TORONTO -- The long-rumoured deal to bring 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to Toronto is finally complete.
Following days of speculation, the Blue Jays acquired Dickey, catcher Josh Thole and Minor League catcher Mike Nickeas on Monday evening. Top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, along with veteran catcher John Buck and Minor Leaguer Wuilmer Becerra, also went to New York.
It was a high cost to pay in terms of talent, but one that also could provide the missing piece to a team which clearly has developed a win-now mentality.
"I think it comes down to how you evaluate R.A., and I think that's going to define the results of this trade for us," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "We evaluate him as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Clearly, he won the Cy Young, he's pitched like one for the last three years.
"I think he doesn't get the credit, the respect, that he deserves because of his age, because of what he does throw [a knuckleball]. I understand, it's so rare, but there's just so much overwhelming data and evidence that points to him continuing to have this success."
Anthopoulos first initiated trade talks with the Mets at the General Managers Meetings in November. At the time, little progress was made, because it remained unclear whether the Mets would sign Dickey to a contract extension or instead jump-start their rebuilding process with a trade.
Negotiations lingered for several days, but it became clear that a deal would not be possible without the inclusion of d'Arnaud. Toronto preferred to hang onto its top prospect, but eventually relented once presented with the idea of adding Dickey to an already impressive rotation.
But even once d'Arnaud became fair game, the talks failed to pick up steam. The Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., came and went without any resolution, and Anthopoulos had a sense that the negotiations were just about dead.
That prompted the fourth-year GM to take one last shot. He approached Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to ask what it would take to get a deal done. The response was to add the highly-regarded Syndergaard, and after some back-and-forth negotiating, the momentum picked up and both clubs officially agreed to the deal Thursday afternoon.
Toronto went into the trade talks having a general idea of what it would take to sign Dickey long-term. There were multiple reports out of New York that he was seeking a two-year extension worth approximately $25 million -- essentially bringing the total value to $30 million over three seasons.
The information was later confirmed by Alderson and the final trade was contingent on Dickey agreeing to that type of deal. Anthopoulos flew to Nashville on Saturday along with manager John Gibbons and director of professional scouting Perry Minasian to make things official.
Both sides sat down for a four-hour meeting as Dickey was sold both on the contract and the idea of joining the suddenly revitalized Blue Jays. Anthopoulos continued the negotiations with Dickey's agent later that night and into the next morning before the final terms were agreed upon.
It's something that might never have gotten done if Dickey's demands hadn't been leaked and Toronto wasn't completely confident an extension could be worked out.
"I needed some type of sense of what the parameters might be to get a deal done," Anthopoulos said. "So, from that standpoint, if the numbers didn't make sense for us, I wouldn't have even engaged. There are a lot of players we'd love to have that make a lot of money, and as good as they are, they might just not fit with our payroll commitments, and that's always part of the equation.
"I had an idea where R.A. was with his negotiations with the Mets. That's the knowledge I had going. The Mets knew we weren't going to deviate from a certain area. If the numbers got too high, we weren't going to complete this deal. They were aware of that, that was part of the risk that they were willing to take on."
Dickey is set to join a staff that transformed from a glaring weakness into a noticeable strength in less than two months. The recent acquisitions of Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, coupled with the returns of Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, give the Blue Jays one of the best staffs in baseball -- at least on paper.
The native of Tennessee also fits into the long-term outlook of this season after agreeing to the extension, which also includes a club option for 2016 that can be bought out for $1 million. The core of this team is locked up through the 2015 season, giving Toronto a three-year window to succeed in the American League East.
Johnson, who is eligible for free agency at the end of 2013, is the only prominent player in danger of leaving via the open market. Everyone else from Morrow and Romero to Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
"It was the right time for the organization, when you look at our core players and who we have under contract," Anthopoulos said. "All of our best players are in their late 20s or early 30s ... and they're under control for the next three to five years. From our standpoint, as painful as it was to trade the kids that we did trade, it might be three or four years before they reach All-Star status, Cy Young status, whatever's going to happen.
"We just feel that we're so close to contention that this is a deal that we needed to make, because it's not just about one season. This allows us to really put what we feel is a contending team together for a three- to five-year period."
Dickey arguably was the top pitcher available via trade this offseason. He went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA while striking out 230 in 233 2/3 innings while posting an impressive 1.05 WHIP.
There's a myth around baseball that he could be just a one-year wonder, but the fact is Dickey has performed well for three consecutive seasons. He posted a 2.84 ERA in 174 1/3 innings in 2010 and then followed that up with a 3.28 mark in 208 2/3 innings the ensuing season.
The 38-year-old enjoyed a resurgence late in his career thanks in part to some mechanical adjustments to his primary pitch. He throws his knuckleball with more velocity than those who came before him and is the type of pitcher who ages well.
Overall, it's a high price to pay, but it was a move the Blue Jays were willing to make as they continue to go all-in for their quest to reach the postseason for the first time since winning the 1993 World Series.
Big names don't always guarantee results on the field, but there's a lot more to like about this team than there was a couple of short months ago. Anthopoulos stopped short of saying anything less than the postseason would be a disappointment, but at the same time, it's clear he's dreaming big.
"I think there is a lot of ways to have a good season, but we do expect to be a contending team," Anthopoulos said. "There's no doubt about that."