Passing Judgment: R.A. Dickey’s flaccid knuckleball.

As a die-hard Mets fan, I thoroughly appreciated and admired R.A. Dickey’s accomplishments during his three years in New York.  I remember when it was announced that the Mets had signed Dickey to a minor league contract before the 2010 season.  I made fun of the transaction because I had remembered how brutal Dickey had been in his previous stints with Texas and Seattle.  At that point I was so disenchanted with Omar Minaya that I thought he was just trying to amuse the suffering Mets fans with a player who had a memorable name.  But, once Dickey was called up to the Mets in early 2010, he earned my respect and the respect of everyone around baseball by reinventing himself as an effective knuckleballer.

In 2012, Dickey was nothing short of incredible with his Cy Young campaign.  At his age with a gimmick pitch, Dickey dominated the entire league leading towards a 20-win season which included back-to-back complete game one-hitters.  Given that his contract was set to expire at the end of the 2013 season, the Mets had a difficult decision to make: 1) they could ride out the 2013  season at a very team-friendly salary of $5,000,000 and let him walk away via free agency; 2) negotiate a lucrative extension coming off of a CY Young award-winning season; or 3) trade him while his value was never higher in exchange for blue chip prospects.  Personally, my vote was for Option C.

R.A. Dickey 2Ultimately the Mets did opt to trade Dickey.  They made an attempt to re-sign him to extension, but to their credit they did not want to overpay for an almost-40 year old pitcher with a gimmick pitch and literally no chance of replicating the same success he just attained.  Dickey was traded to Toronto along with his catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas in exchange for top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, a young pitching prospect in Noah Syndergaard, and veteran catcher John Buck.  I thought this was a great trade for the Mets who capitalized on Dickey’s heightened value and obtained a couple of young prospects who will help the team for years to come. 

Dickey made his way to Toronto along with several other high-priced acquisitions during a very active offseason for the Blue Jays.  Dickey was viewed as the final piece in their quest to take over the American League East.  However, I did not buy into the projected success for Toronto despite the acquisitions of Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera.  Something just didn’t seem right and I wasn’t ready to annoint them the division champions just yet.

Sure enough, it has been a disaster for Toronto thus far as they are 10-21 through May 4.  Jose Reyes sustained a severe ankle injury just a couple weeks into the season and will likely be out until the All-Star break.  Josh Johnson has been awful and now finds himself on the DL as well.  Buerhle has been a nightmare in his return to the American League.  At least Melky hasn’t gotten caught doing anything illegal yet.   Some of that was random and unpredictable.  But what was predictable is the struggle that Dickey has experienced thus far. 

On May 4, Dickey got shelled by the Mariners dropping his record to 2-5 and raising his ERA to 5.36.  To put it in perspective, Dickey didn’t lose his 5th game last year until September 11.  Plus, he has been dealing with some neck and back issues.  I don’t care what is said about a knuckleball pitcher being able to pitch well into his 40’s.  The fact remains that Dickey is almost 40 and has had a history of injuries that even include 2012 during his Cy Young award campaign.  He is now pitching in a division and league that features better offenses, obviously including the DH on a full-time basis (besides interleague games).  He also has finally secured that big contract that has eluded him his entire career.  I am not saying that his effort isn’t the same.  I am merely saying that he is not pitching with motivation to make the money – rather, he has already earned it.

I strongly believed Dickey was due for a serious regression in 2013 whether he was still with the Mets or on another team.  It seemed impossible to think that Dickey could repeat the magical run he had in 2012.  The season is young and there is plenty of time for Dickey and Toronto to turn things around.  But for where we stand today, I am not surprised at all at his struggles.  I had no desire or intention of drafting him on any of my fantasy baseball teams despite the fact he was the highest point-scorer for all pitchers in one of my head-to-head points leagues.  As much as I loved watching him pitch and enjoyed his insight into the game and life in general, I was pleased to see Sandy Alderson trade him and obtain maximum value while he still had it.  Only time will tell whether d’Arnaud and Syndergaard will materialize into good baseball players.  But we already know that the Mets made the wise choice acquiring the chance to find that out.

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