The Toronto Blue Jays continued their offseason overhaul, adding the reigning National League Cy Young winner in a deal that cost them an elite prospect, maybe two.
Numbers Game breaks down the deal for R.A. Dickey.
Dickey, 38, won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012 after going 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, registering 230 strikeouts in 233 2/3 innings.
While that's a stunning development for a pitcher in his late thirties, particularly one that had been a journeyman throughout much of his career, it's also fair to note that this turn to ace didn't happen overnight. It effectively started in 2010, when he took a regular turn in the Mets' rotation beginning on May 19.
Over the last three seasons, Dickey is 39-28 with a 2.95 ERA (10th-best in baseball) and 1.15 WHIP (11th-best) and a fWAR of 9.9, which ranked 30th among pitchers over that time.
The difference between 2010-2011 and 2012 for Dickey could be seen in his strikeout numbers. 8.86 strikeouts per nine innings ranked 14th among starting pitchers in 2012 and it was a dramatic jump from the 5.45 strikeouts per nine innings.
What led to Dickey getting more strikeouts was an increasingly effective knuckleball. According to www.fangraphs.com, opponents swung at pitches outside the strike zone a career-high 34.0% of the time against Dickey. Expanding the strike zone allowed Dickey to also generate swings and misses on 12.2% of his pitches, also a career-high.
As one might expect when a 38-year-old pitcher emerges with the best season of his career, there is some likelihood of regression for Dickey. For instance, he stranded 80% of his base-runners in 2012, the fourth-highest rate among starters. Additionally, Dickey is moving from pitcher-friendly Citi Field to the Rogers Centre, which was middle of the road in both runs and home runs allowed in 2012.
Over the last three seasons, when he's been a rotation regular, Dickey has fared well against American League clubs. Small sample size disclaimer included, the results are impressive as Dickey has gone 7-0 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 71 K in 71 IP over 10 starts.
In Toronto, Dickey joins a rotation already improved with offseason additions of Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle and, combined with returnees Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, gives the Blue Jays a rotation capable of making a push for the playoffs and, potentially, the World Series.
Dickey, signed for $5-million in 2012, has agreed to a two-year, $25-million with the Blue Jays, meaning that Toronto will get three years out of Dickey for $30-million. Under most circumstances, it's not likely that a 38-year-old would get such a lucrative extension, but knuckle-ballers are a different breed in that they can, in many cases, pitch well into their forties. Joe Niekro started 26 games when he was 42; Phil Niekro started 26 games when he was 48; Tim Wakefield started 23 games at 44-years-old and Charlie Hough started 21 games when he was 46.
That doesn't guarantee that Dickey will be delivering Cy Young stuff in three years, but the nature of the pitch does make it easier for a pitcher to last longer, so it's fair to expect Dickey to remain effective through the life of the contract.
26-year-old lefthanded-hitting catcher Josh Thole also comes to the Blue Jays with 308 games as a major league catcher under his belt. He was nearly Dickey's personal catcher for the Mets, but struggled at the plate, hitting one home run, driving in 21 and batting .234 with a .584 OPS in 104 games. In 308 career games, Thole has just seven home runs, 87 RBI, a .261 average and .664 OPS.
Thole will fill the backup catcher's role for the Blue Jays because his bat doesn't warrant starter's status. He earned $498,200 last season and is "Super Two" arbitration eligible, based on his major league service time exceeding the threshold of two years and 142 days.
This move is undeniably bold for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who has shed significant prospect depth and quality in deals with the Miami Marlins and now the Mets, but in so doing, has turned the Blue Jays from a 73-win also-ran to a team, going into 2013, that has legitimate playoff aspirations, making the Blue Jays appear more relevant than they have at any time since their last World Series crown in 1993.
D'Arnaud, 23, was a first-round pick of the Phillies in 2007 and acquired by the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay trade in December, 2009.
While playing Triple-A in Las Vegas last season inflated D'Arnaud's numbers (16 HR, 52 RBI, .333 AVG, .975 OPS in 67 GP), it's not as though he wasn't hitting before that. In 2011, for example, D'Arnaud had 21 home runs, 78 RBI and hit .311 with a .914 OPS at Double-A New Hampshire.
Even though he's coming off a season shorted by injury, a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, D'Arnaud is considered the premier catching prospect in baseball and he's probably not far from the major leagues. He could be ready to break camp with the Mets in 2013 but, based on his shortened 2012, he may start the year in Triple-A before getting the call at some point during the season.
With no major league experience, D'Arnaud is a very inexpensive option, under team control for the next six seasons, making him a cornerstone piece for the rebuilding Mets.
While the Mets await D'Arnaud's arrival, they have veteran John Buck to mind the store. Buck, who the Blue Jays previously acquired from the Marlins, is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting .192 with a .644 OPS. Though Buck struggled to hit in 2012, he managed the highest walk rate (12.3%) of his career.
Buck is a stop-gap solution who has some power -- his 48 home runs over the last three seasons ranks fifth among catchers -- and will be paid $6-million in 2013, the final year of his current contract.
Noah Syndergaard is a 20-year-old, 6-fo0t-5 righthander who was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft. Since then, he's been dominant in the lower minors, going 13-8 with a 2.35 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 196 strikeouts in 176 innings between Rookie and Single-A ball. In addition to those impressive strikeout totals, Syndergaard has shown impressive command, walking 53 in those 176 innings, giving him a 3.70 K:BB ratio.
As Syndergaard progresses through the minors, the development of his off-speed pitches will help determine just how high his ceiling is, but there's a reasonable chance that he could be a number two starter in the majors if he continues on his current path of development.
Giving up the Cy Young winner is hardly the way that teams get better, but it's understandable that the Mets are taking the long view. They have too many holes to fall in love with a 38-year-old knuckleballer, so when a team offers two pieces that have the long-term value of the prospects in this deal, it's a no-brainer for the Mets in terms of improving the franchise over the long haul.