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Reaction to the (pending) Dickey Trade

December 16, 2012

It would appear that Alex Anthopolous is finally delivering on what he has promised since taking over as the Blue Jays GM.  After a few years of minimal off season action and a seemingly perpetual state of playing for next season, AA is finally saying that the Jays will compete this season.  He is showing that he is not afraid to flip some of the stockpile of top prospects in the Jays system for top notch, Major League ready players who will make a noticeable difference on the field this coming season.  And it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

The latest reports are that the Jays have agreed to send Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, John Buck and a non-elite prospect to the Mets for reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A Dickey, Josh Thole and a non-elite prospect.  This trade is contingent on the Jays negotiating an extension for Dickey, who would otherwise become a free agent at the end of the season, by Tuesday at 2pm.

So the question is how does this trade look for the Jays?  On first glance, they are giving up two top prospects in exchange for a 38 year old knuckleballer coming off one great season.  It is understandable how a casual fan may not see this as a great deal from the Jays perspective.  On further examination however, this trade makes the Jays a considerably better team and further strengthens the argument that they will be the favourites to win the AL East.  They are not getting a pitcher that is coming off one great season, but rather a pitcher who has been one of the top pitchers in the Majors for the past three years, coming off a season where he finally got recognition as one of the league’s elite arms.  

Saying that Dickey is an aging pitcher who had one great season ignores a number of factors and stats.  Statistically over the past three seasons, Dickey is comparable to pitchers such as David Price, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, C.C. Sabatiha and Felix Hernandez.  If you were to replace Dickey with any one of those players, there would probably be arguments that the Jays underpaid, and there would certainly be no question that the Jays were favoured to win the AL East.  It should also be noted that Dickey’s numbers over the past three seasons have not seen drastic variance.  He has remained relatively consistent which reduces the likelihood of regression.  At 2.73, his 2012 ERA was the lowest it has been in three years, but not by a wide margin.   In 2010, he posted a 2.84 ERA and in 2011, he posted a 3.28, the highest of the last three seasons, and yet still a respectable number.  His K/9 was considerably higher in 2012 than in previous seasons, an obvious side effect of his considerably  higher number of strike outs.  But this is an overrated statistic that does not tell the whole story.  If we look at some of his other numbers, the prospect of a regression in strike outs is not very troubling at all.  The rise in strike outs corresponds to a drop in ground balls, while fly balls and line rives have remained relatively consistent.  Over the past three seasons, he has had lower fly ball and line drive percentages than Justin Verlander, who is widely considered to be the best pitcher in the game right now, and has had a higher ground ball rate.  The point is, a decrease in strike outs likely results in an increase in ground balls, which often lead to lower pitch counts, do not often result in extra base hits and almost never result in home runs.  His ground ball rate has been in the neighbourhood of Roy Halladay, who had tremendous success pitching in Toronto.  

Moving on to advanced metrics, his ERA- and FIP have been among the best in the majors over the past three seasons, and again have been relatively consistent.  Based on the advanced metrics, Dickey is comparable to David Price, and Matt Cain, who in the past three years have a Cy Young and two World Series rings between them.  His WHIP and LOB% are comparable to Verlander, with Verlander posting a 1.16, 0.92 and 1.06 WHIP compared to Dickey’s 1.19, 1.23 and 1.05. Over the past three years, Dickey has consistently been one of the best in the league at getting betters out.  This past season was not a fluke but rather a continuation of a trend.  The high level of consistency also suggest that between a repeat performance and regression, the former is the more likely outcome.  

There is no way to present the story of what is going to the Mets other than as trading future potential for current success.  d’Arnaud and Syndergaard at the first and third ranked prospects in the Jays system and when we include the earlier Marlins trade, AA has taken a sizable piece out of the Jays farm system.  That being said, he by no means sold the farm.  For pitching prospects, the Jays still have Drew Hutchinson, who although is still recovering from Tommy John has shown that he can handle Major League hitters, number 2 prospect Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris.  That list does not include Kyle Drabek who may still become a serviceable 4th or 5th starter.  And lets not forget that Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are on the right side of thirty, in their prime and have both shown that they could potentially be front end rotation guys.  

Syndergaard, as good as he projects to be, has yet to pitch in the majors and best case scenario, probably does not pitch any meaningful games in Toronto until 2014.  There are also numerous catching prospects in the system many of whom are expendable.  The most notable of the young catchers is a player by the name of J.P. Arencibia who is a proven Major League catcher.  His one base percentage and average could use some improvement  however his defence is getting better, he has shown that he can handle a pitching staff and he has power.  d’Arnaud proved that he could hit, but this was in hitter friendly Las Vegas and he missed a large portion of last season with a torn knee ligament.  Those result in two big question marks for d’Arnaud and mean that Arencibia probably emerges from Spring Training as the Opening Day starter behind the plate even with d’Arnaud in the system.  

Of course there is the argument that the Jays should substitute Arencibia for d’Arnaud.  Although Arencibia is a good player, with the potential to be an above average big league catcher he is by no means untouchable.  The difference is with Arencibia you get a catcher with two years in the bigs and that you know has the ability to hit in the 20 home run range and drive in anywhere between 70 and 90 runs at that level.  You also know that he can handle being an every day catcher at the big league level.  d’Arnaud may transfer his Triple-A numbers to the Majors, but he may not.  And either way some drop would be expected given that Major League pitchers are considerably better than Triple-A pitchers and the Pacific Coast League is notoriously hitter friendly.  We also do not know how he will handle a big league pitching staff or if he can handle the every day duties behind the plate.  These are a lot of question marks that seem to have tipped the scales in Arencibia’s favour.  Keeping d’Arnaud likely means keeping Buck as well, and paying his entire $6 million salary for 2013, while having him sit on the bench for a good portion of the season.  The other possibility is that Buck is forced into the everyday role, and between Arencibia and Buck, Arencibia is the better choice.

At the end of the day this trade falls into the same category as the Marlins trade that brought in Reyes, Buhrle an Johnson; a trade of long term potential for short term success.  Dickey gives the Jays the front line starter that they need to compete and gives them much needed depth in the rotation, with J.A. Happ and Brett Cecil among others waiting in the wings in the event that one of their starters falters.  Most importantly, this trade is the exclamation point on the statement to fans.  Ownership and management has been saying for years that they Jays are ready to compete in the AL East.  Now the fans can believe them.  I cannot think of a time where I was more excited about the start of a baseball season as I am this year.       

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