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R.A. Dickey's storybook career is over in New York, but is just beginning in Toronto
            The Blue Jays added to their already impressive offseason haul by trading for the reigning National League Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey. This blockbuster sent Dickey, his personal knuckleball catcher, Josh Thole, and minor leaguer Mike Nickeas for Jay's top prospect Travis d'Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league starter Noah Syndergaard, and minor league outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. In addition to his 2013 bargain of a salary ($5 million), Dickey signed a two year, $24 million extension that will keep him in Toronto till 2015, his age 40 season.

            Contrary to popular belief, R.A. Dickey has emerged as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball over the past several seasons. Although 2012 was clearly his best season (career bests in W, ERA, IP, BB/9, K/9, and ERA+), Dickey has consistently been a well above average pitcher during his tenure with the Mets. For nonbelievers, let's play a little game with two sets of numbers compiled over the past three seasons; one belongs to Dickey and the other belongs to an "elite" starting pitcher:

Pitcher 1: 2.95 ERA, 616.2 Innings, 129 ERA+, 2.2 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, 12.1 WAR

Pitcher 2: 2.93 ERA, 644 Innings,  130 ERA+, 2.8 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 13.2 WAR

Clearly, these pitchers are pretty similar except for  the difference in strikeouts; however, their repertoires could not be any different. One survives with the impulsive and unpredictable nature of the knuckleball and the other dominates with a mid-90's heat and sharp, near untouchable, slider. Pitcher 1 is R.A. Dickey. Pitcher 2 is his American League counterpart for the Cy Young, David Price. Price gains more acclaim due to his first overall pick pedigree and talented fastball, but Dickey has been just as successful over the past three seasons. Dickey is not some one-hit wonder or guy that got lucky for one season. He is a legitimate ace and should be in the discussion for among the top ten pitchers in baseball. Despite Dickey's advanced age, knuckleballers have shown the normal laws of pitching aging do not apply to their limited fraternity. Seen from the likes of Tim Wakefield (pitched till 44), Phil Niekro (48), Hoyt Wilhelm (49, albeit as a reliever), pitching well into your 40's as a knuckleballer is far from uncharted territory. In fact, many of these pitchers had remarkable success in the later stages of their career. Dickey adds a legitimate #1 starter to a team that had a hard time just getting innings from their starters, and in my opinion, puts their potential rotation as the best in the AL East.

            Even though the Mets are losing a 20 game winner, that is not to say the Mets did poorly in this trade.  In fact, they added a serious influx of talent that should vastly improve their team in the upcoming years. The centerpiece of this trade is 23 year old catcher, Travis d'Arnaud (pronounced dar-no), who is coming off a superb season in triple-A. This past season he hit .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs in hitter-paradise Las Vegas. Although highly regarded for his offensive talents, d'Arnaud also possesses a strong arm and is rapidly improving behind the plate with a chance to be a league average defender. One possible cause for concern, however, was his extreme BABIP in AAA (.374) which could have portrayed his numbers being better than advertised. Additionally, his season was cut short after suffering a torn PCL in his left knee and has faced injury concerns in the past. However, it seems as though d'Arnaud is completely healed with a chance to be the Met's Opening Day catcher. Even with his injury and minor league transition concerns, d'Arnaud's special bat from behind the plate gives him the potential to be an annual all-star talent.

            The other big piece heading to Queens is gifted prep right hander, Noah Syndergaard.  Syndergaard dominated in high-A Lansing with a 2.60 ERA, a 2.7 walks per nine rate, and a sterling 10.6 K/9. Syndergaard possesses a sinking fastball that routinely sits in the mid to upper 90's and features a plus curveball as well. Undoubtedly, Syndergaard is a talented arm, but remains years away from reaching his potential and comes with the inherent risk of being a minor league pitching prospect. If everything clicks, Syndergaard could be a strong number two starter, with occasional flashes of brilliance with his dominant arsenal.

