R.A. Dickey and the Price of a Window

The Mets got involved in contract extension negotiations with R.A. Dickey, and Dickey’s requested price seemed to be reasonable, but for whatever reason, the Mets didn’t want to pay it. Possibly because they don’t trust Dickey in the longer term, possibly because they don’t think they’re ready to win, possibly because of a blend of those reasons, or for neither of those reasons. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are happy to pay it, as they’ve agreed to give Dickey a two-year extension. So Dickey is just about officially a member of the Blue Jays, at the cost of some of their top prospects.

The Blue Jays might trust Dickey more, and based on their offseason, they certainly think they’re more ready to win. From the looks of things, they’re the current American League East favorites. There are those major differences between this trade and the Royals’ James Shields trade — the Blue Jays are better than the Royals are, and the Blue Jays didn’t trade someone who could’ve been of immediate use. Yet, because the Blue Jays aren’t proven and because people love top prospects, there’s a sentiment that the Jays might’ve overpaid. This depends on the weight you put on trying to win in the short term, but when looking at the Dickey deal, it makes sense to look at similar previous deals.

Granted, every trade is different, and we can’t just justify one trade because a similar trade was made before. That would be like saying the Royals set a reasonable precedent, when it’s the opinion of this website, I think, that they did not. But anyway. The Dickey trade from New York to Toronto was contingent upon the Jays and Dickey agreeing to a contract extension within an exclusive negotiating window. For the Mets, Dickey had one year left; for the Jays, he now has three years left. So the Jays did not trade for a one-year rental.

We can look at some other recent trades involving high-profile players and contract-extension windows. The three that immediately come to mind are the Johan Santana trade to the Mets, the Roy Halladay trade to the Phillies, and the Adrian Gonzalez trade to the Red Sox. All those guys technically had one year left, but then they reached longer-term agreements. Gonzalez didn’t officially reach an agreement until months after the fact, but the Red Sox came out of the negotiating window feeling confident a deal could be struck. If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have agreed to send players to the Padres.

Santana went from the Twins to the Mets in February 2008. At the time, Santana was an ace, and he brought back Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber. Hardly an impressive package in retrospect, but Baseball America ranked those guys the Mets’ #2, #3, #4, and #7 prospects. Guerra was ranked #35 overall. Gomez came in at #52, and Mulvey had just pitched well as a starter in double-A. That wasn’t a bad haul for the Twins; it just didn’t work out for the Twins.

Halladay went from the Blue Jays to the Phillies in December 2009. At the time, Halladay was an ace, and he brought back Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and a certain Travis d’Arnaud. The Jays probably haven’t gotten out of that what they were hoping for, but BA ranked those players the Phillies’ #2, #3, and #4 prospects. Drabek was ranked #25 overall, Taylor was ranked #29, and d’Arnaud was ranked #81. These were some non-elite blue-chippers, and of course the Jays just managed to turn d’Arnaud into R.A. Dickey, in part.

Gonzalez went from the Padres to the Red Sox in December 2010. At the time, Gonzalez was one of the more feared hitters in baseball, and he brought back Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes, and (eventually) Eric Patterson. Let’s just go ahead and skip the Eric Patterson part. BA ranked Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes the Red Sox’s #1, #3, and #6 prospects. Kelly was ranked #31 overall, and Rizzo was #75. In all three of these packages, we see highly-ranked prospects moving around. They’re just highly-ranked, non-elite prospects.

The main pieces going from the Blue Jays to the Mets for Dickey are d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. A year ago, BA ranked d’Arnaud the #17 prospect overall, and then he hit well in Las Vegas, but you also hit well in Las Vegas, you hit well there without realizing you had even played, and d’Arnaud missed a big chunk of the season due to knee surgery. Knee surgery, for a catcher. In the upper levels he’s struck out three times as often as he’s walked. The point being that d’Arnaud is a good prospect with question marks. Syndergaard is very young and so far very successful, but he also hasn’t pitched above single-A. He’s a guy who currently scouts better than his odds, if that makes sense.

