I am a Blue Jays fan, so you are welcome to call this article homerism at its finest if you’d like, but I firmly believe that the R.A. Dickey acquisition, in conjunction with the earlier offseason moves the team has made, make the Jays the AL East favorite.
I believe in most circles, the deal is being called a "win-win" once you work under the assumption that the Mets were resigned to trading Dickey. (Obviously, keeping a stud pitcher at a quarter of his value is preferable to almost any package.) The Jays improve now for certain, while the Mets improve later, probably. It’s the type of deal that makes sense when one team is "close" and another is rebuilding or retooling.
Still, there has been some tepid reaction to the Jays giving up two highly regarded prospects and tacking on two years and a reported $25M to Dickey’s existing one-year, $5M deal. The deal also includes a $12M option for 2016, making his current contract essentially a three-year, $30M one or a four-year, $42M one.
Here are some reasons I like the deal for the Jays.
Reason #1 – This Isn’t Stock-Brokering
The goal in baseball is not to cultivate value forever. The goal is to maximize value as much as possible at a single time. Some people or teams may disagree, but I firmly believe that. As Drew Fairservice of Getting Blanked’s new Twitter name reveals, flags do, indeed, fly forever.
Listen, I’d love to root for a team that will always be great. But for most fans in most markets, that’s not realistic. Is it better, then, to have a team go for broke over a shorter window, hoping to grab a championship banner? Fans of the ’92 and ’93 Jays would probably say yes, considering the recent outpouring of early-90’s memories when Tom Cheek was deservedly given the Ford C. Frick Award.
If the goal is to peak ("be excellent") over maintain ("be good for longer") than this is the right move for the Jays.
Reason #2 – The Window Isn’t Really Shortened
Yes, the Jays have given up a few prospects this offseason, and it’s likely enough to knock them from a top-five farm system to the teen-range. But they haven’t emptied out the farm by any means, and many of their core players are still young or still in their prime.
Anthony Gose is probably their only high-level hitting prospect now, and he is flawed. But he’s also a potential plus in center field with plus-plus baserunning, making him a capable replacement for Colby Rasmus if he has another down year and becomes a non-tender or trade candidate. He’s also still a trade chip if another move is warranted down the line.
Beyond that, yes, they’ve given up a lot of pitching, but they’re still pretty stacked. Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins may not figure things out, but Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Daniel Norris, Arodys Cardona and more are around. They also have top picks in Matt Smoral and Marcus Stroman, the latter who could impact the bullpen this year.
The Jays gave up future value for present value. But it’s impossible not to without overspending on the free agent market. Their system isn’t bare, and on the mound there is still a ready pipeline available to supplement the rotation in 2014 and beyond.
Reason #3 – The Marginal Value of Wins
What does this mean, without getting too economics-y? Basically, improving from 78 to 81 wins doesn’t mean much, but improving from 88 to 91 wins is huge. That is, "marginal wins" (extra wins you add or lose) are more valuable the higher you go on the win spectrum, because they improve your chances of winning a division or wild card spot by far more.
"Adding three wins" is not the same for, say, the Royals as it is the Jays – even though they won a similar number of games last year, the Jays’ earlier moves made them more of an 85-win team, while the Royals were maybe a 75-win team. Thus, if both teams add three wins, it means much more to the Jays than the Royals, pushing them to 88 wins and a near-playoff spot compared to 78 wins and a playoff whiff.
(Three is a random number I chose to illustrate the point, not my estimate of Shields/Dickey value. Ditto for the win totals.)
Based on this article on the economics of winning, in 2006, the Jays’ 90th win would have had a marginal revenue gain of $2.9M, slightly above the league average (that is, Jays’ fans or the Jays’ financial structure is slightly more elastic with respect to team success). The same study showed that for the Jays, the value of jumping from 78 to 83 wins was $4.3M but the value of jumping from 86 to 91 wins was $12.5M, again both slightly above league average.
Basically, for all teams, but a tiny bit more for the Jays, moving from "also-ran" to "legitimate contender" can have huge financial implications. Given the Jays cost and revenue structure has changed since 2006, as they have for probably every team, these numbers might not hold exactly true any longer, but the idea certainly does – both in financial terms and in terms of a potential playoff berth, these "extra" wins in 2013 are far more valuable than they would have been at the start of the offseason.
(In that same vein, it’s unlikely the Jays do this deal without the Marlins deal or a similar trade, as it wouldn’t make as much sense to swap future gains for present ones if they were "lower" on the win curve.)
Reason #4 – R.A. Dickey is Very Good
Rany Jazayerli of Grantland summed up Dickey pretty nicely today, explaining basically the following points:
- He’s very good
- Knuckleballers age well
- Knuckleballers tend to get injured less, and he has no UCL anyway
- Thus, he’s likely to remain very good, or close to it
As a quick comparison, here are some other pitchers and what they signed for in terms of Average Annual Value:
- Zack Greinke - $24.5M, 14.2WAR 2010-12
- Anibal Sanchez - $16M, 12WAR 2010-12
- Hiroki Kuroda - $15M, 10.1WAR 2010-12
- Ryan Dempster - $13.25M, 9.2WAR 2010-12
- Dan Haren - $13M, 12.3WAR 2010-12
- Andy Pettite - $12M, 4WAR 2010-12 (*excludes 2011)
- R.A. Dickey - $10M, 9.9WAR 2010-12
- Jeremy Guthrie - $8.33M, 5.6WAR 2010-12
- Brandon McCarthy - $7.75M, 6.6WAR 2010-12 (*excludes 2010)
- Joe Blanton - $7.5M, 4.8WAR 2010-12
- Hisashi Iwakuma - $7M, 0.8WAR 2010-12 (*excludes 2010-11)
It’s pretty clear that Dickey is a bargain for the Jays if he retains even most of his 2010-12 performance, which, again, as Rany pointed out, is pretty damn likely. Please note, too, that I used fWAR rather than WAR based on RA9, which would favor Dickey even further since knuckleballers tend to outperform their FIP and thus an RA9-based WAR would give Dickey a boost (his RA9 WAR from 2010-12 is a robust 14.8).
Reason #5 – It's Probably Enough
It’s mostly just repeating the points but the lineup and rotation now stack up like so:
1 – Jose Reyes, SS
2 – Melky Cabrera, LF
3 – Jose Bautista, RF
4 – Edwin Encarnacion, DH
5 – Adam Lind, 1B
6 – Brett Lawrie, 3B
7 – Colby Rasmus, CF
8 – JP Arencibia, C
9 – Maicer Izturis, 2B
BN – Emilio Bonifacio, super-sub
Sure, you'd like to upgrade Lind, but one hole in the lineup isn't going to kill the team. They have three switch-hitters, and only really lack a lefty power bat to split up the heart (and send Lind to the bench). You can pick apart the bottom three spots, but they're all capable players given their role on the team. The Jays are probably tapped out, so get used to some iteration of these 10 guys.
1 – Josh Johnson
2 – Brandon Morrow
3 – R.A. Dickey
4 – Ricky Romero
5 – Mark Buehrle
6/Swing – J.A. Happ
Looks good to me.