First Impressions:

Winners: Blue Jays, Mets

            The Blue Jays added a starter that further legitimizes their chances as an American League contender. In addition to the overall benefit of adding a CY winner, the Jays are capitalizing on a rare window of opportunity in the AL East, with the aging of the Yankees, the incompetence of the Red Sox, and the questions surrounding both the Rays and Orioles. Also, Dickey is as safe a bet for a 38 year old due to his repertoire that should keep him successful to the end of his contract. The collective improvements to the team this offseason makes the Jays a real contender for the American League pennant. 

            The Mets, although not as far away as some may think, added serious talent to a system devoid of quality position prospects. D'Arnaud is deservedly one of the best catching prospects in the minors, and his complete package is just so rare nowadays behind the plate. Furthermore, Syndergaard represents another potential stud in the rotation (to go along with a potentially scary rotation of Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and Jon Niese). Despite the fact that it will take some time for him to get there, his talent alone is worth the gamble for a team that would not have had much of a purpose for a 38 year old knuckleballer.

Explanation:   

            One week ago, I criticized the Royals for trading prospects in exchange for an above average starter, all in the name of "going for it." Now, I'm praising the Jays for doing the same thing? Call me a hypocrite if you like, but there are several key differences between this trade and the Shields one. For one, the Jays are just much closer to reaching their goal of the postseason than the Royals. Just look at the rotations, even without any numbers, and see which you would have more confidence in:

Royals: James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis

Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero

Personally, it is not even close, as I am way in favor of the Jays' rotation. Even the offenses do not compare as seen in last year's numbers alone. Toronto's offense rated at about average while KC's was among the league's worst. Last I checked, the Royals did not do anything to improve in this regard while the Blue Jays added Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio. That is also without mentioning a healthy Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. Second, although all prospects carry an inherent risk, to me Myers' unblemished injury history and more legitimate minor league numbers give me more confidence in his future success than d'Arnaud. Mortgaging the future for a mediocre present is not how ballclubs should be run. If the Royals were to pull off a trade to further legitimize their playoff chances, that might change my opinion of the Shields-Myers swap. But for now, that trade was poorly executed, and this trade exemplified how to build a club up from rags to riches. 

BY: AIDAN FLYNN
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Obligatory R.A. Dickey knuckleball
 
 
             Tuesday night brought the unexpected news of a major blockbuster between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. Akin to the Red Sox-Dodger deal in August, big names and big money is being moved between the two franchises, and should have huge ramifications for the futures of both teams. Although these consequences will be detailed later in the article, here are the details of the trade: the Toronto Blue Jays will acquire shortstop Jose Reyes, right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson, left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle, outfielder Emilio Bonafacio, catcher John Buck, and $4 million (Blue Jays will eat the other $167 million remaining on the contracts); the Miami Marlins will acquire shortstop Yunel Escobar, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, right-handed pitcher Henderson Alvarez, minor league left-handed starter Justin Nicolino, minor league outfielder Jake Marisnick, catcher Jeff Mathis, and minor league right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani .

    The American League East just got even stronger, if you can believe that to be possible.  The Toronto Blue Jays made themselves an instant force with one big blow, landing major talent from the Miami Marlins.  The Jays are coming off just a 73 win season in 2012 and have already let manager John Farrell go to the Boston Red Sox.  However, they have filled 2 gaps in their starting rotation and added a sparkplug shortstop in Jose Reyes.  They have also received catcher John Buck, back for his second go-around with the club, and Emilio Bonifacio.  