What the Blue Jays are giving up is a very comparable package to what the Mets, Phillies, and Red Sox gave up. They all chose to surrender some of their best prospects in order to improve their chances of winning in the short-term. That might seem problematic if you don’t think that Dickey is comparable to Santana, Halladay, or Gonzalez, but over three years Dickey has been right there with Gonzalez in terms of value, and last season Dickey turned in a performance that would’ve fit well into a Halladay or Santana career peak. Last season Dickey seemed to develop the ability to strike batters out, and that’s a tough thing to fake.

Dickey is under contract with the Jays for less time than those other players were under contract with their new teams, and that’s true. But remember that the bulk of the value from a long-term contract to a star comes toward the front. And though Dickey is 38, which everybody points out, I don’t think it’s fair to say that other 38-year-olds represent an appropriate peer group. Other knuckleballers don’t represent an appropriate peer group, either, since Dickey throws harder than all of them have, but this peer group is closer than the 38-year-olds peer group, and this peer group has aged tremendously well. Despite Dickey’s age, there are reasons to believe he could remain effective for quite some time yet.

So the Blue Jays are paying steeply, sure. But they’re paying for not one year of R.A. Dickey, but three years of him, and they aren’t giving up a true can’t-miss prospect. They get a lot better now, which is the whole point, and we haven’t even touched on the surplus value from Dickey’s phenomenally low 2013 salary. Based on recent history, the Jays don’t seem to be overpaying, and based on the current setting of things, this should be a hell of a season for baseball in Toronto.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Radivel
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Radivel
3 years 6 months ago

Exactly, well said.

The same window that this produces in terms of competitiveness is the same window that Jays GM AA can use to replace those prospects with something else.

Nearly the entire current Jays roster is under contract beyond 2013 (Josh Johnson being the major free agent), so it isn’t like this group is going away anytime soon. Barring injuries or performance outliers, AA will be able to focus his efforts on building from within again while the current squad puts its best foot forward.

Jays fans should have faith in their GMs ability to do just that. I’m a huge fan, and I certainly do. After all, while he’s not infallible, Anthopolous has done a very good job so far. Why wouldn’t he continue to do so?

Steve
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Steve
3 years 6 months ago

Thinking of it in the context that Jeff puts it in, it seems an even better value to the Jays. The other players that were to be extended were extended to massive, long-term deals. They Jays turned this into an “ace” at well below market rates.

The whole deal, and everyone who feels the Jays overpaid, hinges on whether or not they believe Dickey really is that ace, and will remain so. If he is anywhere close to that, this is nothing but a win.

NM
Guest
3 years 6 months ago

“….but for whatever reason, the Mets didn’t want to pay it. Possibly because they don’t trust Dickey in the longer term, possibly because they don’t think they’re ready to win, possibly because of a blend of those reasons, or for neither of those reasons.”

Or maybe because they could get this kind of haul for him? They were willing to go 2/20. If they didn’t get the kind of offer they were looking for, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t pony up $5-6M extra to get it done. I think their entire motive here was to test the trade market and see if they can strike it big – and they did. Maybe extending Dickey would still have been a better, safer move. It very well may turn out that way. But even as someone who really wanted Dickey back, I’m quite fine moving him for this kind of return.

Great for the Jays though; this is a fantastic time to go all-in given the state of the AL East and their roster, and now they have Dickey at an incredibly reasonable salary for the next 3 years.

O'Jones
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O'Jones
3 years 6 months ago

yeah, it always made sense for the mets to see what they could get for dickey, and it should be pretty clear that whatever team acquired him would want to get an extension. So the mets just had to show that dickey was interested in extending, but leave him the way he was so that the acquiring team could extend him in whatever way THEY saw fit. no sense in handicapping yourself by negotiating a bad deal, or disillusioning mets fans by extending and then trading him.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
3 years 6 months ago

I agree with this, and it was my thinking for the last week or two as well. However, in a column on ESPN they mentioned (I think in an Adam Rubin article) a weird comment. A Mets exec said that Dickey’s looking to be paid like a 20-win pitcher going forward. That just doesn’t make sense to me. 20 game winners are looking for $20-25MM/year; Dickey was looking for half that.

