Just like the knuckleball he masterfully utilized to confound major-league hitters, R.A. Dickey’s life has been filled with profound twists and turns that has ultimately landed him in Toronto as the newest high-profile member of the Blue Jays.
With Dickey passing his physical exam in Florida on Monday, the seven-player swap between Toronto and the New York Mets is now a done deal.
“Looking forward to a new chapter with the Jays,” Dickey tweeted Monday.
The deal was contingent on the Blue Jays being able to negotiate a contract extension with the 38-year-old right-hander.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos, along with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, flew to Nashville to meet with Dickey last Saturday to make their pitch in person.
The personal touch obviously worked, as Dickey agreed to a two-year, $24-million (U.S.) extension that will kick in after the 2013 season (in which he will be paid $5-million). The Blue Jays also hold a $12-million team option for 2016, that includes a $1-million buyout.
“We just feel like we’re so close to contention that this is a deal that we needed to make because it’s not just about one season,” Anthopoulos said Monday night, during a telephone conference call. “This allows us to really put what we feel is a contending team together for an extended run, for a three- to five-year period.”
The deal also sends catcher Josh Thole, 26, and minor-league catcher Mike Nickeas, 29, a Vancouver native who played in 47 games last season, to Toronto.
In return, the Mets receive two gilt-edged prospects – catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard – along with veteran catcher John Buck and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra, a Venezuelan prospect who was signed as a 16-year-old in 2011.
The asking price was steep from the Blue Jays’ perspective, but seen as worth it, as Anthopoulos continues his makeover of a team whose lavish off-season spending has suddenly cast it as the one to beat this season in the American League East.
The Blue Jays payroll, around $84-million a year ago, is expected to be in the $125-million range for the start of 2013.
Anthopoulos was asked if he has reached the budgetary limit of club owner Rogers Communications Inc..
“I thought I was there a long time ago,” the GM said. “I can tell you, we’ve stretched and gone well beyond where I ever thought we were going to be.”
The addition of Dickey, who won the Cy Young Award as the top pitcher in the National League in 2012 (after going 20-6 and leading the league in innings, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts), provides Toronto with a deep and experienced rotation.
Last month, in a blockbuster 12-player deal with the Miami Marlins, the Blue Jays landed Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, both top-drawer starters. They join a rotation that includes holdovers Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.
Dickey’s rise to baseball prominence is an inspiring story, overcoming an abusive childhood growing up Nashville with an alcoholic mother.
In his memoir published just before the start of the 2012 season, Dickey relates how he slept in vacant houses and was sexually abused by a babysitter and a 17-year-old boy as a young child.
Baseball gave Dickey an out and he was good enough to be the first-round pick (18th overall) of the Texas Rangers in 1996, after attending the University of Tennessee on a scholarship.
However, before he signed with the Rangers, it was discovered Dickey was missing an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and his stock dropped dramatically.
He was forced to sign for a substantially lower amount and he spent the next 10 years in the minor leagues before becoming a full-time knuckleball pitcher in 2005, in a final attempt to salvage his career.
In 2010, he caught on with the Mets and has not looked back, compiling a record of 39-28 during his last three seasons, with a 2.95 earned-run average.
Anthopoulos said the timing was right to splurge on a proven veteran pitcher such as Dickey, given most of the team’s core talent, such as Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and newcomer Jose Reyes, are in their prime.
As painful as it was to have to surrender young prospects such as d’Arnaud and Syndergaard, Anthopoulos said it will be several years before they begin to realize their full potential.
“When you look at our core players and who we have under contract. Really, all our best players are in their late 20s or early 30s … and they’re under control for the next three to five years,” the GM said. “At that time, Reyes could be gone, Buehrle could be gone, Bautista could be gone, Encarnacion could be gone.”
And the Blue Jays would have missed their window of opportunity.