NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey arrived in New York with as little fanfare as any player can. He left Monday after three storybook years that saw him reach the pinnacle of individual baseball achievement.
In one of the most significant gambles in recent franchise history, the Mets traded the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner to the Blue Jays in a seven-player deal. The two teams finalized the deal on Monday after Dickey signed a contract extension and passed a physical.
The deal also sent catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to Toronto for catchers Travis d'Arnaud and John Buck, pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard and Minor Leaguer Wuilmer Becerra.
Six pitchers have won the Cy Young Award and opened the following season with a new team. They are:
1995 Blue Jays
1998 Red Sox
1998 Blue Jays
* Denotes a trade, others left via free agency.
"It was an extraordinary privilege for us to be part of his career over the past three years," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "The final chapter has not been written, but it has been an extraordinary career, arcing from disappointment to jubilation."
After settling on a trade structure late last week, the Mets reached tentative agreement Sunday on a trade of Dickey, who quickly negotiated a new three-year, $29 million contract to finalize things. The deal includes a $12 million team option for 2016.
"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 Twitter, addressing his fans in New York. "I've always felt that there was a connection beyond the uniform. Thank you for making me feel wanted."
Dickey is the seventh Cy Young Award winner to open the following season with a new team and the fourth to leave via trade. The most recent example came more than a decade ago, when the Jays shipped Roger Clemens to the Yankees prior to the 1999 season.
In trading him, the Mets have now parted ways with the NL's reigning batting champion and Cy Young Award winner in consecutive offseasons. For the former, Jose Reyes, they received two Draft picks. For the latter, they are about to receive a significant haul of impact players.
"I'm hopeful in coming years that our overall popularity will be more a function of our success than individuals," Alderson said. "Look, I realize that this is an entertainment business and it was great to have R.A. here. 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."
Prospects acquired by Mets
Travis d'Arnaud, C: d'Arnaud, ranked No. 11 on MLB's Top 100 Prospects list and No. 1 on the Blue Jays' Top 20 at the time of the trade, is the best catching prospect in the game currently. The backstop knows what it's like to be involved in a deal for an ace, having come to Toronto from Philadelphia for Roy Halladay. d'Arnaud has the skills to be an outstanding all-around everyday catcher at the big league level, and he's just about ready to test them out. Agile and athletic behind the plate, d'Arnaud also has a good arm to help control the running game. The bat really started to come around in 2011 and continued in '12, showing his ability to hit for average and power. The only thing that has held d'Arnaud back is injuries, with a left knee injury cutting his 2012 season short and perhaps keeping him from a callup to the big leagues. Assuming a return to health, he should be ready to take over in New York very soon.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP: Syndergaard was No. 83 on MLB's Top 100 Prospects list and No. 3 on the Blue Jays' Top 20 at the time of the trade. The young right-hander had an outstanding full-season debut, as the 2010 supplemental first-round pick was a Midwest League All-Star, finishing third in the league in strikeouts. He would have been fourth in ERA had he thrown enough innings to qualify. A hard thrower, Syndergaard is much more than arm strength. He does get his fastball into the upper 90s and commands it fairly well. His power breaking ball has the chance to be above average as it becomes more consistent, and his changeup should also be above average or better. With a strong and projectable frame, he has all the tools to be a front-line starter in the future. All he needs are innings and experience to get there.
Wuilmer Becerra, OF: The Blue Jays signed Becerra as one of the top amateurs in Venezuela in 2011 for a bonus north of $1 million. A shortstop as an amateur, he's shifted to the outfield, where he should fit nicely in a corner. The teenager made his United States debut in 2012 in the Gulf Coast League but only played 11 games, getting hit in the face with a pitch and breaking his jaw. When healthy, Becerra is a physical presence with speed who should steal bases and hit for power down the line. He'll play all of the 2013 season at age 18.
d'Arnaud, 23, has long ranked among the top young talents in baseball, clocking in at No. 11 on MLB.com's 2012 Prospect Watch. He is used to this sort of deal; the Jays acquired him from the Phillies in 2009 for another Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay. Batting .333 with 16 homers in 67 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, d'Arnaud might have made his Major League debut already had he not torn a left knee ligament in June, ending his season.
"The industry views Travis as the top catching prospect in the game," Alderson said. "We think his upside is such that he could be a significant player for us over the next many years.
"Understand he's only a prospect. Understand that he has not done anything at the Major League level. But given his ceiling, given his position and given what we think he can do -- not just long-term for the Mets but near-term, medium-term -- we think he can be a difference-maker."
To replace Thole, the Mets acquired Buck, 32, who has seen his production tail off significantly since bashing a career-high 20 homers with the Jays in 2010. He played last season with the Marlins, but returned to Toronto in the trade that sent Reyes north of the border.
Syndergaard, 20, posted a 2.60 ERA with 122 strikeouts and 31 walks in 103 2/3 innings last season at Class A Lansing. The Jays' third-ranked player on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, he figures to slot into the Mets' rotation at high Class A St. Lucie, putting him on track for a big league debut in late 2014 or early '15. He profiles as a mid- to top-of-the-rotation starter.
"Noah is a very high-ceiling power pitcher," Alderson said. "We believe that he's got tremendous upside potential."
But Dickey is already an ace and the Jays, who earlier this offseason acquired Reyes, Buck, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio in a deal with the Marlins, have teamed them with the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. Dickey finished 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA in 2012, leading the NL in innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts.
He also published his autobiography in March, detailing a story that by now is well-known. A former first-round Draft pick of the Rangers, Dickey saw his bonus money slashed when doctors discovered that he had no ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Thus began a decade-long slog through the Minor Leagues, prompting Dickey to become a full-time knuckleballer in 2005 in a last-ditch effort to save his career.
Five years later, after the Mets signed him to a Minor League deal and made him the first player cut from big league camp, Dickey caught his break. He joined the rotation in mid-May and never looked back, posting a 2.84 ERA over 27 appearances. At the end of the season, the Mets inked him to a two-year, $7 million extension with a $5 million option for 2013.
Dickey and the Mets attempted to negotiate another contract extension this winter, but Alderson always kept one eye trained on the trade market. The Rangers and Blue Jays in particular seemed to be natural fits for Dickey given the profiles of their farm systems, while at least a half-dozen other clubs checked on his availability.
"We just felt we were so close to contention, this is a deal we had to make," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous said.
The Mets now have a significant void in what was formerly one of the league's best rotations. Consensus at the Winter Meetings was that the team would not immediately plug that hole with top prospect Zack Wheeler, who owns just one year of experience above Class A ball. Instead, Alderson said he will look to commit to a free-agent starter.
"We don't expect to go out and duplicate R.A. Dickey," Alderson said. "That's not going to happen."
That would be unrealistic. The Mets simply hope they have acquired enough quality pieces to ensure they never have to.