If they expect to only pay 20 game winners about $13MM/year then they’re in for a shock when it’s time to pony up in free agency.

Jay Stevens
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Jay Stevens
3 years 6 months ago

Yeah, the whole thing between the Mets and Dickey was interesting — and a kind of head-scratcher, too. After all, if you compare the extension negotiations to the rumors of what the Mets were asking for Dickey in a trade (and the haul they eventually got), the two stances were wildly uneven. Apparently, in terms of trade value, they ascribed to Dickey ace-level status; but in terms of salary, they ascribed risky #3 pitcher value to him. Essentially, the Jays signed Dickey to the same contract Ryan Dempster got from the Red Sox.

Unless you believe the Mets’ front office is staffed by complete morons, it all smacks of intelligent, coded communication by New York to land a decent package for their star pitcher. The semi-open negotiations let the world know how many years and how little Dickey would sign for, and the trade value they wanted was a signal they understood the value of his contract perfectly well.

It would have been interesting to see how much Dickey would have gotten on the open market if he had been a free agent this year. That he’d sign for so little shows a remarkable distrust in his own ability to maintain excellence over the next three years.

Narra
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Narra
3 years 6 months ago

Speculative analysis (of course), but this seems like a perfectly reasonable conclusion to me.

Al Oliver
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Al Oliver
3 years 6 months ago

All that may be true, but not keeping Dickey makes the Wright extension look rather silly. Why not trade him too? How good will he even be when (if?) the Mets might be able to contend for something?
These moves seem to oppose each other, rather than working towards the same goal

Scott
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Scott
3 years 6 months ago

Just a note on the Jays return from the Phillies – they flipped Taylor into Wallace and 6 months later flipped Wallace to Anthony Gose. In terms of D’Arnaud he was the distant 3rd piece of the Halladay return and today would rank as the most valuable piece of the 3. It’s almost as if AA holds certain players like stocks and lets their value appreciate and then turns it into something useful. He did that by getting Brett Wallace, a valuable asset, but not the one he wanted. He was the currency to ultimately get Gose. Travis d’Arnaud was the currency to get R.A. Dickey. So although he was in a tough spot with Halladay and the Phillies wouldn’t give him what he wanted back (Domonic Brown or Gose at the time) he managed to get currency back that was valuable to other teams for deals down the road.

Radivel
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Radivel
3 years 6 months ago

d’Arnaud would be ranked higher than Gose, were Gose still eligible to be ranked as based on Sickle’s criteria. Gose was actually the player that AA asked for from the Phils originally, but they refused to give him up – instead, he waited for the Astros to trade for him, then gave them the player they wanted for him. He got what he wanted in the end, which is great!

Right after the Wallace – Gose trade happened, I asked Keith Law who won that deal. His reply? “Neither” haha.

NM
Guest
3 years 6 months ago

Gose ended up being a pretty great call by AA. At the time the deal looked highly questionable – Gose was just a raw, toolsy outfielder in high-A with a .710 OPS while Wallace had an .870ish career OPS in AAA and was on the verge of reaching the Majors. Maybe Gose doesn’t hit enough to live up to his potential, but I’d certainly bet on him having a better ML career than Wallace at this point.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 6 months ago

as a Met fan, I am truly bummed they didn’t take Gose over D’Arnaud. I know the temptation to get a good young catcher is strong but Gose is going to be an absolute star if his bat comes around ever so slightly. To me, his floor is so much higher than who they came away with. Add to that, the Mets OF is crickets…

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
3 years 6 months ago

If I’m the Mets GM, I’d much rather have d-Arnaud than Gose. Gose reminds me of Gary Brown (Giants prospect). Great defense, fast as as train, but iffy bat that may never pan out. Sure, he could develop gap power and have a great career – but he could also be a defensive replacement.

