Assuming the Toronto Blue Jays can hammer out a contract extension by 2 p.m. today, R.A. Dickey is about to be, officially, heading north. The trade that dare not speak its name has gone through, contract details pending, with the Mets sending Dickey to the Blue Jays, along with Josh Thole and another minor prospect, for top Jays prospects Travis d’Arnaud, a catcher, and Noah Syndergaard, a pitcher. (Catcher John Buck comes over to Citi Field, too.) The general consensus among Mets fans concerning this trade is despair, or at least anger, and it's difficult to blame them. But this trade is everything that's great and terrible about the Mets right now. Let's take a look at both sides.
Reason to Be Sad: This Is the Most Popular Met by Far
David Wright might have the big contract and the franchise records, but Dickey is the one who has the fan love, and with good reason. He's eccentric; he's warm-hearted; he's an amazing story; and, oh yeah, he's a knuckleballer. Everybody in baseball was cheering for Dickey this year, not just Mets fans. Generally speaking, when your franchise is trading away its best, most popular player, right after he won one of baseball's major awards, your franchise is not operating from a position of strength.
Reason to Be Happy: Dickey Is Old, and the Mets Aren't Winning Anything Right Now Anyway
Well, maybe "not winning anything right now anyway" is not a reason to be "happy," necessarily, but opportunities to trade guys like Dickey when they're at the absolute peak of their value, at such an advanced age, are few and far between. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, to remake the Mets, was going to have to find cheap assets, build them up, and then trade them for a much higher value. It's difficult to argue that Dickey — who was Buffalo's opening-day starter just two years ago and is now bringing back two premier prospects — isn't the perfect example of that.
Reason to Be Sad: The Mets Did Just Write Off 2013, and Probably 2014
Dickey wanted more money than the Mets were offering, but it's not like his demands were insane. $26 million for two years is a damned good deal for a Cy Young pitcher, even a 38-year-old one. But the Mets made the prudent, probably wise, still depressing decision that Dickey wasn't going to help them win over those years, because the team just wouldn't have enough around him. As the old saying goes, the Mets could finish way back in the NL East with or without R.A. Dickey. So they decided to get what they could for him now. That's great and all, but considering how much the fan base has been through in the last five years, telling them, explicitly, that it's not going to be any better for two years is perhaps not the most heartwarming exercise in messaging.
Reason to Be Happy: The Blue Jays' Prospects Are Awesome
We know, we know: Prospects are always awesome, until they become real, tangible major leaguers, with holes and problems and terrible at-bat songs. That said: The Blue Jays, clearly going all-in for this season, gave up a bunch. Jonathan Mayo, prospect expert for MLB.com, has d'Arnaud and Syndergaard as the Jays' first and third top prospects, respectively, and as the 11th and 83rd top prospects in all of baseball. (ESPN's Keith Law had d'Arnaud as the No. 5 prospect in baseball at midseason last year.) d'Arnaud could be ready as soon as this year — Buck is insurance for that — and while he's had some injury concerns, when healthy, he's been a terrific hitter and a solid catcher. Syndergaard has a bit longer to go (he's only 20 and will likely start this season in High-A ball), but Mayo says he is "just getting started, but the finished product could be a frontline starter." This is an excellent return for a 38-year-old.
Reason to Be Sad: The Mets Were Dicks About All of This
If the Mets' fan base had any faith left in the team's ownership, the Wilpons could have just explained, "Listen, we need a couple more years to get our finances together, so we're just building for that time. Have some patience." They don't, quite understandably, so the Mets had to try to soil Dickey in the court of public opinion. Thus, this feel-good story that everybody all year has loved, that the Mets couldn't get enough of all year, is suddenly a jerk. Ken Davidoff, who was totally a normal, reasonable guy until he got to the Post, wrote a particularly crazy "Dickey's an out of control greed monster who cares more about money than sweet, innocent children!" column. You started hearing rumblings about Dickey being a clubhouse problem, about being some sort of diva. None of this came out at a single point all season, until the Mets were about to trade him. Then: He's an asshole! Andy Martino, who we sometimes worry might be the only sane beat writer around these parts, summed up this ridiculousness pretty well: "Best way to sum up Dickey's status in locker room came from 1 Met who liked him a lot: 'Only the d — bags didn't like him.'"
This isn't just ordinary contract shenanigans. This is the Mets choosing to disparage a player rather than calmly explain to the fan base why a trade was preferred, even necessary. The fans haven't bought it, and it has just made the Mets look worse. They look not only like a team without the money to pay a top player market rate — even a little below market rate — but one that trashes him on the way out the door. They look like an organization without the slightest idea what it's doing; they look like they are flailing. That's the Mets for you: They make an intelligent, painful, mature move ... and they still come across as incompetent.