The New York Mets seem to, finally, be playing the R.A. Dickey situation close to their vest this afternoon, but it appears much of the cat is already out of the bag, as last night it was reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports that the teams were exchanging medicals– which Andy Martino of the New York Daily News has also now indicated, saying that the Jays have been reviewing Dickey’s since yesterday.
Despite earlier suggestions that Anthony Gose may be part of the deal, along with Travis d’Arnaud– the believed centrepiece– Joel Sherman of the New York Post now says that no permutation of the would involve Gose.
Sherman also, astutely, points out that one of the main reasons the Jays are doing this– to the consternation of far too many of their prospect-obsessed fans– is that they feel they need to deal prospects in order to best surround guys like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Mark Bueherle with as much talent as possible.
It may hurt to seem to be on the verge of losing d’Arnaud– it may hurt even more to think of JP Arencibia and his shitty on-base being the guy from here out– but evidently that’s the cost of doing business.
And frankly, the way that catchers’ bats are generally slow-coming in terms of development, it’s understandable that, while the Jays may (rightly) be believers in his long-term future, for 2013 it’s hard to picture d’Arnaud’s value dramatically exceeding Arencibia’s in 2012.
The long-term pain is for short-term gain, and with the way the off-seasons have gone in the rest of the division, Arencibia’s immediate value– not to mention Dickey’s– is pretty ridiculously huge for Toronto. Every extra win of talent the Jays can accumulate puts them in better position to win the division; it also helps increase excitement, ratings, gate receipts, revenue; it puts them in a position where, as a championship-calibre club, in the coming years they can actually be viewed as a viable free agent destination– something they haven’t been for decades, and have obviously had to work around this winter, at a very high cost in prospects. It maybe even makes it easier down the road for them to replace Arencibia on the free agent market, or to bring in free agents who will block prospects who can then be moved for an upgrade, if need be.
So, those are pretty clear reasons to understand why the Jays may be about to grit their teeth and part with d’Arnaud, and be less concerned about the depletion of their prospect wealth above the low minors than far too many fans seem to be– a position I find somewhat odd, seeing as we learned last year that close-to-the-Majors talent is paramount in these kinds of deals, and that this is precisely how Alex Anthopoulos has said all along he wanted to build the club.
I’ve seen it suggested that the Jays should simply keep their prospects and go get a pitcher like Edwin Jackson for a little more money than Dickey’s extension will require– and, indeed, another reason to understand the deal from the Jays’ perspective is that all indications are that a trade does not get done without an extension or the framework for one in place with the Cy Young winner– but that kind of market-based solution is problematic for a number of reasons.
For one, Jackson is similar enough to Anibal Sanchez– who just got $80-million from the Tigers– that I suspect the notion of a “little” more money is fanciful (Dickey is only looking for something in the neighbourhood of $30-million over three years). For two, there is certainly no guarantee that Jackson, or whoever else remains on the market, would even take the Jays’ money.
For three: R.A. Dickey is really fucking good, you guys.
There has been a lot of talk about his age, his lack of an ulnar collateral ligament, and his seeming out-of-nowhere season last year, but all of these concerns are dramatically overblown– often lately by those with too-heavy an attachment to a catching prospect who has been built up in the prospect-watching minds almost constantly since he arrived in the Roy Halladay deal. (Again, yeah, he’s absolutely a high end prospect, and I’d much prefer keeping him than Arencibia, but you’ve got to give up something to get something).
Sticking with Edwin Jackson as a comparison, over the last three years Dickey has been better by more than a full run of ERA (4.10 to 2.95). While their FIP, xFIP and SIERA numbers are closer, Dickey still bests Jackson in those, and his tERA has been almost a full run better as well. People get hung up on FanGraphs’ version of WAR– I suspect mostly because it’s visually more apparent on their screen– which means the fact that Jackson’s half win advantage over the three years may loom large for some (though Dickey was two wins better in 2012), but Baseball Reference tells a different story, calculating Dickey’s WAR over that period to be 12 and Jackson’s to be 6.
And that’s when we lump two very good seasons from the possibly soon-to-be newest Jay in with his superb 2012. Understandably there’s skepticism about Dickey’s apparent “figuring out” of his money pitch at age 37, and the spike he saw in strikeout rate as a consequence, but given that it’s an extreme “feel” pitch, such a story isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. Add in that the Jays, under Anthopoulos, have greatly expanded their scouting operation, were pulling scouts off of minor league games last summer to watch big leaguers in anticipation of these kinds of deals, and the fact that they have a pretty good track record of late when it comes to identifying regression-defiant changes in guys having out-of-nowhere success (see: Bautista, Jose; Encarnacion, Edwin) and you start to worry a little bit less.