Matt
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Matt
3 years 6 months ago

Yeah…take the catcher every time. Plus, to me anyway, D’Arnaud looks like a surer bet to reach his ceiling. I don’t trust Gose’s bat.

joe pittman
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joe pittman
3 years 6 months ago

Gose cant hit and the reason philly traded him was his poor attitude to coaching… until that changes Gose will be all sizzle and no steak. the Mets would regret getting Gose worse than they regret Fregosi for Ryan

Kash
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Kash
3 years 6 months ago

Gose’s floor is basically Michael Bourne with a cannon arm, while his ceiling is that plus more pop in the bat. He’s been 3 and 4 yrs younger than most players at every minor league level he’s been at. He’s just 22 now and prob a 3 win player on defense and base running alone. And I have to agree with DC that D’Arnaud is being overrated a bit. I don’t think he is a Buster Posey talent. I’m a Met fan so I hope I’ll end up being wrong about that. In addition, catchers generally break down a lot more and sooner than OFers so all other things being equal, I would have to choose the diff-making OFer.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 6 months ago

Kash, your out of your mind if you think his floor is a 4-6 WAR player. If he develops into the current version of Bourn and puts of 20 WAR over 4 years, then that’s closer to his ceiling than his floor.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 6 months ago

I’ll take that with a grain of salt coming from a Jeter lover… ;-)

Antonio bananas
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Antonio bananas
3 years 6 months ago

I’ve been trying to think of ways to teach economics through baseball (I tutor). I think a good example would be short term vs long term portfolios. If you’re not retiring soon, high risk isn’t bad. Opposite if you are. The Jays are the 57 year old who’s been at his work for 30 years. He can’t afford to wait for his Travis D’Arnaud stock to finally produce, and might trade it and use the money for a low growth, solid dividend stock like RA Dickey. TDA=penny stock, Dickey=proctor and gamble?

Fits with the whole windows thing.

Chris
Guest
Chris
3 years 6 months ago

Its a bit like trading some bonds for some stocks.

The guy who is retired and going to use the money soon wants something that pays out soon. The young guy wants something that will pay out money in 40 years. He can’t even buy a bond that long. So he’s pushed to the stock market and looks at some growth stocks that aren’t paying out dividends now but will hopefully grow well in that time frame. Since stocks are riskier, they also carry a return premium in their valuation, in comparison with bonds.

Dickey is the bond. More certainty, pays out sooner. Prospects are like stocks – pay out later, and -also- have greater uncertainty. That uncertainty means they carry some bonus in potential. If D’arnaud and Synd hit their ceilings, its an easy Mets ‘win’. If they only hit their floors, its a terrible deal. If prospects were a sure thing, one great prospect for one good pitcher now would be a fair deal – the ‘win later’ team defers wins and the win now team shifts wins to today. But because of the uncertainty on the prospect, takes a few good prospects to make up for it.

snoop LION
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snoop LION
3 years 6 months ago

wtf is going on here?

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 6 months ago

Relating the buying windows to different investment strategies to show how this trade is win/win because of their investment needs?

jda
Guest
jda
3 years 6 months ago

I disagree with the author. There’s been a lot of research looking into prospect values, and getting a Top 15 hitter plus what should be a Top 40 pitcher isn’t very comparable to the other packages listed above. There’s an exponential rise in prospect value for hitters as you move into the top 20, top 10, etc. If that added value were more linear (like it is for pitchers) I would absolutely understand Jeff’s reasoning, but considering where d’Arnaud is likely to be ranked this year I’d say the Mets came out slightly ahead of the comparable teams.

If I were the Blue Jays I would still do this deal without blinking (much), but I think it’s hard not to say that the Mets’ package is superior at this point in time to the hauls netted by the other mentioned rebuilding teams in the article were at the times of those trades.

Radivel
Guest
Radivel
3 years 6 months ago

How much would you pay, in dollars, to win the World Series?