    Let's start with the pitching.  Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle are two guys that Toronto can immediately move to the front end of the rotation.  Johnson has the talent to be a legitimate ace and he has shown that ability when he lead the league in ERA and ERA+ (2.30, 180) in 2010.  The big question surrounding Johnson is his health and durability.  He has only managed to throw 200+ innings once in his 8 year career.  He is coming off a decent season in 2012 in which he had a 3.81 ERA and 104 ERA+ in 191.1 innings.  The ability to be a 6+ WAR pitcher is there (2009 & 2010) for Johnson. The only question, once again, is his health and durability.  However, durability is not a question for the other rotation piece Alex Anthopoulos picked up, crafty lefty Mark Buehrle. Buehrle returns to the American League after just one season in the senior circuit and is heading into his age 34 season. He has thrown at least 200 innings in a whopping 12 straight seasons, with his most serious injury being a day-to-day cut from opening a mayonnaise jar.  He has been extremely consistent with his production as well.  He has never had a season with an ERA over 5 and just one season with an ERA over 4.28, with his career mark at 3.82.  He also has had just one season (4.99 ERA, 95 ERA+) with an ERA+ of under 100.  He will however give up his share of base hits despite tossing 2 career no hitters, one of which being a perfect game.  He averages 234 hits per season.  His command is very good, walking an average of 5.4% of hitters compared to the league average of 8.6%.  When it's all set and done, the Blue Jays should be very pleased with these two additions to their starting rotation.  

     Offensively, Toronto has added some nice pieces as well.  They have added two elite base-stealers to go along with Rajai Davis (40 SBs in 3 of his last 4 seasons).  Reyes is coming off a 40 stolen base season while Bonifacio is coming off a 30 steal season.  There's no question that the Jays now have the ability to cause havoc on the base paths night in and night out.  However, despite this speed and talent, there are some question marks.  With Reyes, he has struggled to consistently stay on the field throughout his career. From 2009-2011 he played in 36, 133 and 126  games respectively.  However he is coming off a 160 game season in 2012, which is a good sign for where his health stand heading into 2013.  Reyes can swing the bat as well, with a career line of .291/.342/.440.  He is also one season removed from winning a National League batting title with a .337 average.  Reyes has great tools as well defensively with a rocket for an arm, however he has struggled to be consistent.  He has committed at least 15 errors at shortstop the past three seasons and has a career defensive runs saved total of -18 runs while coming off his career worst defensive season (-17) in 2012.  He has also had a negative UZR over the past four seasons, with his 2012 mark at -2.8.  As for Bonifacio, the question is getting on base.  He owns just a .329 OBP, which has hindered his stolen base opportunites in the past.  He is coming off a tough year in which he played just 64 games and hit .258/.330/.316 with 30 steals in 33 attempts.  The Blue Jays are hoping Emilio can return to his break-out season of 2011 that saw him hit .296/.360/.393 with 40 steals in 51 tries.  The Blue Jays also were able to snag veteran and former all-star backstop, John Buck.  Buck is a guy who can backup J.P. Arencibia or fill in at DH here and there if needed.  He had the best season of his career back in 2010 with the Jays, finishing at .281/.314/.489 while hitting 20 long balls.  However, he has declined the past two seasons and is coming off a campain in which he hit .192/.297/.347 and 12 home runs in 106 games played.  Considering where the Blue Jays finished last year, their fan base should be very excited to see this trade occur.  Any team who can add Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck all in one trade has definitely improved for the upcoming season.  -Nick Rabasco


              What a season it has been for the Miami Marlins. An offseason that provided a state-of-the-art, publicly funded stadium, brand new uniforms, a re-branding of the franchise, star player signings, and the most obnoxious structure in sports sent unprecedented excitement throughout a notoriously poor baseball community. Then, the regular season started. The Marlins went 8-14 in the first month and new manager Ozzie Guillen (hired to appeal to the Hispanic/Latino Miami population) outraged the entire city with his remarks regarding his admiration of Fidel Castro, which resulted in a five game suspension. The Marlins would continue to struggle and finished with a worse record (69-93) than in 2011, despite having a payroll $44 million more in 2012.

