Going back in time to a little over a year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays seemingly acquired the final piece to the championship puzzle. A piece that would finally help end the 20 long years of frustration, agony and torment among baseball fans across Canada. That piece was knuckleballer extraordinaire R.A. Dickey.
The city was already buzzing after general manager Alex Anthopoulos cast his fishing rod in the Miami River and pulled out a giant 350-pound Marlin in game-changing shortstop Jose Reyes, giving the team a brand-new look and attitude in the process. However, when rumors started mounting that the next target was reigning 2012 Cy Young award winner in Dickey, it was the beginning of the end.
Throughout the days leading up to the eventual arrival of the aging right-hander, fans of the bluebirds were fearful that certain names had to be involved in order for the deal to get done. When the announcement of the seven-player swap with the New York Mets was finalized, half of the city started planning the World Series parade while the other half had to come to the quick realization that if the move did not pan out the club just lost two of the future elite.
The two outstanding prospects shipped to New York were rising-star catcher Travis d’Arnaud and up-and-coming hurler Noah Syndergaard, both whom are poised to make a big impact this season. It’s just going to happen in the wrong uniform. One knock on d’Arnaud is that he is apparently made of glass, an injury waiting to happen and one who even gives poster-boy and guitar hero Joel Zumaya a run for his money. Being just 24-years-old, there is still plenty of time for the backstop to shed this label, and the Mets are going to be the prime beneficiaries when he does. With just 434 plate appearances ranging across 2012 and 2013, the young catcher managed to pack a 19-home run punch to go along with a plate discipline that is well beyond his years. A player who records an OPS north of .900 in three straight seasons at the catcher position is a rare commodity — just ask any Blue Jay fan who owns a J.P. Arencibia jersey.
At the time, Syndergaard was the forgotten man is this blockbuster. He is now the crown-jewel piece who’s on the cusp of being a major part of the Mets rotation as a prototypical power pitcher who stands a mammoth 6-foot-6 while tipping the scales at 240 pounds. With every step up through the minor leagues, the enormous Texas native has refined his arsenal, becoming a strikeout-machine along the way with a total of 255 punch outs in his last 220.4 innings pitched. His durability and polish as a pitcher has Mets fans salivating while his 4.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio has Blue Jay fans throwing fits of rage. With Mets ace Matt Harvey on the shelf for the entire 2014 season, look for the flamethrower to make his major-league mark in the very near future.
Examining Dickey’s 2013 is a hair-pulling experience to say the least. Any NL starter who attempts to repeat the same success he had in the AL beast that is the east is bound to come up short — or in Dickey’s case, fall flat. The 2012 dominant version of the knuckleballer failed to make it across the border, putting up a line that included an extreme drop-off in his K/9 rate collapsing from 8.9 to 7.1. When the knuckleball is not missing bats it can be a cruel mistress. Posting a higher ERA was to be expected, but the glaring inefficiencies were his highest walk rate since 2009 of 2.8 BB/9 and his propensity to give up the long ball. The ball left the yard a whopping 35 times as a once unhittable knuckleball suddenly became batting practice. It is imperative that Dickey returns to ace-like status for the Blue Jays to have any chance of competing in baseball’s toughest division.
When looking at the glaring holes on this squad, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Syndergaard and d’Arnaud would have been perfect fits. If the postseason is in the cards in 2014 then all will be forgiven; however, time is running out. Blue Jays fans can only hope this does not turn out to be Esteban Loaiza for Michael Young part-two. In order for that not to happen, the knuckleball needs to start dancing once again.