Blue Jays And The “Other” Extension
The Blue Jays may be faced with an unexpected extension decision in 2016
This off-season, when the words “Blue Jays” and “extension” were used in the same sentence, the conversation was overwhelmingly about Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. With perhaps the occasional discussion about Brett Cecil or Jesse Chavez, or Michael Saunders or Justin Smoak.
But there is another player who will be a free agent in 2017. A player coming off a second half in 2015 as strong as any in his career. A player who struggled over his three years with the Jays due to the impact of a 2013 injury on his best pitch, but who appears to have finally re-found the magic that made him a Cy Young winner in 2012.
Yes, that’s right. I mean R.A. Dickey.
Many writers believe that the time has come for the Jays to part ways with Dickey. They point to his disappointing 3.95 ERA over his three Jays years, his need for a “personal” knuckleball catcher (to avoid destroying Martin at the plate), the crop of young Jays pitchers fighting for rotation spots, and Dickey’s advancing age.
But let me paint a scenario for you.
Dickey came to camp 12 pounds lighter than last season, saying that the lighter weight helped him to control his body and his pitches to keep the ball in the strike zone. Although he is not likely pitching at 102 mph, he does appear to be in the high-70s, which is at or near the velocity of his best strikeout pitch, the 77-81 mph “fast knuckleball“.
So suppose Dickey manages a 2016 season with his usual 200+ innings? And suppose that, with his rediscovered fast knuckler, he manages an ERA in the 3.30 range (which is ~the average that he has maintained in the second halves of 2013-2015, and a figure that he handily beat in 2010-2012 for the Mets)? And suppose that, despite his comments about liking NL parks, a combination of excitement about the Jays’ future and (perhaps?) a feeling that he still has something to prove in Toronto makes him amenable to finishing his career here.
Should the Jays be interested?
Dickey at his best is a beast. His 2.93 ERA from 2010-2012 was the 9th best in baseball among qualified starters. But suppose he is “only” a 3.30 ERA pitcher now. In 2015, only 12 pitchers managed both a 3.30 ERA and 200+ innings. Still highly beast-like – and enormously valuable.
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Regarding the personal catcher: Josh Thole has been working on a new swing with Jays’ hitting guru Brook Jacoby. It is likely too early to announce success, but the hitting standard for a second catcher is not that high – if Thole could even get his wRC+ up to the 80 range, his hitting might be acceptable. And Tony Sanchez was named the best defensive catcher in the Pirates organization 4 times, so there is reason for some optimism that he could learn to catch the knuckler.
And finally, regarding the young pitchers whose innings Dickey would be “taking”. First, it is far from certain that pitchers like Hutchison, Sanchez, and Osuna will be capable of producing at the level we are projecting for Dickey in the above scenario. Second, the old baseball adage about how you never have enough good pitching is particularly true for a team like the Jays with a combination of young pitchers (Hutch, Sanchez, Osuna) and pitchers who do not have a history of going deep into games (Happ, Estrada).
The bottom line
If Dickey can rediscover even a portion of his Mets magic, he becomes an immensely valuable asset. Particularly for a team like the Jays, who have had trouble in the past attracting the top free agents. In my opinion, it would be foolish of the Jays to dismiss the possibility of an extension, if one could be negotiated at reasonable terms.