            It's clear 2012 was a season to forget for the Marlins, which prompted this major transaction. The two big major league players heading to South Beach are Yunel Escobar and Henderson Alvarez. Escobar, seemingly the model of inconsistency, suffered a horrendous offensive campaign with a 75 OPS+ and whose attitude resulted in a suspension following writing a homophobic slur on his eyeblack. Escobar has flashed his potential before (4+ WAR in 2009, 2011) but with his current makeup issues, one has to wonder if he'll ever return to that level of production. Alvarez, basically a replacement level starter in 2012 (.1 WAR) faced a steep decline from his solid rookie season. His superb K/BB rate in 2011 of 5.00 decreased dramatically to just 1.46 as he saw he BB rate increase and K rate decline. Not necessarily a good sign going forward for any pitcher. At this point, he should just be an innings eater for the Fish.

            Among the minor leaguers the Marlins are receiving include highly-touted outfielder Jake  Marisnick, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, and lefty Justin Nicolino. According to Baseball America, Marisnick is the team's second best prospect with claims of five tool potential. Although he only hit .249/.321/.399 this year, he has plus speed that he utilizes well in center field. He does have some swing n' miss in his game (100 K's), but his strength should at least allow him to have average power if the average does not come along. Hechavarria is among the best defensive shortstops in the minors, and is adept to making both the routine and flashy plays thanks to his cannon for an arm. His hitting ability remains suspect as his triple-A numbers were inflated by playing in hitter friendly Las Vegas and had just a .645 OPS in the majors. As for Nicolino, he profiles a decent mid to back end of the rotation option for the Fish in the near future. He is the classic soft tossing lefty that hits his spots on a routine basis (a la Jamie Moyer) and pitched very well (2.46 ERA, 1.5 BB/9, 8.6 K/9) in high A Lansing.

            However, arguably the biggest prize of all for the Marlins is their newfound financial freedom, saving $160+ million in commitments over the next several seasons. This money could be used to reinvest in the free agent market (something I highly doubt in respect to last year's signings being a complete flop, but still possible) or could be used to lock up talent to long term deals such as 23 year old Giancarlo Stanton (158 OPS+, 5.4 WAR, and league leading .608 SLG). Even that could be in question given Stanton's immediate reaction following the trade, possibly discouraging him from staying in Miami long term. Now normally, trades that dumps unreasonable contracts and are able acquire cheap, young, talent is usually a clear win. Yet, it is not that cut and dry, given the circumstances surrounding the Marlins spending spree last year and the current state of their fan base. After the dismantling of World Series Championship teams and alienation of the baseball community on numerous occasions, 2012 was supposed to be a redemption for past mistakes and failures by ownership. This move only underscores previously ingrained thoughts that the current management group will not allow this team to be successful. Loria's clear ineptitude toward running a franchise has become flat out embarrassing and his continued mistakes have become laughable (unless you are a Marlins fan, my condolences). Don't get me wrong, I completely agree that if mistakes are made and the opportunity arises to wipe that slate clean, take advantage of it. Yet, it seems unlikely that Loria and the front office will reinvest that money into the on-field product given their previous history. At some point, for Marlins fans and just baseball fans alike, this act is getting old. -Aidan Flynn

First Impressions:

Winners: Blue Jays: Toronto was able to add an all-star caliber shortstop, and two very solid pitching options that can fortify an injured riddled rotation in 2013. One concern going forward is the health of both the acquired players and the team in general, but on paper the Jays look to be major contenders for the American League East Division Championship.

Losers: Miami Marlins: Miami was able to hit the reset button, but have basically forfeited the 2013 season and the next several years in general. Lack of trust to reinvest money into the on-field product will have long-term repercussions on baseball in Miami. Do not be surprised if owner Jeffrey Loria is forced to sell the team in the near future. The alienation of the fans and its lack of desire to stay competitive makes this trade a loss for the Fish.
 
 
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John Farrell is coming back to Boston.
        After on-going rumors of John Farrell making a return to Beantown, it’s finally a done deal.  The former Sox pitching coach has agreed to a 4 year contract to manage at Fenway Park.  Since his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays is expiring next offseason, the Jays received shortstop Mike Aviles as compensation from Boston. 

