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    Monday, December 17, 2012

    Knee-Jerk Reactions: The Blue Jays Pull Off the Type of Trade the Royals Were Trying to Make

    Things are looking pretty close to done on the trade that sends reigning Cy Young R.A. Dickey from the Mets to the Blue Jays. All that’s left is for Toronto to work out an extension with the knuckleballer and the seven player trade will apparently be official.

    Granted, we don’t know all the variables yet. We do know that Dickey, catcher Josh Thole, and a non-impact prospect will be going to Toronto, and that top prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, catcher John Buck, and a non-impact prospect will be going to New York. So all that’s left are the last two prospects and the exact figures of the extension for Dickey.

    Still, I would not hesitate to call this a more fair version of the Royals-and-Rays trade that went down last week. It’s not hard to see the similarities. Both feature a team trading highly regarded young talent for a top of the rotation starter in the hopes that they can compete in 2013. The Royals and Jays even had similar records this past season; the Royals went 72-90, while the Blue Jays went 73-89.

    There were three major problems that I had with the James Shields trade: the quality given up, the return, and how it affected the team’s playoff chances in the future. To be totally honest, that’s pretty much every part of the trade. But what about the Blue Jays’ deal makes it significantly better?

    Well, the best thing would be to look at it part by part. First is the quality given up; Wil Myers, the centerpiece that went to the Rays, won Minor League player of the year in 2012. There’s a pretty good pedigree with that title, especially with recent position players. He also ranked fourth on Keith Law’s last prospect rankings. On top of that, they gave up their top pitching prospect in Jake Odorizzi (#36, as per Law), their 2011 top prospect (Mike Montgomery, coming off surgery), and another minor leaguer, Patrick Leonard.

    The Blue Jays’ package looks very similar, to an extent. Catcher d’Arnaud was the top prospect in Toronto’s system, rating right behind Myers at fifth in Law’s list. However, there is still a distinction; while Myers won last year’s Minor League Player of the Year award, d’Arnaud missed significant time with a torn knee ligament. That doesn’t totally make him worthless, but it does make him a riskier bet than Myers, I would imagine.

    Pitcher Syndergaard also rates highly in Toronto’s system, making him somewhat comparable to Odorizzi. The non-impact prospect can probably be compared to Leonard. That means that the biggest differences are more or less:

    1) The Rays got an extra wild card project-type prospect in Montgomery, while the Mets got replacement-level catcher Buck.

    2) The Rays got a top prospect who was tops in the minors last season, while the Mets got a similarly regarded prospect who was injured last year.

    That isn’t to knock the Mets; that’s a very solid haul. I would still rate the Rays’ return higher, but it was a very good move on their part. The Royals’ package wasn’t really that bad, from my perspective. It was the other two issues that were a bigger hang-up for me.

    The return for the Royals and Jays is significant, I would argue. Both teams were clearly looking for an ace-type starter. Kansas City got two years of James Shields, while Toronto got a year of Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Dickey is older (he’ll be 38 next year, while Shields will be 31), but since he’s a knuckleballer, that isn’t a huge issue. I would still say he’s the true ace of the two.

    Dickey led the league in strikeouts, shutouts, complete games, and innings last year, while keeping a 140 ERA+ (meaning his ERA was 40% better than league average, accounting for his home park). The two seasons before that, he’s had ERA+s of 112 and 138.

    Shields, meanwhile, was at a 108 ERA+ last year in a similar number of innings. The two years before that, he posted marks of 134 and 75. He led the league in complete games and shutouts in 2011 (and in shutouts back in 2008), but he also allowed the most hits, earned runs, and home runs in the league in 2010.

    Dickey’s ERA+ from 2010-2012 (129) is right around David Price’s (130) and Felix Hernandez’s (131), while Shields’ (102) is tied with players like Gavin Floyd and Ryan Dempster. So while giving up a slightly lesser package of prospects, the Blue Jays got back the better pitcher. Granted, as is, the Royals got Shields for an extra season. However, the Blue Jays are also working on an extension with Dickey; it would appear the final extension is two extra years for $25 million. So, given Dickey’s lower base salary in 2013, the Jays get Dickey for an extra season at a lower per year average. Again, that looks like it’s in Toronto’s favor.

    But the biggest factor in Toronto’s favor is their position relative to the playoffs. Both teams had a similar record, meaning they’ll need to be shooting for a 12-to-13 win improvement to get in the playoff race. The Royals ranked third-to-last in runs scored per game at 4.17 and fifth-to-last runs allowed per game at 4.60. The Blue Jays seventh in runs scored per game (4.42, almost dead on with the league average) and fourth-to-last in runs allowed at 4.84.

    I would say Toronto clearly has less ground to make up for 2013 to start with. On top of that, they have more reason to expect improvement in both categories. The Royals expect their improvements to come from Shields, the addition of Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, and improvement from their young hitters. Shields will definitely help, but Guthrie and Santana had ERA+s of 94 and 73 last year. They can and probably will do better in 2013, but that’s still not great. I’m not sure how much growth to expect from their hitters on top of that, especially seeing Eric Hosmer’s struggles last season.

    The Blue Jays have many more reasons to be optimistic for 2013 though. In addition to Dickey, they have already added Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in the rotation and Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes in the lineup. On top of all of that, Jose Bautista and Brandon Morrow both missed significant chunks of time last season. They even have players in the rebound/potential growth categories, with Brett Lawrie entering his age-23 season and Colby Rasmus and Ricky Romero presenting their ever-present break-out potential.

    If you had to pick one of those two teams to make up a thirteen game difference, I would bet on the side that’s added five all-stars and has their best hitter and pitcher from last year getting a half season more of playing time. Alex Anthopoulos has done some incredible maneuvering this offseason, and might be rivaling Rays GM Andrew Friedman for the title of best executive of the offseason.

    The Mets didn’t do badly in this deal at all; for all the time I’ve spent praising the Blue Jays’ return, trading for two solid prospects will only help the Mets’ long-term rebuilding process. Resigning Dickey could have also worked in their favor, but if you do decide to trade a player like him, you might as well bring back a haul like the one they got. Overall, this seems like a fair trade for both sides, especially in comparison to the Rays-Royals trade.

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