We know now that Alex Anthopoulos is no fan of prospect porn, that he is not one of those baseball people who pulls the covers over his head at night and watches endless video of minor-league prospects pitching and swinging.
Yet given the awareness about prospects that is common among truly engaged baseball fans, it is understandable that some of the Toronto Blue Jays fanbase will be experiencing a chill this Monday morning. After parting with pitcher Justin Nicolino, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and outfielder Jake Marisnick in a 12-player deal with the Miami Marlins, and reportedly being ready to include his consensus top pitching prospect, Noah Syndergaard, as well as can’t-miss catching prospects Travis d’Arnaud in a bid to get 38-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, there are those who will wonder if it isn’t time to take the keys to the minor-league vault away from Anthopoulos.
At this time, then, it is wise to remember three names: Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Luis Perez, all of whom underwent Tommy John tendon transplant surgery in 2012. If Anthopoulos is willing to include the pitching crown jewels in any deal to make his team better in 2013, part of the reason is the knowledge that those three could be ready to contribute in 2014. Plus, that pitching sage John Farrell suggested this season that he thought the “Lansing 3” (Syndergaard, Nicolino and Aaron Sanchez) were three years away from contributing at the major-league level. Farrell has gone for a dream job managing Jonny Gomes and the rest of the Boston Red Sox, but that opinion is held by others within the Blue Jays player-development system. The point is: Anthopoulos has time to restock the system, regardless of what he gets in return as part of any deal for Dickey.
It is true that the last time a general manager took the teams payroll to these heights and infused the organization with high-profile talent, it didn’t work out so well. But B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett and Troy Glaus and the like did make a difference, making the Blue Jays more competitive than they’d been in a while. Unfortunately, they were pursuing younger, better-equipped New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox teams. They pounded on the window of opportunity, but never managed to get it to open even a crack. This time around, the Yankees and Red Sox are in a kind of torpor, while the Tampa Bay Rays absorbed a short-term hit for a long-term benefit in trading away James Shields. Plus, Anthopoulos must surely realize that it makes no sense to give out multi-year contracts to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and then balking at an opportunity to go all in.
You can’t have it both ways; you can’t jealously guard prospects and take a bold step forward when you haven’t come close to making the playoffs in years.
And fear not that Dickey is 38 and a knuckleballer; fear not that the Blue Jays are getting a guy who lives on smoke and mirrors that won’t pass muster in the hurly-burly of the American League East.
When Dickey was en route to winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2012, much attention was given a study by Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois who examined the knuckleballs of Tim Wakefield and Dickey. The study showed the same thing advance scouting and ball-park radar guns revealed: Dickey throws a much harder knuckleball than Wakefield – he will touch 80 miles an hour with it at times – and also has an 84 mile-an-hour fastball that can be effective when he spots it. The study showed that over three years Dickey had thrown three different clusters each season – in other words, that he was throwing more than just one knuckleball. He uses different knuckleballs in different counts, and the conventional wisdom is that in an environmentally neutral, indoor facility such as the Rogers Centre, Dickey would be even more effective.
If this deal falls apart because of dollars and length of contract – if I’m Dickey’s agent, I’m asking more than I was from the Mets, such as $15-million (U.S.) per season – that would be one thing. The leaks from the Mets front office have put Anthopoulos and Blue Jays ownership on the spot. But on purely baseball terms, it sure seems defensible.