If there is one obvious conclusion we can draw from the offseason activities of the Toronto Blue Jays, it’s that they are striking at a time when supremacy in the AL East is available to any one of the five teams. The Red Sox have focused on value and upside but have done little to bolster their starting pitching (the signing of Ryan Dempster notwithstanding). The Yankees are getting old and have spent this offseason re-signing their old talent, thus getting even older. The Orioles are banking on another miraculous season; if their lack of movement can be interpreted as such. Finally, the Rays – well, somehow they find a way to improve even as they subtract major players. They’ll contend for at least a wild card spot regardless of what they end up doing this winter. The Blue Jays have yet to slow down this winter in their quest for AL East supremacy. Their most recent blockbuster trade with the NY Mets to bring Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Great White North compels us to consider them major contenders in 2013.
However, I’m not convinced that Dickey’s dominance is automatically going to repeat itself next season. The move to the American League from the Senior Circuit typically adds at least half a run and usually more to a pitcher’s earned run average and Dickey won’t be immune to that because of his knuckleball. Let’s also keep in mind that the knuckler is a pitch that depends on “feel” more than anything else. Dickey could lose his feel for the pitch just as easily as he “found” it in 2012. Prior to last season, Dickey’s strikeout percentage (K%) hovered around 15 percent. In 2012, he struck out a stunning 24.8 percent of the batters he faced. I don’t want to take away anything from Dickey’s performance, but that has fluke written all over it.
One needs only to examine Tim Wakefield’s career numbers to find a similar spike in strikeout percentage during a three year stretch when he was 36-38 years old. Strangely enough, that’s roughly Dickey’s age right now. During the rest of Wakefield’s career he hovered right around 15 percent too. Hmmmmm. It’s also worth noting that even during Wakefield’s most dominant strikeout years he was only a .500 pitcher for the most part. That’s pretty much been Dickey’s history as well.
You have to go all the way back to 1971 through 1974 to find a knuckleball pitcher who put together back to back 20-win seasons. Wilbur Wood did it for four consecutive years, going 90-69 with a strikeout percentage that never went above 16 percent. However, Wood pitched well over 300 innings in each of those seasons, never starting fewer than 42 games in any of the four years. This also happened during an era when pitchers dominated the game. In fact, pitchers were so dominant then that the AL was compelled to add the designated hitter in 1973.
Fantasy managers need to keep this all in mind when determining Dickey’s value in 2013. For the most part, knuckleball pitchers rarely end up with records that are far from .500. Even the fabulous Wood ended up with a career record of 164-156. I’d be very surprised if Dickey approached 20 wins again in 2013, and I’d be even more surprised if he struck out more than 15-16 percent of the batters he faced. It would be a mistake to value Dickey as an ace for 2013. In fact, I would value him as more of a third or fourth starter, which is still greater than his value prior to 2012. Whatever you do, do not overpay or reach for Dickey in the early rounds of drafts this coming spring. Even better, let someone else make the mistake of taking Dickey and plan on drafting someone with a more consistent history of strikeout pitching (and a more consistent strikeout pitch than the knuckler!). He may well end up being a misstep by the Blue Jays, so don’t make him one for your Fantasy team.
Several catchers changed hands in the Mets-Blue Jays trade that send R.A. Dickey to Toronto. The Mets acquired catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and veteran catcher John Buck, while the Blue Jays got Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. The exchange of catchers has Fantasy implications for everyone involved as well as one backstop who was not involved in the deal. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers in this transaction.
Travis d’Arnaud – In Toronto, d’Arnaud’s emerging power in the Rogers Center and the other hitter-friendly parks of the AL East probably would have translated into 25 or more homers per season given a full season of at bats. The move to Citi Field and the more pitcher-friendly confines of the NL East probably reduces d’Arnaud’s HR output to the 15-20 range at best. He also has a serious bat wiggling problem that may or may not have to be changed at the Major League level, but it’s safe to project him as a .275 range hitter with decent power. Unfortunately, the Mets lineup won’t provide him with many runners to drive in, nor will he be driven in much, as there aren’t many power bats aside from David Wright and maybe Lucas Duda. d’Arnaud will likely begin 2013 in the minors and probably won’t arrive in NY before his Super Two eligibility date sometime in June. Even then, the Mets may choose to keep him in the minors to delay his arbitration clock as long as possible.
