the Tuesday deadline became moot as Dickey stuck to his Mets' demands and Anthopoulos was quickly able to reach an agreement, tying the Cy winner to the Jays for three years, a total of $30 million. According to Fox, a signing bonus will be paid up front, possibly before rich guys start getting taxed at a higher rate by the U.S. federal government. In any case it didn't take long for Dickey and the Jays' GM to become friends.
The trade is expected to be announced late Monday or early Tuesday, a seven-player deal that had been rumoured since late last week. The trade will bring Dickey, major-league catcher Josh Thole and a prospect to the Jays for an attractive prospect package that includes Top 5 organization farmhands catcher Travis d'Arnaud and righthander Noah Syndergaard, major-league catcher John Buck and a third prospect.
Why would the Jays give up two such higly regarded youngsters? They receive a Cy Young pitcher who, even at an advanced age, has seen his numbers and his production increase in all statistical areas over the past three seasons as he learned how to maximize his repertoire. Consider, also, what the free-agent market has produced this winter.
Dickey will average $10 million per year. Zack Greinke was six years and $147 million with the Angels. Anibal Sanchez, five years and $80 million with the Tigers. Hiroki Kuroda, one year and $15 million with the Yankees. Ryan Dempster, two years and $26.5 million with the Red Sox.
Dickey is a bargain. Anthopoulos considers the Jays window of opportunity to be right here, right now led by a revamped rotation that will include Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.
The 20-year-old Syndergaard, at A-Lansing in 2012, will likely not be a contributor in the majors during that period, even if he goes on to a strong career after that. As for d'Arnaud he was the centrepiece that the Mets insisted on and you don't get quality without giving up quality.
It was suggested in this space over the summer, in a constructive way, that if the Jays continued to insist on hoarding prospects and building for the future with a powerhouse farm system, pleasing fans in cities like Vegas, Manchester and Dunedin, with mediocrity in Toronto, it was suggested that Jose Bautista would become impatient and Anthopoulos, at the end of 2013 the Jays might end up with another Roy Halladay situation, wherein your star was promised a contender around him when he signed his previous contract to stay loyal to the Jays and you failed to deliver. No such worry now.
The odd man out in a veteran rotation is lefthander J.A. Happ, who, unless someone is dealt, becomes a swingman in a deep, hard-throwing bullpen -- filling the role of Carlos Villanueva. The Jays' goal is to have a major-league capable inventory of eight starting pitchers. Happ would be No. 6, with others like Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek returning from surgery as the summer progresses.
Dickey became the third Mets pitcher to win a Cy Young Award, joining Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. At 37-years-old when the 2012 season ended, he was the third oldest to capture Cy, following Roger Clemens, 42, of the Yankees and Gaylord Perry, 40, of the Padres.
He becomes the fourth Cy Young winner to be traded before his next season. The others were David Cone to the Jays from the Royals in '95, Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox from the Expos in '98 and Roger Clemens from the Jays to the Yankees in '99. Notice the consistent Canadian angle.
Dickey was not a one-hit wonder. For his three seasons since joining the Mets in 2010, his performance and his statistics have improved each season as he learned to harness his two speeds of knuckleball, mixing it with a mid-80s fastball and a changeup that keeps hitters guessing. But his bread-and-butter is still the knuckleball. And no chance of Tommy John.
The Mets always knew that Dickey's best before date would likely expire before they were ready to contend. At the meetings, they extended David Wright and have control of the face of the franchise third baseman for eight years, but Dickey's prime is now. Who knows when he's 41.
The Jays' farm system is deep in pitching prospects. D'Arnaud was a valued piece of their future, but now that leadership falls to incumbent J.P. Arencibia who has always embraced Toronto and is under control for at least the next four seasons. His importance has increased substantially.
Anthopoulos prides himself on never chasing a dream with money he had not planned on spending. When the Jays were finalists for young Cuban defector, Aroldis Chapman several years ago, before anyone knew they were true players, Anthopoulos had ownership's go-ahead to make the deal with the 20-year-old lefthander with the 100 m.p.h. fastball. But when the Reds upped the bonus ante at the last minute, he told Jays' ownership that despite the green light, he was out. Self-discipline.
The negotations with Dickey ended successfully at an affordable rate, even less than the GM might have been expecting to pay when he flew out of Toronto to meet his man.
The 23-year-old d'Arnaud, was the key player for the Mets. The Jays would not give up Anthony Gose as the second prospect. Syndergaard is the second of the A-Lansing Big-3 to be traded this winter. Lefthander Justin Nicolino was dealt to the Marlins in the 12-man November blockbuster.
Both prospects were rated among the Top 5 in the Jays' system. The Jays remain deep in minor-league starting pitchers and have managed to hang onto the big-armed righthander Aaron Sanchez, who may be the best of the highly touted of the Lugnut trio.
Spring training will have a different feel when Jays' camp opens in 57 days.