Judging the R.A. Dickey deal

Trades are hard enough to gauge right when they happen when we know exactly what’s been exchanged. Of course, that doesnt stop us from trying anyway. When prospects enter the fold, it gets even more difficult to judge given the uncertain nature that makes them prospects and not players.

So in the attempt to gauge how the Mets and Blue Jays did in their deal for R.A. Dickey, which will ultimately be determined by the next three years of Dickey and the careers of Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra, I instead care more about the values of the players right now.

But even those values vary depending on who you ask making this trade more difficult than most. Unlike the Rays-Royals deal, even the main veteran in this trade is a bit of a question mark himself, despite the Cy Young on his mantle. The Royals know exactly what they’re getting in James Shields – six straight seasons over 200 innings pitched and a WAR over four in four of those six years. The Jays have no such luxury with Dickey.

Dickey emerged this past year as one of the best pitchers in the National League and a 4.6 win player. He had two solid seasons leading up to this past year but they were a far cry from the performance he turned in last year.

So your opinion of this trade really depends on what you think about the future of Dickey. Is he the Cy Young Award winner he was in 2012 or is he going to go back to being the solid but not dominant starter he was in 2010-11? How will he age, like a knuckleballer or like a traditional pitcher? And how does the fact that he throws his knuckleballer harder than most affect that last question? How will his knuckleball work indoors?

d’Arnaud, the prospect we’ll get the quickest answer on, also comes with some questions – more so than most prospects so close to the majors. While the general consensus is that he’s the best catching prospect in the game and is essentially major league ready, that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily a star.

First of all (and Mets fans, I’m looking directly at you when I say this), he is not Mike Piazza. He’s not going to be anything like Mike Piazza as a player, other than being a catcher for the Mets, and in that logic, Josh Thole was a lot like Piazza as well. D’Arnaud is a better catcher than Piazza ever was, but comparing him to the best offensive catcher of all time who may or may not have been chemically enhanced is setting an unattainable standard for a young player.

But opinions on d’Arnaud realistically vary from quality regular to potential all-star, and much of the lack of certainty stems from his injury history. Thanks to various unrelated injuries, he’s hasn’t played in more than 114 games since 2009 when he was in Low-A ball. When he’s played, he’s done well, but the most recent performance, coming in Triple-A this past season, brings with it the questions that coming with putting up big numbers in the Pacific Coast League and specifically in Las Vegas. Those questions won’t be answered when d’Arnaud starts the 2013 season in Triple-A either, as the Blue Jays and Mets have switched Triple-A affiliations (not as a part of this trade).

There’s little doubt that d’Arnaud will be a major league starting catcher. The only question is whether he becomes an all-star version or not, and even respected opinions from within the game differ on which outcome will turn out.

Despite the varying opinions on the specific players involved in the deal the general consensus is that both teams got what they wanted. I don’t know if that makes it a win-win, but it sure sounds like it.

The Blue Jays announced their intentions to “go for it” early in the off-season when they turned the Miami Marlins into their own farm team, but they were still a significant pitcher away. They believe Dickey to be that player, and no one can definitively tell them they are wrong just yet. They paid a heavy price in prospects, but if they win because of it, no one will be able to say it was too much. The Mets, on the other hand, needed to be certain that they got a piece of their next competitive team in this trade, and there’s no reason to think d’Arnaud won’t be that. He may not be batting third in that order, but he’ll be in it. And there’s a decent chance that Syndergaard is contributing as well.

That’s all the Mets can ask for here. As they rebuild realistically towards 2014-16, their success will be dependent on the nucleus of David Wright, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores, assuming they can find a place to play him. They’ve now added d’Arnaud and Syndergaard to that collection, giving them more potential impact players and thus a better chance of having enough of them work out to once again become a competitive team.

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  1. Sean_ said...

    You mention Dickey as having a WAR of 4.6, but the recent article by Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs suggests that using RA9-wins is more appropriate for knuckleballers. In that case, Dickey’s past 3 years look quite comparable to Shields’ past 3 years:
    Dickey (RA9-wins): 4.6 – 3.7 – 6.5
    Shields (WAR): 2.0 – 4.9 – 4.3

    In fact, it looks as though Shields has a slightly lower floor and ceiling (though looking at more than just the past 3 years, we can see that Shields has been pretty consistently a 4-WAR player).

    Not trying to be too nitpicky, I agree with pretty much everything you said in the article. I just want to bring this up in as many places as possible, because I think it’s interesting and something we should consider when evaluating the trade!


  2. Rob said...

    One thing to keep in mind when discussing Shields is whether or not he keeps the added fastball velocity that he found this year. He posted a career best strikeout rate in 2012, which I believe is largely connected to his increased velocity. That doesn’t happen frequently with 30 year old pitchers.

  3. DJ said...

    If the floor for D’Arnaud is a league average catcher, this trade is still a WIN for the Mets.

    Six years of a league average catcher is worth more to the mets than 3 years of RA Dickey (Assuming they kept and extended him 2 additional years). 

    The chance (albiet small) of D’Arnaud becoming an All-Star caliber catcher is great to “dream” about but is not a necessary path to make this deal a WIN for Mets.

  4. Rich W said...

    If the Jays win even 1 WS in the next 3 years and the Mets don’t, how is that not a win for the Jays? I suppose if the Mets win a WS with D’Arnaud on the roster any time in the future it would be tough to argue. The assumption being that D’Arnaud is an integral part of it.

    Is the objective to Win it all or to get a player of better long term value? I pick winning. Keep in mind the trade is never made by the Jays if they didn’t feel ready to win now

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