- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Talent evaluators who have heard Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos say no to possible deals for catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud in the past are stunned -- completely shocked -- that Toronto has said yes to a to a trade for R.A. Dickey -- a trade that is on the verge of being finalized with word that Dickey and the Jays have agreed to a two-year, $25 million contract extension.
There's even more to this deal than d'Arnaud: Noah Snydergaard, regarded as the Jays' best pitching prospect by some teams, is the cherry on top of this trade for the Mets.
"I can't believe [Anthopoulos is] thinking about doing this," one AL official said Saturday, before the Jays and Mets finished the structure of the deal.
"He's out of his mind," said another.
Prospects have never had more value in the sport than they do now, and d'Arnaud is viewed as a difference-maker, a catcher who hits and has a lot of skills behind the plate, and is projected as someone who will play in the big leagues for more than a decade. Through the Blue Jays' 35-year history -- including the glory years fostered by Pat Gillick -- players like d'Arnaud have been the heart and soul of the franchise.
But times have changed for the Jays, who soon will reach the 20th anniversary of their previous appearance in the postseason. At a time when the New York Yankees are passing on top free agents as part of an austerity plan and the Boston Red Sox are reconstructing, Toronto is looking to win now, perhaps to show its fan base that it's capable of winning again.
Baseball history is filled with examples of disastrous teams that loaded up and built up expectations, only to flounder (hello, 2012 Miami Marlins). But there are a couple of examples in recent history of teams that got a payoff from a push to make the playoffs.
The Milwaukee Brewers could be the best comparable precedent for the Jays. In the middle of 2008, they were 26 years removed from their last postseason appearance. But owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin went all-in and traded for CC Sabathia, who carried Milwaukee into the postseason, and though the Brewers didn't last long in the playoffs, the fans have stuck around.
2006: 2.336 million
2007: 2.869 million
2008: 3.068 million
2009: 3.037 million
2010: 2.777 million
2011: 3.071 million
2012: 2.831 million
Only Attanasio and his accountants know for sure how much it meant to the Brewers financially for the team to make the postseason for the first time. He is cutting the team's payroll from about $100 million to $80 million. But there is hope in Milwaukee now where there was none before; if the Brewers are in the race in 2013, the fans have been conditioned to believe that the team will try to win it, and has a shot to win it.
Hope is what the Kansas City Royals are trying to rebuild with their deal for James Shields, and what the Pittsburgh Pirates may have squandered with their late-season collapse. Hope is what the Blue Jays need now. There is a generation of fans who have no memory of just how dominant this franchise was in the early '90s, after the opening of SkyDome. Gillick had built championship teams to grace that ballpark, and the Blue Jays drew 4 million fans in each of three consecutive seasons. Four million.
But Gillick left, and the perception in the industry is that the teams in Canada took the greatest hits from the 1994-95 players' strike. The '94 Montreal Expos might have been the sport's best team that year, and they never were able to derive the full benefit of that extraordinary collection of talent.
It has been 14 years since the Blue Jays drew 2.4 million fans. Maybe that figure will climb in 2013, because if Toronto is able to finish the Dickey deal, the Blue Jays may well be the early winter favorite to win the AL East, with a deep rotation. Old friend Peter Gammons and I had fun trying to guess how John Gibbons might arrange his rotation, given all the different looks his staff would present, with right-handers and left-handers and hard throwers and soft throwers and a knuckleballer. My guess (and without question, you can go a lot of different ways with this):
1. R.A. Dickey, the Cy Young Award winner
2. Brandon Morrow, the hardest thrower on the staff
3. Mark Buehrle, the softest thrower
4. Josh Johnson
5. Ricky Romero
Their everyday lineup should be pretty good, too:
SS Jose Reyes Switch-hitter
LF Melky Cabrera S
RF Jose Bautista R
1B-DH Edwin Encarnacion R
DH-1B Adam Lind L
3B Brett Lawrie R
CF Colby Rasmus L
C J.P. Arencibia R
Toronto has fielded some really good teams in the past decade, but at times when the Yankees and Red Sox were flexing their big-money muscles. Now, with the playoff format and the club restructured, they can present more hope to their fans than they have since Joe Carter sprinted happily around the bases at the end of the 1993 World Series.
The value-for-value ledgers say that the Dickey deal doesn't make sense for Toronto. Baseball history shows that all-in bets usually don't pay off. If the Blue Jays' business plan fails, it's possible that the Blue Jays would regress into a Marlins-like sell-off in the next couple of years. (Maybe not all at once.)
But the Blue Jays are going for it, in a way they haven't in so long. Other officials might not agree with it, but they certainly recognize the will to win.
The Jays are in all the way, writes Ken Fidlin.
