COMMENTARY | For the second time in a little over a month, R.A. Dickey has joined an exclusive club that includes some of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball history.
The 38-year-old knuckleballer has been traded from the New York Mets to the Toronto Blue Jays, part of a seven-player deal that makes Dickey just the fourth pitcher ever to win the Cy Young Award and then be traded that offseason.
Dickey is headed to Toronto along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. In exchange, the Mets will receive two of the Blue Jays' top prospects -- catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard. New York also gets back veteran catcher John Buck and 18-year-old outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.
I had been advocating all along for the Mets to keep Dickey, but as the two sides struggled to reach a deal on a contract extension, the idea that he would be traded started to make more sense.
Teams around baseball are always looking for pitching, especially clubs that feel they're close to winning. Toronto has been very active this offseason, and adding Dickey is another step in the right direction as they prepare to make a run in the ultra-competitive American League East. This is a move that helps the Blue Jays in 2013.
New York was in a good spot here. The Mets knew that multiple teams would be interested in Dickey, who won 20 games last year while becoming the first Mets pitcher to win the Cy Young since Dwight Gooden did it in 1985. Toronto was willing to give up prospects, including one who could have an immediate impact at a position of need.
The Mets were desperate for a righty-hitting catcher, and d'Arnaud is 23 years old and ranked as the best catching prospect in baseball. He may be ready to help the Mets this year, at the very least as a backup to Buck. But this trade is really more about the Mets looking toward 2014 and beyond. That's where this deal makes sense for them.
Then there's the part that makes it tough to say goodbye to Dickey, even if in your heart you know that this is a trade that the Mets, thinking long term, had to make. Dickey is immensely popular. Whether he was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or opening up about his childhood, Dickey's story is a fascinating one. Tossed aside at one point in his career, he reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher and gave the Mets three memorable seasons where he won a total of 39 games, capped off by his 2012 campaign that included 230 strikeouts, five complete games, and three shutouts. Dickey won 14 more games than he lost last year, on a team that finished 14 games below .500. People came out to Citi Field and turned on their television sets to see him pitch.
The Mets were willing to pay Dickey $20 million for two years, in addition to the $5 million he was set to make in 2013. Dickey was looking for a deal more like the one he would eventually get from Toronto: a two-year contract extension for $25 million with a $12 million club option for 2016. He's now guaranteed $30 million over three years.
Certainly the case can be made that Dickey is worth $10 million per season. That because he's a knuckleballer his age isn't a huge factor. And that this leaves a huge hole at the top of the Mets' rotation. Perhaps the Mets underestimated his value to the organization, both on and off the field. As happy as I am with the prospects they got in return, there's a part of me that still wants Dickey to be a Met.
But the fact remains that the Mets were not willing to pay Dickey what he wanted. Or maybe, and perhaps more accurately, it was the lure of a team like Toronto essentially opening up its farm system to them. In any event, you can blame the Mets for not coming to an agreement with their ace on what turned out to be a fair contract, but you can't quibble with the fact that the Mets brought back some nice pieces in return.
Dickey's tenure in New York won't be forgotten anytime soon. Mets fans haven't had much to cheer about of late, and Dickey gave them reason to hope. He'll be missed, no doubt.
At the same time, the Mets are clearly looking to the future. It's a future that won't include one of the most compelling players in franchise history.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.