The R. A. Dickey Trade
Here’s an article from Tyler Kepner of the New York Times which I thought was pretty good. It struck me as written by a Mets/baseball fan, who is genuinely hurt that the Mets gave up someone who has pitched great for the team the last few seasons in exchange for as yet unproven prospects.
While I don’t necessarily agree with the article’s implicit/basic premise that the Mets should have extended R. A. Dickey for somewhat below market salaries rather than trade him for some pretty good prospects, it does raise some issues I’d like to write about.
Dickey has been pretty terrific for the Mets the last three seasons (fangraphs.com values his contributions at $43.1 million over the last three seasons). According to espn.com, Dickey would have re-upped with the Mets for two years (2014 and 2015 — Dickey is locked in to a mere $5 million for 2013) at $26-28 million if they had made the offer. In theory, it’s hard to understand why the Mets didn’t pull that trigger.
I suspect there’s still that age-old prejudice against junk-ball pitchers playing a role in the Mets’ thinking. Very few pitchers can master the knuckleball, they tend to do it at an old age (for baseball players), and teams are usually more than a little suspicious about how long they can keep it up even once they’ve done it.
Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm remained at the top their games until age 46 and 47, respectively. However, there are so few truly outstanding knuckleballers in baseball history that it’s nearly impossible to project how any one knuckleballer will pitch in future years.
For example, I kept waiting for Tim Wakefield to perfect his knuckleball and enter the elite level Dickey has now apparently reached, but it never quite happened. Some of the difference may have been the fact that Wakefield pitched half his games in an extreme hitters’ park, while Dickey reached his peak pitching half his games in an extreme pitchers’ park. Even so, Wakefield never won more than 17 games in a season for some pretty outstanding Red Sox teams.
In short, I suspect that the Mets simply don’t trust Dickey to keep pitching even as well as he did in 2010 and 2011. They figured that now was the time to cash in on Dickey while the getting was good.
Also, even with Dickey, the 2o12 Mets were not a good team. While Dickey went 20-6, the 2012 Mets went 74-88. The team needs a serious talent upgrade, at least based on what we’ve seen the last few seasons.
At the end of the day, the trade comes down to whether or not Dickey has really reached the Phil Niekro/Hoyt Wilhelm level with his knuckleball. If he has, then trading him for a catcher with knee problems (D’Arnaud) and a young pitcher who hasn’t pitched above the Class A level (Syndergaard) is a huge mistake. If not, then the Mets went out and got talent while the getting was good.
The problem is that there just aren’t enough ace knuckleball pitchers to predict which of the two possibilities will occur until Dickey plays out his string. In my mind, the Blue Jays got the better end of this trade (assuming they can extend Dickey at a reasonable amount — a contingency of this pendng trade), but we’ll have to wait and see what Dickey actually does the next few seasons.