• Dickey doesn't have a no-trade clause, but he has the power to effectively kill this deal by not agreeing to an extension beyond his $5 million deal for 2013. In the eyes of one longtime agent -- who is not involved in these talks -- a fair-market extension for Dickey, in light of the Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez signings, is something in the range of $40 million to $45 million for three more years. Dickey doesn't have complete leverage in these talks because he's not a free agent, but he does have a lot. And we don't yet know whether he's OK with playing in Toronto, which some players privately don't want because of the travel complications.
The return in this trade could be extraordinary for the Mets, in the eyes of rival evaluators; here's more on d'Arnaud from Jorge Arangure. This could be Sandy Alderson's Gary Carter move, writes Bill Madden.
There is more and more being written and said about Dickey not being a model teammate -- stuff that wasn't written or said during recent summers, by the way. If it can be said that Dickey has embraced the spotlight, well, you can throw him in with this long line of Cy Young Award-caliber pitchers who went about their business similarly: Justin Verlander, Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, David Cone, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer.
Some guys would prefer to do their work in a vacuum -- Roy Halladay, for example -- and some guys enjoy the media interaction. With starting pitchers, what really matters is their work every fifth day, and the simple facts are that in the past three years, the Mets are 53-39 on the days that Dickey pitched, and 177-217 on the days he didn't. So the notion that the Mets should be motivated to get rid of him because of how his personality plays in the clubhouse is a little silly. The Mets are botching this, writes Tyler Kepner. I agree with Tyler, in the big picture: It's incredible that a New York market team can't comfortably squeeze a Cy Young Award winner on a below-market deal on its payroll.
But that is not the reality in which the Mets' front office operates; rather, they have to run this team as though it's got a Milwaukee Brewers-size payroll. Within those limits, trading Dickey now for top prospects is the right thing to do. To add d'Arnaud and Snydergaard to a young core that already includes Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler gives the Mets even more hope for 2015 and beyond. Next season, however, could get really, really ugly, considering how Dickey almost single-handedly propped up the Mets last season; they might have been a 65-win team without him.
The Red Sox agreed to terms with Stephen Drew, who is getting $9.5 million, along with $500,000 in possible performance bonuses. So the Boston lineup could look like this, if the Red Sox finish the negotiations with Mike Napoli:
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
SS Stephen Drew
Oakland had interest in Drew but wasn't willing to pay exorbitant dollars (in the Athletics' eyes) to keep him; Drew had played OK for them, but rival scouts believed his range had suffered in the year after his horrific ankle injury. Oakland could follow up in its pursuit of Jed Lowrie, or Hiroyuki Nakajima (a free agent from Japan), or perhaps Jhonny Peralta, if the Tigers prefer to go with Danny Worth.
It was just time for him to move on. The difficulties of the relationship between the team and the player had worn on the trust the two sides had for each other. To repeat: Hamilton's departure leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the Rangers' lineup, a spot they may really struggle to fill this winter, and they're probably not going to be able to replicate the offense he provided. But in the long run, they're better off not investing in a player who frustrated them enormously, and Hamilton is better off going to a place where he can have a fresh start (for a lot more money).
Evan Grant takes a stab at what he thinks the Rangers' lineup might look like (and it's a very, very different looking Texas lineup without Hamilton).
If the Rangers can't meet Arizona's asking price for Justin Upton, you wonder if it can work something out for Jason Kubel, who would be a one-year upgrade in power for Texas. Some executives with other teams have asked privately whether Texas overvalues its prospects; either way, the Rangers have had a lot of success.
• Steve Dilbeck wonders: Is Arte Moreno obsessed with the Dodgers?
There's no getting around this: Hamilton was an impulse buy for the Angels, as Albert Pujols was. As Hamilton said, there really hadn't been any contact with the Angels before the winter meetings, and the negotiations never got serious until the last 24 hours before the deal. That means that Hamilton could've easily worked out something in the first five weeks of the offseason without the Angels ever getting involved.
The deal was another sign of the Angels' drive to win.
The perception of the Angels, among some evaluators, is that they have an awesome offense and an extremely flawed pitching staff that lacks depth. Jered Weaver has been one of the best pitchers in the majors and one of the sport's great gym rats, but for the first time in his career, he has shown some wear and tear recently. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity:
The Angels need more structure around Weaver.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The NL Central teams have kept a low profile this winter.
6. The Phillies are nearly finished with their winter's work, writes Ryan Lawrence.
7. For now, young pitchers likely will fill out the Pirates' rotation, writes Bill Brink.
8. Brian Cashman says the Yankees have more work to do.
The Blue Jays had already made a commitment for 2013, and the R.A. Dickey deal is the final piece.