When the Toronto Blue Jays acquired RHP R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets following his 2012 Cy Young Award, they took a huge gamble. After all, this was a man who had just completed his age-37 season, but Dickey was very good over his three full seasons with the Mets and knuckleballers are able to pitch “forever”, right? Well, after investing $41 million into the knuckler, the Blue Jays are still without a title and Dickey is now floating pitches for Atlanta.
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays didn’t just invest millions of dollars. They gave up prospects to receive Dickey from the Mets, including C Travis d’Arnaud and the majestical, golden locks of RHP Noah Syndergaard.
Dickey’s 49-52 record and 4.05 ERA over his four seasons to the north would ultimately cost the Blue Jays a legitimate ace. While Toronto made the playoffs in Dickey’s final two seasons with the club, he wasn’t the ace – by any means – as RHP Marco Estrada, RHP Aaron Sanchez, RHP Marcus Stroman, and LHP J.A. Happ had gradually taken on larger roles in the rotation. The problem, however, was that none of the other pitchers could give the Blue Jays the innings necessary to go deep into the playoffs. With a lack of pitching depth around the incredible bats of 3B Josh Donaldson, OF Jose Bautista, and 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays faltered in the ALCS the last two seasons.
While D’Arnaud has battled injuries…constantly…Syndergaard has become one of the best young arms in baseball, even leading the Mets to a World Series in 2015, winning his only start against the eventual champion Royals. Since the World Series loss, Syndergaard has thrown 202.2 innings, striking out 238 (10.6 K:9), and posting a 2.44 ERA (2.15 FIP). Still just 24 (25 in August), “Thor” has a microscopic 0.95 ERA and 0.84 WHIP thanks to his 20:0 K:BB over his first three starts and 19 innings of 2017. The Mets have control of their young ace through the 2021 season, which, clearly, leaves the Mets as the winners of this trade.
However, hindsight allows us to look back at this as miserable; it wasn’t always the case:
Anybody remember a team trading for 3 starters in one offseason who averaged 209 IP the season before? #BlueJays have done it this winter
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 17, 2012
Getting Dickey with LHP Mark Buehrle and RHP Josh Johnson was, on paper, a huge, smart investment. Injuries to Johnson and age affecting the results of Dickey and Buehrle didn’t allow this wonderful offseason to culminate into anything but a last place finish in the AL East in 2013. Bleacher Report had a nice collection, including Stark’s, that you can check out if you’d like.
There are prospects dealt every year. Hell, OF Michael Brantley became the “player to be named later” in the Indians’ deal that sent LHP CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 – and nine years later, “Dr. Smooth” is still rocking a Tribe uniform. You would think that teams would have learned about the value of those cost and team-controlled years, but we still see these types of deals. Risks are the norm when a team is chasing a title. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays’ gamble will likely go down with the acquisitions of Frank Robinson, John Smoltz, and Jeff Bagwell as one of the worst trades in baseball history, and Toronto fans will long for “Thor” as he continues to lead the Mets’ rotation for several years.
The series of trades that Toronto thought would bring them a title left their system bare. Sure, Sanchez and Stroman came up through their system, but when Syndergaard, LHP Justin Nicolino, RHP Henderson Alvarez, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani were dealt, the club’s depth took a hit. Now, sitting at 2-10 to start the 2017 season, the club needs a starter with Sanchez heading to the DL. What are their options? LHP T.J. House, RHP Mat Latos, and RHP Brett Oberholtzer. Another season without a title and another season with very little pitching depth at the Major League level, as many of their top pitching prospects are getting their first tastes of Double-A. They can always continue to just outscore the opposition, but it hasn’t worked this year. While we can look at this as the “Dickey deal”, it was so much more than that. The philosophy of buying a title by mortgaging the future is what continues to be problematic for the Jays.