Over the last two months, the Mets and R.A. Dickey danced around a contract extension. Dickey, who is under contract for 2013, was seeking a two-year, $25 million contract extension, but the Mets were reluctant to offer it. While fans may never know why Dickey wasn’t offered an extension, a few scenarios come to mind. The Mets may not trust their 38-year-old knuckle baller to repeat his past success. The Mets may not be ready to win. Maybe it’s a combination of both. The Blue Jays, however, didn’t have any reservations about Dickey. The Blue Jays essentially moved ‘All-In’ by trading for Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buerhle. The Blue Jays believe they’re ready to win, so the ‘risk’ associated with Dickey is a moot point.

To acquire Dickey, the Blue Jays surrendered their top prospect, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Single A pitcher, Noah Syndergaard. Last season, Baseball America ranked d’Arnaud as the 17th best prospect in baseball. d’Arnaud missed the majority of the 2011 season with a knee injury. When healthy, d’Arnaud played for AAA Las Vegas and hit 16 home runs in 279 at-bats. d’Arnaud’s strike out-to-walk ratio was 3:1, but his power is legitimate. Syndergaard is extremely young, so it’s unfair to make any assessments. 

Dickey was under contract for 2013, so the Blue Jays and Dickey agreed to a two-year extension. The Blue Jays essentially traded their top prospect and a raw pitching prospect for three years of Dickey. When evaluating trades, it’s impossible to compare ‘apples to apples’. However, several top pitchers were traded over the last five years. Trades for Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee come to mind. While all three pitchers were much younger and have completely different make ups, the Jays acquired the oldest player and issued the shortest contract. Let’s look back on the three trades and draw some conclusions:

Trade #1 (February 2008):
Mets Receive: Johan Santana
Twins Receive: Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Phillip Humber

At the time, Baseball America ranked these players as the Mets’ #2, #3, #4, and #7 prospects. Guerra was the prized pitching prospect, but has yet to appear in the Major Leagues. The other three prospects are no longer with the Twins. The Twins acquired a bushel of top prospects, but this trade simply didn’t work out. One could also argue Santana’s 6-year, $137 million contract hasn’t worked out for the Mets. Santana has won just 46 games in five seasons and missed the entire 2011 season.

Trade #2 (July 2010):
Rangers Receive: Cliff Lee
Mariners Receive: Justin Smoak and Mark Lowe

This trade may not be the best comparison. The Rangers traded their top prospect, Smoak, for a half season of Lee. Lee helped Texas win its first American League pennant, but declined Texas’ contract extension and re-joined the Phillies. Since joining the Mariners, the 25-year-old Smoak has failed to meet expectations. Known for his power, Smoak has hit just 39 home runs in 1,200 at-bats. Safeco Park is a pitcher’s park, but Smoak’s numbers have not increased on the road. Smoak’s name continues to pop up in trade rumors, so it’s obvious Seattle is growing impatient. Meanwhile, Texas replaced Smoak’s production with a combination of Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Young, so it’s safe to say Texas won this trade.

Trade #3 (December 2009):
Phillies Receive: Roy Halladay
Blue Jays Receive: Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis d’Arnaud (!!!)

Talk about irony. At the time, Baseball America ranked these three players as the Phillies’ #2,#3, and #4 prospects. Drabek was the prized pitching prospect, checking in at #25 overall. Taylor was ranked #29 overall while d’Arnaud was ranked #81 overall. Prior to the trade, Halladay posted four consecutive seasons 16+ wins, 220+ innings, and annual Top 5 Cy Young finishes. The Phillies and Halladay agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract extension. Halladay won the NL Cy Young Award in 2010 and finished second in 2011. The Blue Jays were not in a position to win or extend Halladay, so they acquired Philadelphia’s best prospects. However, those prospects have failed to make an impact. d’Arnaud was flipped for Dickey and Drabek is 8-15 with a 5.34 ERA in 30 career starts. Drabek is only 24-years-old, but given Toronto’s busy off-season, Drabek is no longer a consideration for the starting rotation. Taylor flamed out in Toronto, but was acquired by Oakland.

Conclusions

It’s really, really difficult to compare trades. Each prospect is unqiue and each pitcher has a different skill set. Santana, Lee, and Halladay were all at least five years younger than Dickey, but Dickey has the least amount of wear and tear. Teams are willing to give up their best prospects for a shot at winning in the short-term. Overall, those decisions seemed to pay off. While prospects provide hope and short-term cost saving solutions, most don’t pan out. Last season, Dickey figured out how to strike out hitters with his knuckleball. Pitchers don’t strike out 200+ batters by mistake, so Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young campaign was no fluke.

Can Dickey build upon this success in 2013? I think so. Dickey is a unique case because we don’t have a true comparable. If anything, Dickey could provide Ace-type production at a fraction of the cost. If his success doesn’t translate, Toronto’s financial committment isn’t huge and they did not surrender a ‘Can’t Miss’ prospect for him. In addition, it’s never a good sign when a ‘top prospect’ is traded twice in a three year span. d’Arnaud was hand picked by Toronto, so it’s a little surprising that they gave up on him already. d’Arnaud’s power seems legit, but I’m skeptical. It’ll take years to determine which team won this trade, but if I had to bet on it, I’d take the Blue Jays.