       Farrell led the Blue Jays to a subpar 154-170 mark in his two seasons north of the border.  They also finished 8 games worse in 2012 than in 2011.  The Blue Jays willingness to negotiate with Boston signals they are ready to move on without Farrell being a part of their future plans.  Also, Farrell’s inclination to speak directly with Ben Cherington and the Red Sox about the position showed his desire to return to Boston.  It seems like a good fit, as Farrell has a great relationship with Ben Cheringtion after having a shaky partnership with Alex Anthopoulos.  Farrell had a history of being in disagreement with the Toronto GM with some of his roster moves.  Farrell was pushing to release veteran infielder Omar Vizquel in July and the Jays disagreed and kept him.  Farrell also called for help in the starting rotation and instead the Jays got bullpen help at the trade deadline.   These incidents did not escalate enough to receive the kind of attention and scrutiny Bobby Valentine faced in Boston.  Valentine had problems throughout the year with his players and the media which made it inevitable that he would be out as manager.  Comparing Farrell and Valentine’s managerial style, the Red Sox are receiving a more aggressive manager, with Farrell’s Jays attempting 164 stolen bases compared to the Red Sox’ 128 in 2012.  However, they both sacrificed almost the same amount of time with Farrell bunting 33 times compared to Valentine’s 34. 

                It is clear the glaring problem on Yawkey Way is the pitching staff.  As a staff, Red Sox pitchers posted the third worst ERA in the American League (4.72) in 2012.  Leaders of the staff such as Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz also fell apart in 2012.  With Beckett now in Los Angeles, Lester and Buchholz look to anchor the rotation yet again as they attempt to return to front-line starters.  Farrell is the optimal guy for Boston as he led his pitchers to great success during his time as pitching coach.  From 2007-2010 (Farrell era), Red Sox pitchers led the American League in strikeouts, opponent batting average, and shutouts.  They also ranked third in ERA during Farrell’s 4 year stint (4.11).  It may be coincidental, but Jon Lester is a perfect example of a guy who just seemed more comfortable with Farrell’s presence.  After winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series in Colorado, Lester went on to post an ERA+ of 144, 136 and 134 from 2008-2010 under Farrell.  At this point, Jon entered 2011 at age 26, so it would make sense to expect similar results if not much better results.  However, after a nice start to 2011, Lester completely fell apart in September (the worst and most painful month in Red Sox history I might add) and has not been the same since.  He posted an ERA+ of 124 in 2011 and 90 in 2012.  90! Red Sox fans hope Farrell can help him become more comfortable again and aid him in regaining his confidence.  John is also liked around Boston because he coached under Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to 5 postseason appearances and 2 World Series titles in his 8 year reign. 

       The other part of this deal that hasn’t received much attention is Mike Aviles.  The Jays are getting an average hitter (.277 career BA) who broke out in terms of power in 2012 with a career high 13 home runs.  However, the knock on Aviles is his lack of plate discipline.  He walked just 23 times in 546 plate appearances in 2012 and had a sub-.300 on-base percentage.  This also opens up a hole a shortstop for Boston.  The options they now have internally are Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco.  Iglesias, a magician with the glove, hasn’t shown any signs of hitting at the big league level (career .135/.210/.413 slash line).  Ciriaco hit for a nice average in 2012 (.293) although he plummeted towards the end of the year.  His .352 BABIP may have had something to do with that, along with swinging at a ton of pitches out of the zone.  He walked just 2.9% of the time he stepped up to the plate.  For now, all signs point to Iglesias being the front runner as Boston's starting shortstop.

First Impressions:

Winners: Red Sox and Blue Jays

                The Red Sox were able to grab the guy they had an eye on for 2 years now.  He is very well respected in Boston by players, management and fans as he enjoyed success as the pitching coach from 2007-2010.  Also, the Sox only had to give up shortstop Mike Aviles.  This is a position where the Red Sox have other options for going forward.

                The Blue Jays were able to get rid of a manager who had not had success and caused a few minor problems with management.  At the same time, they received a solid infielder in Aviles.  The Blue Jays, after coming off a tough season, can now start fresh with a new manager and perhaps change the atmosphere just like Boston is trying to do.  


 

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