John Buck – The veteran probably wasn’t going to get a whole bunch of playing time in Toronto. Buck might have platooned with J.P. Arencibia early in the season, and then stepped aside after the Super Two date and the arrival of d’Arnaud. In NY, Buck is the likely starter at the beginning of the season and could hold on to the job all year. The Mets aren’t likely to promote Travis d’Arnaud before his Super Two eligibility and could wait until 2014 to start his Major League career. Either way, Buck should get a decent number of starts and will have some value in NL-only leagues due to his power potential. Mixed leaguers will also like Buck as a second catcher, though, the position is deep enough that he shouldn’t be used in single catcher leagues unless they’re very deep.
Josh Thole – The Blue Jays wanted Thole because they needed someone to handle Dickey’s knuckleball. Therefore, Thole will catch every fifth game and will have to prove he can hit before he gets much more than that. He really struggled during most of 2012, so it’s not going to be easy for him with the switch to the tough pitching in the AL East. His Fantasy value will be limited to deeper AL-only and mixed leagues with two catchers.
Mike Nickeas – I’m not sure why the Blue Jays even wanted Nickeas. He can’t hit and his catching skills are somewhat suspect. You can pretty much write him off as depth for the Blue Jays organization with no Fantasy value at all.
J.P. Arencibia – The Blue Jays’ slugging catcher is the big winner in all of this. He lost the main competitor in the organization for his job (d’Arnaud) and Thole isn’t any kind of threat to take away his playing time. Plus, he doesn’t have to worry about catching Dickey’s knuckleball and will get a break every time he takes the mound. Arencibia will continue to be a good source of power for Fantasy owners, but his batting average will hurt, so be prepared to offset that in your draft.
Odds and Ends
Bobby Abreu is hoping to return for another season in the Majors. He’s playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, but hasn’t done much to speak of yet. His bat looked pretty slow in his last stint with the Dodgers and his power waned several years ago. He can still run, though, and if he can regain his plate skills there might be some team that could use him as bench depth… There are rumors around that the Dodgers are listening to offers for Andre Ethier. The Yankees have yet to make any big moves this offseason and could be interested in acquiring Ethier if the deal is right. Odds are he stays with the Dodgers… Speaking of the Yankees – now that Ichiro Suzuki is in the fold for two more years, the Yankees are turning their attention to a couple of bats for the lineup. They were talking to Raul Ibanez, but he opted to play out his sunset with the Mariners (a real head scratcher if there was one). Scott Hairston is another possibility, though indications are that the Mets will bring him back for another go-‘round. The Angels would love to move Vernon Wells, but Brian Cashman isn’t likely to take him on unless LA eats a good portion of his sizable contract. With an active trade market still gathering steam this winter, Cashman will continue to bide his time and could wait until February before making a move. How un-Yankee like is that?.. The penny-pinching Twins are certainly thinking outside the box when it comes to bolstering their starting rotation this winter. GM Terry Ryan’s latest brainstorm has him looking at Rich Harden as a potential solution. When we last saw Harden in 2011, he was regaining some lost velocity but serving up gopher balls and walks like they were going out of style. He could get a minor league deal and an invite to spring training to prove he can still pitch… The Mets quest for an outfielder could lead them to look at Grady Sizemore. While Scott Hairston remains a possibility, he is a platoon player and would need a complementary signing to go with him. Sizemore’s health remains an issue, so an incentive laden deal is probably what the Mets would offer. A deal for Sizemore may have to wait, as he is not expected to be ready to play until at least June… Derek Lowe is drawing interest from several teams as a swingman out of the bullpen. However, Lowe believes he can still help a team as a starter and is holding out for a deal that would give him a shot at a rotation spot. Given his declining strikeout rates and increasing walk rates, I’m not certain he can be what he thinks he is. At the very least, he needs to pitch in front of a defensively strong infield. Not many teams can provide those conditions for Lowe.
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