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Time is now for Jays in AL East
That’s twice now. Twice teams have done the unthinkable, at least by recent baseball standards. Twice teams have said, “Enough with our precious prospects. We’re going for it.”
First, it was the Kansas City Royals, trading one of the game’s most promising young hitters, Wil Myers, and a highly regarded young pitcher, Jake Odorizzi, in a deal for Tampa Bay right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis.
Now, it’s the Toronto Blue Jays, who are moving the game’s top young catcher, Travis D’Arnaud, and a gifted young pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, in a deal for National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
I liked the Royals’ trade because they acquired 40 percent of their 2013 rotation without giving up a single major leaguer. I’ve had a more difficult time coming around to the Jays’ deal. But I get it, and I applaud it. In fact, I’m starting to love it.
Dickey passed a physical Monday after agreeing to a two-year, $25 million extension — and the sheer idea of this trade is a window into the Jays’ soul. Once general manager Alex Anthopoulos made his blockbuster with the Miami Marlins, there was no turning back. A team is either in or it’s out. The middle is no place to be.
The New York Yankees are old. The Boston Red Sox are in transition. The Blue Jays’ time is now, even if this all seems a little rushed, even if the team’s threshold for Dickey arguably should have been one top prospect, not two.
Make no mistake: There is boom-or-bust potential in this trade, for both sides. The Jays could end up like the 2012 Marlins, champions of the offseason, a disaster during the regular season. But this is the right moment for them to strike, and Dickey — odd as it may sound — is the right man for them at the right time.
Forget that Dickey is 38, and that he’s a knuckle-baller. Consider his performance — not just last season, when he won the National League Cy Young Award, but the past three years, when he averaged more than 200 innings per season and produced a 2.95 ERA.
This isn’t a fluke, folks. If Dickey was a conventional thrower — and yes, a bit younger — few would question this trade. Dickey’s strikeout rate increased in each of the past three seasons. His hit rate decreased, and his walk rate remained stable and low.
He’s athletic, he logs innings, he throws strikes. A rival executive puts it best, saying that Dickey has “found something.” The Jays are banking on him continuing his success — and likely on a below-market contract. Remember, they won a similar bet on right fielder Jose Bautista, whom they signed to a five-year, $65 million extension after a breakout season.
D’Arnaud, 23, and Syndergaard, 20, no doubt are talented, the Jays’ Nos. 1 and 3 prospects, according to Baseball America. But remember Justin Smoak? Jesus Montero? All of those other can’t-miss prospects who supposedly were too good to trade? Well, stuff happens. Not always, but often enough.
D’Arnaud has suffered a number of injuries — he had back trouble in 2010, suffered two concussions in ’11, tore a knee ligament last season. If he stays healthy, he should develop into a potential All-Star, if not quite Buster Posey or Matt Wieters. But the Jays evidently are comfortable with J.P. Arencibia and Josh Thole, whom they would acquire in this trade.
Syndergaard is likely to start the season in High Single A, several years away from the majors. He needs to develop his breaking ball. Some believe his fastball is too straight. And even if he reaches his ceiling as a top-of-the-rotation starter, it won’t be until most of the Jays’ current stars are in decline.
The Jays entered the offseason knowing they were in a rare position, with two top sluggers — right fielder Jose Bautista and first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion — under club control through 2016.
Anthopoulos, who became GM in October 2009, initially did a terrific job collecting draft picks and hoarding prospects. Last offseason, he balked at acquiring left-hander Gio Gonzalez from Oakland for some of the youngsters he has moved this offseason — Syndergaard, lefty Justin Nicolino, outfielder Jake Marisnick. The Jays, in Anthopoulos’ estimation, weren’t ready then. They are now.
Such was the logic of the blockbuster with the Marlins, in which Anthopoulos acquired four veterans — shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson, left-hander Mark Buehrle and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio. All but Johnson are under club control for at least two more seasons. Reyes, 29, and Bonifacio, 27, are in their primes.
The signings of free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera and infielder Maicer Izturis only added to the Jays’ win-now motif, but the rotation still was not good enough. The addition of Dickey will change all that — assuming, of course, that the Jays are getting the same Dickey who pitched so well for the Mets the past three years.
The sample size is large enough for such a leap of faith. The success rate of prospects is small enough to risk trading d’Arnaud and Syndergaard.
The Jays, like the Royals, are going for it — no more waiting, no more playing to finish third, no more overvaluing prospects.
The time is now.
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