Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 20, 2012

With Dickey Gone, Mets Fans Begin A Long Wait

In time, fans of the New York Mets may look back on this week and sing the praises of General Manager Sandy Alderson. In time, they may pack the seats at Citi Field to watch catcher Travis D’Arnaud slug home runs and right hander Noah Syndergaard shut down opposing hitters with a fastball that hits the mid-90s, while third baseman David Wright provides veteran leadership to a contending team. But for now the only thing those fans know for certain is that when it comes to gauging Alderson’s true intentions, it’s best to watch what he does rather than listen to what he says. This week he dispatched the most popular player on this season’s squad to Toronto, demonstrating that the Mets remain financially hamstrung thanks to ownership’s massive losses in the Madoff Ponzi scheme, and all but guaranteeing that the only team New York is likely to contend with in 2013 is Miami, for last place in the NL East.

R.A. Dickey was one of the best stories in the game this past season, and a rare ray of light on a Mets team that finished fourteen games under .500. Dickey went 20-6, becoming the first pitcher to record 20 wins for the Queens nine since 1990. He led the league in starts (33), complete games (5), shutouts (3), and strikeouts (230). In June he pitched back to back one-hitters, and set a franchise record with 32 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. All of that was good enough to earn Dickey the National League Cy Young Award, making him the first Mets pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1985 to win the honor, and the first knuckleballer in either league to take home pitching’s top honor. He gave the Mets more than 233 innings of work, and brought fans out every fifth day to watch his dancing, fluttering pitch confound batter after batter.

Dickey’s unlikely success at age 37 came after he had failed at the big league level as a conventional pitcher, and then worked for years to master the knuckleball. His impressive won-lost record was just the third winning one in ten full or partial seasons in the majors, and he still has more minor league decisions in his career with 150 than the 117 that he has for the Rangers, Mariners, Twins, and now the Mets. His remarkable season also came on the heels of the publication of his autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up.” It told the story of his long journey through the hinterlands of the Great Game and offered a brutally frank account of his struggle to overcome episodes of sexual abuse as a child and depression and thoughts of suicide as an adult. The compelling read earned Dickey fans far beyond New York who joined with Mets fans in cheering on his 2012 success.

Alderson and the Mets wasted little time at season’s end in exercising their $5 million option for one additional year on Dickey’s current contract. The General Manager and other team officials loudly proclaimed that their number one priority for the off-season was to work out contract extensions for Dickey and third baseman Wright. By the time the Winter Meetings began in Nashville in early December the team was able to announce a new 8-year, $138 million contract for Wright, one that likely ensures the star who just turned 30 will be a Met for his entire career. But by that time it was also apparent that despite repeated assertions that their goal was to sign their star pitcher as well, the Mets were actively considering trade offers for Dickey.

Contract negotiations had ground to a halt, mainly because the Mets refused to move above an offer of $20 million for two years. Whether they were attempting to lowball their star hurler or simply couldn’t afford to sweeten the offer isn’t clear, but Dickey and his agent had every reason to be insulted. Ryan Dempster, who at age 35 went 12-8 for the Cubs and Rangers in 2012, got two years and $26.5 million from the Red Sox. Zack Greinke, considered the top free agent pitcher, signed for six years and $147 million with the Dodgers, the biggest contract ever for a right hander. Anibel Sanchez agreed to stay with the Tigers for another five years for $15 million a year. Of course unlike any of those pitchers Dickey was not a free agent. The Mets had the leverage of being able to keep Dickey for next season without coming to terms, and they used it to the fullest. Yet it is also now clear that the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner would have been willing to sign for less than what Dempster got from Boston. Dickey said at one point that he felt he was asking for “even less than what’s fair,” and given the market that seems an accurate statement.

Whether they couldn’t or just wouldn’t make a reasonable offer, the Mets found a willing trading partner in the Toronto Blue Jays. Earlier this week Alderson sent Dickey and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas north of the border. In return New York received Toronto’s top two minor league prospects, 23-year old catcher D’Arnaud and 20-year old pitcher Syndergaard. The Mets also got major league catcher John Buck and teenage minor league outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. The deal became complete when Dickey agreed to a two-year, $24 million extension with the Blue Jays.

For New York D’Arnaud and Syndergaard were the keys to the deal. Both are very highly rated, and because neither has yet played a major league game the Mets will have them under team control for the next six years. D’Arnaud batted .333 with 16 home runs with AAA Las Vegas last season, and Syndergaard struck out 122 batters in just 103 2/3 innings at A Lansing. But D’Arnaud’s season ended in late June when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. While far less common and also considered less serious than an A.C.L. tear, the injury does put a small question mark next to D’Arnaud’s name. As for Syndergaard, as impressive as he was in Lansing, the forgotten history of the game is littered with the names of Single-A phenoms who were never able to carry that promise up the long chain of the minors to finally excel in the big leagues.

Even if the prospects turn out to be everything that Alderson and the Mets hope they will be, that promise fulfilled is for some future year. Perhaps the Mets will be a force in 2017, but in the meantime despite saying he had no intention of doing so Alderson has deprived the team’s fans of one of the very few players they had reason to cheer for; and in doing so has done nothing to improve the Mets for this coming season. Dickey’s twenty wins are now gone, and Mets fans will have an understandably hard time seeing how they are going to be replaced next summer. So in consecutive off-seasons the Mets have let Jose Reyes, the winner of the 2011 batting title leave in free agency; and traded away R. A. Dickey, the 2012 Cy Young Award winner. Of course Mets fans can always travel to the Bronx to see Reyes and Dickey when the Blue Jays visit the Yankees, but tickets at The Stadium can be so expensive. Oh wait, that’s the other thing the Mets just did. After their dismal 2012 campaign and just before writing off next season, they announced an increase in ticket prices.

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