Fore-Cy-ght: Dealing away aces helped Royals, Mets reach Series
Trading Cy Young winners Greinke, Dickey gave KC and NY major talent infusions
You can call it the rain before germination, if you want to get agricultural, the labor pain before birth, if you want to get medical, or the dark before the dawn, if you want to be purely poetic.
However you phrase it, the situation basically boils down to this: Trading away a Cy Young Award winner stinks. It's as uncomfortable as it is unpopular. But for the Mets and Royals, such a difficult deal was a necessary evil in making it to the 2015 World Series, which begins on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET airtime on FOX, with game time slated for 8).
The Royals dealt Zack Greinke -- their homegrown ace, 2009 American League Cy Young winner and most outward symbol of organizational improvement -- and infielder Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers on Dec. 19, 2010, for a package of Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
Almost two years later to the day -- Dec. 17, 2012 -- the Mets traded reigning National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, along with Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, to the Blue Jays for Noah Syndergaard, Travis d'Arnaud, John Buck and Wuilmer Becerra.
Bottom-line business that this is, it's impossible to label either trade as anything other than a huge win for the teams that dealt away the established arm. The Royals used both their haul from the Greinke trade and a swap with the Rays that involved Odorizzi as the springboard to consecutive AL pennants, while the Mets turned the Dickey deal into their projected batterymates for Game 3 of this Fall Classic.
That doesn't mean trading away an ace is a guaranteed ticket to the Series. The Indians dealt away reigning Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in consecutive seasons (2008 and '09) and have not reached the Fall Classic. But, for the Royals and Mets, saying bye-bye to a Cy was very much worthwhile.
Here's a breakdown of how each trade was perceived at the time of the deal and how it looks now.
The Greinke trade
It was no industry secret, going into the winter of 2010-11, that the Royals were intent on dealing Greinke and that Greinke, two seasons away from free agency, was intent on going to a contender.
But Royals general manager Dayton Moore had some challenges in dealing Greinke. The market was limited, in part, because of Greinke's no-trade clause (he rejected a deal the Royals had previously worked out with the Nationals) and possibly because of (overblown) concerns regarding his bout with social anxiety disorder, which may have kept the big-market Yankees from showing much interest.
Despite these hurdles, Moore found a partner in Doug Melvin's Brewers, who, not far removed from a season-changing swap for Sabathia, were intent on adding an ace-type arm to a club intent on winning immediately. The Brewers would win the NL Central in 2011, despite a fairly pedestrian season from Greinke. But they regressed in 2012, necessitating the midseason swap that sent Greinke to the Angels.
Odorizzi was actually the most-touted piece of the Royals' haul, with some scouts insistent that he could be every bit as impactful to K.C.'s rotation as Greinke was. Jeffress was a big-armed relief prospect battling command issues. Escobar, the closest thing to a "finished" product in this trade (he had already logged 192 games in the big leagues), looked to be, at best, a league-average option at shortstop -- with a strong glove offset, in some measure, by a weak bat.
Cain was the real wild card. He was deemed Major League ready, having posted a .763 OPS in 43 games with the Brew Crew in 2010. Because he didn't play baseball until his sophomore year of high school, there was no telling what the ceiling would be for the soon-to-be 25-year-old.
Looking back, we can see Cain has been the most valuable piece acquired on either side. He's been worth 12.3 Wins Above Replacement just the last two seasons, a do-it-all dynamo at the plate, in center field and on the bases -- as evidenced most viscerally by his first-to-home mad dash with the go-ahead run in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series. Escobar, meanwhile, has matured into a very capable bat for his position, and the Royals' unorthodox use of him in the leadoff spot -- despite his low walk rate -- has worked out wonderfully this postseason, in particular.
Odorizzi had a cup of coffee with the Royals, but his biggest contribution to the organization was his inclusion in another monster swap two years later. The Royals sent Odorizzi, Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to Tampa Bay for James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson. Shields, as advertised, greatly altered the tone of the rotation and was a key figure in the Royals' rise last season before departing in free agency. But Davis has surprisingly morphed from a low-profile starting pitcher to the most dominant reliever in the sport.
By the way, the scuttled deal with the Nats involving Greinke reportedly would have included Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen. So maybe the Greinke trade was destined to impact the Royals positively either way. But the Royals got the best possible deal with Cain and Co.
The Dickey trade
Whereas Greinke was groomed in-house and made a natural progression into top-of-the-rotation form, Dickey's emergence relatively late in his baseball life was a happy accident for the Mets.
It's also one they were quite wise to parlay into more sustainable success.
The Mets had signed the journeyman as a Minor League free agent before 2010 and sent him to Triple-A Buffalo. When a rotation opening presented itself, Dickey stepped in and pitched well early in the season, then again late in the season. He was very solid in '11 and, at times, a fantastic middle-of-the-rotation-type arm for 32 starts. Then, in '12, he was otherworldly -- working 233 2/3 innings with an ERA+ of 139, thanks to the refinement of an unusually hard knuckleball.
After making what some considered to be a half-hearted effort to extend Dickey, who was under contract for 2013 at the more-than-reasonable rate of $5 million, the Mets turned to the trade market. Between their financial picture and contention timetable, investing long term in a 38-year-old with a fluky go-to pitch made little sense, even if Dickey had come to be an extremely popular figure on a club starved for them.
Whether you loved Dickey's story, believed in his knuckleball and knew that prospects are just prospects until proven otherwise, it was hard not to feel that GM Sandy Alderson did well in the Dickey deal at the time it went down. He found an aggressive trade partner in Alex Anthopoulos, who had just done the mega-deal with the Marlins that brought Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson to Toronto. Anthopoulos was at first reluctant but then willing to include his top prospect, d'Arnaud. But the deal didn't get done until he was also willing to kick in the big-armed, big-bodied Syndergaard, contingent upon Dickey signing an extension with his new club.
Really, it would be hard to rate d'Arnaud and Syndergaard outperforming Dickey over a prolonged period of time as a surprise. d'Arnaud profiled as the rare commodity that is a productive catcher, while Syndergaard's raw stuff was incredibly enticing.
The surprise is how quickly those two have become more valuable than the ol' knuckleballer. Per the WAR calculations on Baseball Reference, d'Arnaud and Syndergaard combined to be worth 1 1/2 wins more than Dickey this year -- despite d'Arnaud, who made serious strides at the plate this season, being limited to 67 games by injury and Syndergaard not joining the Mets until midseason.
Syndergaard alone was worth 2.1 WAR in 24 starts, compared to Dickey's 2.3 mark in 33 starts.
Dickey's ERA+ in three seasons with Toronto rates as exactly league average, and his ALCS outing against the Royals was abysmal. Syndergaard will get the nod for Game 3 of the World Series on the heels of his strong 5 2/3 innings in Game 2 against the Cubs (one run allowed on three hits with nine strikeouts), while d'Arnaud hit two homers in the Mets' sweep of Chicago.
As with the Royals, there are various other moves that got the Mets to this point, with the Yoenis Cespedes trade the blockbuster of most immediate note.
But for each of these clubs, trading a Cy Young winner for young talent was an important step on the path to this Fall Classic showdown.