The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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  1. #1 by Dan Grant on December 17, 2012 - 11:51 am

    Agree with a lot of what you’re saying. the d’Arnaud/Syndergaard haul for Dickey is a massive get for the Mets.

    I was just wondering, I wasn’t aware that Heath Bell had a reputation when the Padres acquired him from the Mets… was he a known commodity at that point, in terms of his… ‘brashness’? haha

    the other thing is that I don’t think Dickey was throwing the knuckler back when he was with the Rangers.. he switched to it at some point later on after experiencing arm trouble and general ineffectiveness.

    Moving Dickey now makes a lot of sense for both clubs. the Jays are going all in.. it doesn’t make sense to go 90% of the way and not flat out go for it, whatever the cost.

    and for the Mets, since they’re realistically not going to be in contention in 2013, it makes sense to acquire the best prospects possible and they definitely landed two big ones.

    • #2 by admin on December 17, 2012 - 12:34 pm

      Bell let his displeasure with the Mets be known all through 2005-2006 with some limited justification because he was constantly going back and forth to Triple A. I say limited because he pitched terribly for the Mets—something he conveniently forgets when ripping the organization. Contrary to Bell’s statements that they didn’t give him opportunities; they did and he blew them.
      Dickey started throwing the knuckleball with the Rangers; it was Orel Hershiser and Buck Showalter that convinced him to become a pure knuckleball pitcher. He got a start in early April of 2006 and allowed 6 homers to the Tigers. Even he doesn’t blame them for letting him go. He didn’t know what he was doing then and didn’t truly start to get the feel of the pitch until he was in the minors with the Brewers.

  2. #3 by Dave on December 17, 2012 - 6:06 pm

    Oh, my God, a voice of reason! How dare you!

    • #4 by admin on December 17, 2012 - 6:26 pm

      Am I in trouble?

  3. #5 by Greg on December 17, 2012 - 8:35 pm

    The Benson for Maine and Julio trade is an excellent analogy because, as I recall, Benson was also coming off a 20-win, 230-K Cy Young season.

  4. #6 by Greg on December 17, 2012 - 8:38 pm

    Sorry, wait, I just checked and Benson was actually coming off a 10-win, 95 strikeout season with a 4.13 ERA. My bad.

    • #7 by admin on December 18, 2012 - 4:24 am

      Benson was a great talent who always got hurt. I don’t think his wife bothered his career on the field, but she annoyed the front offices enough to keep getting him traded.

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