Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dickey-Syndergaard and Revisionist History


   I did something I almost always regret last night.
  No, I didn't eat at McDonald's, but I did get into it with someone on Twitter.
  These things usually don't go well, because I'm not one to need to have to have the last word, and as a married man I've learned over the years to bite my tongue.  Twitter fights usually don't go well for me, and I vow not to get sucked in again next time.
  But sometimes, when I see something on Twitter that I don't think is anything close to right, I sometimes lose the inner battle not to respond.
   Someone last night posted this, and I just couldn't help but respond:




  I was a huge Noah Syndergaard fan, thanks to the Lansing Three articles the media inundated us with in 2012 (those articles prompted me to turn my lifelong interest in the minors into this very blog), and was somewhat shocked to learn that he had been dealt. But that was balanced by the news that he was bringing a Cy Young winner in return. And as Andrew Stoeten pointed out in the National Post, former GM Alex Anthopoulos had sold us all on the need to stockpile minor league talent.  But not to use it as a way to build a winner in the distant future, rather as currency to upgrade the major league team without sacrificing much, if any, of the 40-man roster.
  The Blue Jays did pay a huge price to land R.A. Dickey, but context plays a huge role in the evaluation of this deal.  Yes, there is this about Noah Syndergaard:


  But when the deal was made, the Blue Jays were in a much different position.  After several years of declining television ratings and attendance (bottoming out at 1.5 million in 2010, their lowest total in almost 30 years), the team had identified a window of competitive opportunity after the 2012 season.  And Anthopoulos, always one to roll the dice, completed a huge deal with Florida to bring Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes to the team.  Having gone all in, Anthopoulos had one more piece of the puzzle to add, and that was a frontline stater.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post observed:

As with Price this year, Toronto felt its rotation was crying out for a bulldog ace (remember Dickey had just won the Cy Young a few months earlier). As with Price, the Blue Jays had not been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1993. They saw that rare instance when the AL East opened up because the Yankees and Red Sox were simultaneously vulnerable. Then, like now, they did not want to waste prime years of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion when both were on team-friendly contracts, and generally believed they had a window with a win-now core.
  Full houses and record tv ratings were not the norm in 2012, and the Blue Jays brain trust knew that something had to happen to jump start a moribund organization.  On his return to Toronto as a member of the Dodgers organization this year, Anthopoulos acknowledged:

"We felt we were at a bit of a crossroads there in terms of do you scale it back and strip down and maybe (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) get moved," said Anthopoulos. "Do you trade Edwin? Do you trade Jose? It's hard to be in the middle. I don't think in any sports team it's probably not the appropriate place to be. You have to make a decision on where you want to be. Ultimately it didn't work out for 2013. In 2014 we felt we had a team that could have made the playoffs. The unfortunate part is we just weren't able to get anything done at the trade deadline. The following year, able to learn from some past experiences, at the trade deadline (we were) able to make moves, and things like that.

"The thought was we were going to be able to (contend) three years in a row and beyond to be able to get to the playoffs and get to the World Series. The thought was it could be what it is today in terms of attendance, TV ratings, fan interest. The belief was there. It was almost like a wick and you needed to light it. If you could, it would open up all kinds of things. That’s what I think I'm most proud of, and sure there are other people here who were involved with it because there were so many people involved, but seeing where the sport is in Canada right now, seeing how the organization is viewed and the fan interest, all those type of things."

     The truth is that the Blue Jays did have a wealth of minor league talent to deal from, and when the Mets likely said that either Syndergaard or Aaron Sanchez had to be part of the return for Dickey, the Blue Jays opted to keep the latter.  It's worth noting what Baseball America had to say about the two in their ranking of the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects after 2012:
Syndergaard and fellow 2010 sandwich pick Aaron Sanchez have risen through the minors together and will team again in 2013 at high Class A Dunedin. Both have the ceiling of a frontline starter, with Syndergaard not quite matching Sanchez in stuff but outshining him in terms of polish.

    The Blue Jays knew that there was a definite gamble that Syndergaard and d'Arnaud would turn into frontline players (although  d'Arnaud's injury history has followed him to New York), but the thinking among the front office staff was that by the time that happened, the Blue Jays' window on the Yankees and Red Sox would be closing, and Encarnacion and Bautista would be beyond their primes.

   The chance to add an innings-eating Cy Young winner was just too good to pass up, and even though Dickey did not repeat his performance in the AL East, he gave the team 800 mostly decent innings at a time when the rotation underwent significant change.  And even though Anthopoulos was the face of the team's administration, the whole front office - which included some pretty astute baseball minds - signed off on the deal.  Syndergaard, while projected as a number 2 starter at best at the time of the trade.  Few people outside of the scouting world could have predicted that he would become the fireballing top of the rotation arm he has developed into - certainly many making the claim that he would had never seen him pitch prior to his MLB debut with the Mets.  The truth is that Low A prospects are still a long way away.  Certainly, some blue chip, obvious talents can have their future predicted for them at level, but there was no guarantee that he would reach his ceiling.

   Those who claim that the Jays should not have made that deal are engaging in revisionist history.  Stoeten summed this whole situation up neatly:

You’ll still find fans who dispute this — who believe that the Jays should have stayed the course and waited for the prospects to develop. Realistically, by the 2012 off-season, doing nothing was no longer an option for a front office that not only wanted to keep the wolves at bay, but saw huge opportunity in building around the emergence of the elite slugging duo of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — both of whom were signed to significantly below-market contracts. It likely was no longer an option for an ownership group that ought to have been concerned about the decay of the Jays’ brand and the value of the club’s broadcast rights, which are a pillar of programming on their Sportsnet networks.   
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