Given the amount of vitriol being spewed about the Internet following the news that the Mets agreed to trade R.A. Dickey (and Josh Thole and a “non-elite prospect”) for Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard (and John Buck and another non-elite prospect), I was surprised to see that over 70 percent of those polled on this site since yesterday feel good about the deal.
From my perspective that makes things easy, as it means I don’t need to talk most of you into the rationale behind the deal. It’s pretty straightforward: The Mets trade a guy who’s very good now for a couple of guys who might be very good in the future. Thole, who can catch a knuckleball better than most, goes to Toronto as Dickey’s caddy. Buck comes to New York presumably to serve as an Opening Day stopgap to allow d’Arnaud to spend a month in the Minors for an extra year of team control.
This is all assuming Dickey signs an extension with Toronto and the deal gets done, of course. Unless Dickey really hates the idea of pitching indoors in half his games, I’d guess he inks something within the window. Sure, he stands to make a lot more money if he can pitch like he did in 2012 in 2013 and hit the open market after the season, but Dickey seems like a pretty smart guy who realizes how fickle baseball can be. And though I can’t say for sure as I never expect to make close as much money for anything as Dickey already has for pitching, I’d bet for a guy with four kids, the difference between the $13 million he’ll have made through 2013 and the extra $26 million or so he stands to earn in an extension is the difference between “OK, great, we have a lot of money now,” and “we’ll never have to worry about money again ever.” (UPDATE: While I was writing this, reports came out that Dickey and the Blue Jays reached an extension.)
Oh, plus there are still some details we don’t know, most notably the names of the non-elite prospects and whether the Blue Jays will give the Mets another prospect or salary relief to compensate for the $6 million owed to Buck in 2013. The non-elite prospect swap seems like an odd particular of the trade, and could mean a variety of things. It could be as simple as the Mets wanting more outfield depth deep in their system and the Blue Jays preferring pitching, or maybe there’s an unheralded guy in the Toronto farm system the Mets really like and vice versa. Or the players could be — and this I’m hoping for — near-ready non-prospect types aimed to address each big-league team’s specific needs. But I’ll hold off on speculating any more on the subject, since presumably we’ll find out soon.
Instead, let’s assess the guys we know are part of the deal to figure the ways it could pay off or blow up for the Mets.
Dickey: Trading for Dickey makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jays, a club decidedly in win-now mode with a rare window opening up in the American League East. And Dickey seems a safe bet to pitch well in 2013, if not quite as well as he did in 2012. If he can pitch like he did in 2010 and 2011 (ie, excellently) from 2013-2015, Toronto has a great pitcher on what we assume will be a reasonable deal. But by now you know all the risks: He’s 38, and his style of knuckleballing is unprecedented. Those risks, it should be noted, are part of what makes Dickey so awesome and fun to root for: He’s 38 and his style of knuckleballing is unprecedented! Also, everything else.
Thole: I’m a pretty staunch Thole apologist and willing to bet he bounces back in 2013. He’s not about to emerge as a superstar, but a lefty-hitting catcher that can get on base is a rare and valuable thing. And Thole’s now under the Blue Jays’ control for the next four seasons. Look for him to start the year working primarily when Dickey’s on the mound, then steal at-bats against righties from J.P. Arencibia as the season moves along. Many Mets fans seemed to give up on Thole after his awful 2012, but I don’t think he’s an insignificant part of the deal.
Next, the guys coming to the Mets.
d’Arnaud: By most accounts, d’Arnaud is the best catching prospect in baseball. The concerns — all coming out now from many who clamored for him weeks ago — are that he has struggled to stay healthy and that his offensive numbers in Triple-A were bolstered by the hitting environment in Las Vegas. On the other hand, he has a rare lowercase d at the beginning of his name (his older brother Chase uses and upside-down “P” on his jersey) and he has had shirts made in honor of tacos. So he’s alright by me.
Syndergaard: Y’all know I’m not a prospect guy, but Syndergaard’s the type I like — a guy whose results match his hype. As a 19-year-old in Single-A Lansing in 2012, he struck out tons of guys, walked very few of them, and allowed only three home runs in 103 2/3 innings. I’ve read that Syndergaard’s ceiling is a No. 2 starter, but to me, if a 19-year-0ld is throwing in the upper 90s (as he reportedly does) and showing good control, his ceiling is the moon. It’s hard to find a lot of recent teenage pitchers who dominated the Midwest League the way Syndergaard did, and every pitching prospect is his own unique snowflake susceptible to all sorts of injuries. But Shelby Miller and Tyler Scaggs both reached the Majors in 2012 after tearing through the Midwest League as teenagers in 2010. Expect Syndergaard to start the season in High A at St. Lucie, and if all goes well, finish it in Double-A. If he stays healthy, he could be in the Majors as soon as late 2014.
Buck: John Buck is a legit Major League catcher, and the Mets have precious few of those. He’s not a great Major League catcher by any stretch, but he rates out pretty well on defense and can hit a home run every now and then. His batting average dropped below the Mendoza Line in 2012, but on paper it looks a bit like a fluky BABIP thing. He’s here to hold down the fort until d’Arnaud is ready, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his offense moves back toward his career mean and he hits about as well as the coveted Arencibia in 2013.
As for the rest of this…
Off-field stuff and whether it factored into the deal: Honestly, who cares? If we agree the trade is a good one for the Mets, there’s no real point delving into the he-said, they-said, he-reported drama. Because I work at SNY, anything I write about it will be assumed by someone to be coming straight from the Wilpons even if that’s 100-percent never the case. So it’s just not really worth my time.
How many seasons are the Mets “punting”?: At the New York Times, Tyler Kepner wrote this:
By trading Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays, pending the negotiation of a contract extension, the Mets essentially told their fans that they do not expect to contend for the next three years. The Mets have already staggered through four consecutive losing seasons, three shy of the franchise record. Now the wait to be relevant drags on.
That’s absurd. Three years? We’re mostly Mets fans here — does anyone feel like this trade sent the message that the Mets don’t expect to contend until 2016? Anyone?
If d’Arnaud’s healthy and hitting in Vegas, he should be in the Majors by May. He’ll be 25, nearing his peak, by Opening Day of 2014. If by then he can emerge as a top-10 regular catcher — what the Mets are banking on in making this trade — he could very well be worth more to the Mets that season than Dickey will be to the Blue Jays. Throw in the stark difference in their likely salaries — money that we hope the Mets will allocate elsewhere — and the organization’s depth at starting pitching relative to its stock of legitimate Major League hitters, plus the fact that Dickey is a 38 year old man, and the idea that the deal implies punting three seasons seems stark raving mad.
This deal, if it goes through, makes the Mets significantly less likely to contend in 2013. They have sacrificed Dickey’s near-term value for players they hope will provide more in the future, trading from what appears to be an organizational strength to address what is certainly an organizational weakness. It’s more smart than it is scandalous.