Trading a Cy Young winner mere months after his acclaimed season isn't the typical approach teams take for improvement. But for the New York Mets, trading fan favorite R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package headlined by catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud was a no-brainer.
Monday, the deal that's been reported on for days finally came to a conclusion when the knuckleballer agreed to a two-year, $25 million extension with Toronto. In the deal, the Mets acquired catcher John Buck, d'Arnaud, pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard and minor-league outfielder Wuilmer Bacerra. New York sent Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to the Blue Jays.
Dickey dominated the team's offseason discussions almost more than David Wright's status because he was coming off a tremendous season, had a $5 million salary due for next year and was asking for a team-friendly extension. All of this comes with the caveat, however: he is also 38 and throws a trick pitch, making him very difficult to project, lending itself further for a trade if the Mets could cash in.
The Mets were a 74-88 team, 14 games out of the playoffs, with the Cy Young winner in the rotation last year. That doesn't get you anywhere. With no improvements elsewhere this winter, a similar record is more than likely. Even though Dickey may not have the normal wear and tear on his arm, the question marks surrounding an older knuckleballer with a short track record are real. And even with Dickey, the Mets are probably not legitimate contenders for at least another two years.
General manager Sandy Alderson can preach the company line all he wants -- we aren't "punting" 2013 -- but the fact of the matter is this was a baseball trade to continue to set the Mets up for long-term sustainability. In addition, it's one closer year to when Alderson can open up the checkbook and pay for a marquee name, at a time when the young rotation and d'Arnaud will be more experienced.
Alderson sought a "difference-maker" for Dickey, knowing full well his team was thin when it came to high-level position prospects. Baseball America recently included seven pitchers and just three position players, two of which are still several years from seeing the major leagues, in its Mets top-10 prospects list. New York entered the offseason with a disheveled outfield, an average catcher and a bullpen that needed work. It wasn't going to get any help anytime soon on the position-player front from its minor league system. And with the payroll restrictions Alderson wasn't about to splurge (overspend) on the few big-ticket free agents out there.
So in order to address one problem, Alderson dealt from a strength, making a rare trade for an up-the-middle cost-controlled player who has All-Star potential, in addition to a starter in 20-year-old Syndergaard who has power stuff and the makings to pitching in the front of the rotation in time. d'Arnaud, BA's 17th-best prospect, batted .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs in 303 plate appearances last year in the Pacific Coast League. Syndergaard threw 103 2/3 innings, giving up 81 hits and 31 walks with 122 strikeouts, while posting a 2.60 ERA in A-ball.
"The Mets get the second-best catching prospect in the minors in Travis d'Arnaud and a potential No. 2 starter in Noah Syndergaard, and they get six years of control with each," said Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America, as reported by the New York Times. "I understand that the Blue Jays are going all-in for 2013, but I thought they overpaid."
For a while, it was reported that the Mets would net another "non-elite" prospect, but ESPN's Keith law says the 17-year-old Becerra is more than that, even hough he only had 39 plate appearances in rookie ball and is many years away. "He has a sweet-looking right-handed swing with strong hands, keeping his head steady with great hip rotation and loft for future power as his body matures," Law said.
So losing Dickey may be painful in the short-term, but gaining some youth has the potential to pay off bigger in the long run for the Mets.