Sandy Alderson began the offseason hoping to re-sign National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. But as the pitcher's value in the trade market skyrocketed and as rival teams pursued Dickey with top-shelf prospects, the Mets' general manager knew he had to explore the possibilities.
"At some point, we had to wait and see exactly what the value might be," said Alderson, who completed a franchise-altering trade Monday, sending Dickey to the Blue Jays for two highly regarded prospects.
In the seven-player deal, Dickey and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas were sent to the Blue Jays. The Mets received arguably the top catching prospect in the game in Travis d'Arnaud and promising righthanded pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard. They also acquired veteran catcher John Buck along with low-level outfield prospect Wuilmer Becerra.
The trade became official when Dickey agreed to a contract extension with the Jays. He will get $5 million in 2013 and $24 million for 2014-15, with a $12-million team option for 2016 and a $1-million buyout. That makes it a guaranteed three-year, $30-million contract.
"I recognize that this is an entertainment business and it was great to have R.A. here," Alderson said. "And yet we felt in the best interest of the organization and the long-term popularity of the team that this was the right thing to do."
With that, Dickey penned the final line in the most eventful chapter of his baseball journey.
Discarded by other clubs, deemed unfit to be a major-league pitcher, Dickey joined the Mets on a minor-league contract in 2010, little more than a curiosity. To bend the game's natural aging curve in his favor, he continued to master the knuckleball, hoping that his last-ditch effort might rescue his career from mediocrity.
The 38-year-old now leaves the Mets as the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade.
He had a message for his fans.
"Now that it's official, I want to say that I don't have the words to express how grateful I am to you for the steadfast support and encouragement I received from all of you," Dickey wrote on his Twitter feed Monday night. "I've always felt that there was a connection beyond the uniform. Thank you for making me feel wanted."
In 2012, Dickey won 20 games, led the National League in innings pitched (233 2/3) and strikeouts (230), and posted a 2.73 ERA.
Looking for another arm to fill out his rebuilt rotation, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous began his pursuit of Dickey before the winter meetings.
While other teams drifted in and out of the conversation for Dickey, the Blue Jays' interest remained steady. The Mets insisted on getting two premium prospects in the deal, holding out until the Blue Jays were willing to include Syndegaard.
The Blue Jays will benefit from the trade immediately; the Mets appear primed for another fourth-place finish. Alderson insisted that the team has not abandoned the idea of contention for the 2013 season, but the trade only adds to a long laundry list of needs they must address in the offseason.
The Mets must find a starting pitcher, a pair of outfielders, arms for the bullpen and organizational depth at catcher. Nevertheless, Alderson made it clear that the long-term gains made the trade worthwhile.
"We viewed d'Arnaud, and I believe the industry views Travis, as the top catching prospect in the game," Alderson said. "Not just the top catching prospect, but the one who is closest to major league-ready if not now major league-ready.''
D'Arnaud, 23, might begin the season in the minors, but he's unlikely to stay there.
Buck, 32, has hit 48 home runs the past three seasons.
Syndergaard, 20, gives the Mets another high-octane arm to add to their growing collection.