Tom
Guest
Tom
3 years 6 months ago

Isn’t the question:
How much would you pay for an “X%” increase in the chance to win a WS… where the X is not 100% as your question implies.

It’s not like the Jays don’t make a run without him and with him they are certain to make (yet alone win) one.

You also have to look at other options…. would it have been better to sign a slightly worse pitcher and retain 2 of your top prospects? Does that improve the chance of a WS run in multiple years further down the line?

People are trying to make this black and white but it’s not.

jda
Guest
jda
3 years 6 months ago

Not to mention the fact that I’m not disparaging the Blue Jays trade at all. I have no idea why Radivel even asked me that question. If I were the Jays I would have pulled the trigger too.

My disagreement is over the original author’s analysis, which I think is sloppy and incorrect.

Zeke
Guest
Zeke
3 years 6 months ago

Which is probably justified by Dickey’s economy, but still.

jda
Guest
jda
3 years 6 months ago

Not to mention the fact that I’m not disparaging the Blue Jays trade at all. I have no idea why Radivel even asked me that question. If I were the Jays I would have pulled the trigger too.

My disagreement is over the original author’s analysis, which I think is sloppy and incorrect.

chri521
Member
3 years 6 months ago
Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 6 months ago

Toronto should have offered Dickey a backloaded longer contract, say 4 years, than offered him to the dodgers at the end if year 2.

Crumpled Stiltskin
Guest
3 years 6 months ago

From one end, the move is completely justifiable, that is that Dickey is a top end pitcher and as such brought back a top end prospect. This move does likely make the Blue Jays a better team. It also makes them dangerous if they manage to get to the playoffs.

The question, which we can’t know for sure, is if the Blue Jays were bidding against themselves in acquiring him. It just didn’t seem there was a whole lot of interest around baseball, including with his own team, the Mets, for his services. ie. Should Dickey’s perceived value around the league change what he’s worth? Or does it balance out because you can sign him for a very reasonable extension because of this fact as well? That’s probably the case.

Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blue Jays also doubt D’Arnaud’s future health, since a healthy D’arnaud would be able to contribute this year and into the future. Just guessing, but he’s probably already as good as J.P. Arencibia, who despite major deficiencies is basically an average player at the position.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 6 months ago

” It just didn’t seem there was a whole lot of interest around baseball”

As you mentioned though, there’s really no way of knowing this. A week ago you would have thought that there’s no way d’Arnaud would be traded for him. They wound up giving up d’Arnaud plus more. When you look across other teams in baseball, there’s no way of knowing how much they would have actually given up, but I would think that there’s a ton of interest for the reigning CY Young winner on a $5MM contract who’s looking for a modest extension.

joser
Guest
joser
3 years 6 months ago

The Angels were rumored to be interested. They may not have the prospects the Jays have, but they have one or two of Trumbo/Bourjos/Morales and other odds and ends, including possibly cash which might tempt the Wilpons.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 6 months ago

“the Blue Jays are better than the Royals are, and the Blue Jays didn’t trade someone who could’ve been of immediate use.”

I don’t understand why people think Wil Myers is MLB ready. I understand that he has great physical talent, but his minor league numbers indicate high K%, a declining BB%(Shouldn’t it grade out to something like 8% in the MLB?) and an absurdly high BABIP every time but 2011 Double AA, where he had closer to average BABIP and posted a WRC+ of 103 and a wOBA of .312.

I’m asking this honestly because I don’t know much about evaluating younger players. Shouldn’t Myers stay in AAA for another year? The numbers indicate he’d struggle in the MLB…

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 6 months ago

guys who hit the ball hard have high BABIPs. Guys in line to replace Frenchy are MLB ready, or if their new team has a hole in the OF.

snoop LION
Guest
snoop LION
3 years 6 months ago

ahahhahaha didn’t you post this on the other article as well? too funny

Timothy Myers
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

snoop Lion, what are you talking about? What other article?

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