And then even less when you see Joel Sherman point out that Dickey’s worst numbers have come in the cold and the rain– an advantage, then, in his moving to a domed stadium (and one that lines up perfectly with what this 2009 Amalie Benjamin piece for the Boston Globe says about the Jays’ attempts to always have the roof open when Tim Wakefield was pitching for the Red Sox– a plan they can enact in reverse when Dickey is on the hill).
And less still when Dave Cameron of FanGraphs takes a cudgel to the notion that Dickey is a one-year wonder, explaining, after running through the stats, that “Yes, he was better last year than he had been in prior years. So was David Price. If you’re going to call one of them a one year wonder, you have to call them both a fluke. Personally, I’ll just go the other direction, and call both of them elite starting pitchers, worthy of all the adulation you want to throw their way.”
Absolutely there are risks beyond just performance, but it’s worth noting that, when it comes to those too, almost every one of the main ones being constantly bleated isn’t nearly as bad as it seems.
The lack of a UCL? It sure sounds weird, but between the Majors and minors he’s thrown over 2300 innings since turning pro, and according to the injury history on his Baseball Prospectus card, he hasn’t had anything resembling arm trouble since 2006. And he hasn’t spent time on the DL since 2005. That doesn’t mean he’s not a risk to break down, of course, but the idea that it’s a bigger concern than any other pitcher just doesn’t fly– at least not in my mind.
His age? I can’t say that it’s not a concern at all, but normal aging curves simply do not apply apply for knuckleballers– even ones who throw theirs harder than any knuckler that’s ever been thrown. Yes, he throws with more velocity and effort than Wakefield did, but we’re still only talking 75-79 for the bulk of his pitches, with a fastball sitting around 83. To expect aging that’s typical of a 38-year-old for a guy with that repertoire is just nutty– there simply are not the same kinds of stresses and strains on the arm, and not the same kind of wear and tear to begin with either.
His NL-based success? As fun as it is to rag on the National League, the idea that Dickey was a Quad-A/mid-Twins-rotation pitcher who jumped leagues and suddenly turned into a Cy Young winner is pretty seriously ridiculous. The numbers from his last turn on the junior circuit aren’t pretty, but fortunately for the Jays (or whoever lands him), he was an entirely different pitcher then. According to his FanGraphs page he only started throwing the knuckleball in 2005, and from that season through the end of 2009, he only pitched in 209 big league innings, throwing the pitch nearly 20% less often, and not with the same velocity as he began to after joining the Mets and beginning his incredible turnaround.
Are there concerns about moving to the Rogers Centre from the spacious park he called home for the last three years? There has to be, I think, but his ERA was 2.90 on the road, and his FIP and xFIP were both better outside of Citi Field in 2012. That wasn’t quite the case for the previous two seasons, though his 2011 road ERA was better than at home, and his road xFIP in 2010 was pretty close.
Of course, I’m just cherry picking the numbers that look best from those splits, and if he goes back to the guy he was prior to last season, there should be worry about him coming to a team that plays in the Rogers Centre, and so many times at Fenway and in the Bronx. Shit, it’s almost like Dickey isn’t flawless and there really are risks here! But even so, the addition of the “mere” three-win Dickey of 2010 would give a tremendous boost to this rotation, allowing J.A. Happ to become an excellent sixth starter for the club (provided he doesn’t straight-up replace Darren Oliver as the lefty setup man)– and the extension that he’ll sign gives the club time to bridge the gap while waiting for the likes of Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard, who are both on a path that could see them debut as early as mid-2014.
Of course, as we saw this year, Dickey can be so much more than what he was in 2010 and 2011. And frankly, if he had been ours for the last three years, and it was the Mets who were offering us d’Arnaud for him, I suspect that many of the people aghast about what the Jays seem to be about to give up wouldn’t exactly be fucking giddy about the heist we were about to pull either.
Even if that’s not true, the bottom line is, Cy Young-calibre talent becomes available to this franchise so incredibly rarely, and it can be such a difference-maker right now, given the career arcs of the Jays’ core players, that as much as it hurts to see them seemingly about to part with d’Arnaud– as much as we’d much prefer it if JP Arencibia could be “the cost of doing business” instead (again: he can’t, which is precisely why we’re here)– and as much as Dickey maybe isn’t quite a “Cy Young pitcher” in the Justin Verlander sense, this would be a tremendous, tremendous pick-up for the Jays, especially outside of the sometimes-too-cute vacuum of cost control, prospect fawning, and dollars-per-WAR.
Something about flags? Something about how they fly forever?
And hey, if this can finally, finally kill the myth about the Jays never being involved in a deal that’s heavily rumoured, even better.
Image via @ohheymike.