R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays Have Already Won American League East by Going for It Where Other Teams Won’t


R.A. Dickey, Josh TholeThe story of R.A. Dickey is one of persistence, of aggressiveness, of making the pitch even when it’s unknown where it will land.

In that way and more, Dickey will fit in just fine with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Dickey, who saw the fruit of years of labor culminate in last year’s National League Cy Young award, is said to be on his way to the Blue Jays after he and the Mets couldn’t find a way to get him a contract extension in New York. Now, the man whose career’s ups and downs have matched his trademark pitch, the knuckleball, has the chance to take his feel-good story, and his hopes for something more, to a club that is looking for the same.

The Blue Jays have spent years as forgotten members in their division. Thanks to their aggressiveness this offseason, though, they’re already winners in at least a few ways.

Toronto has made itself the team to beat in the American League East, and the Jays have done it by replicating what made their opponents so good for so long. They’re now collecting great players instead of trading them away. They’ve been aggressive, but not beyond their means. And, if the trade for Dickey goes through, they’ll have done the one thing this offseason that all contenders must do: Rather than be content with one big offseason move, they’ll have kept building their roster even when it appeared to be sufficiently solid.

The irony of what the Blue Jays are doing is that they’re preying on teams that have tried to do the exact same thing before. If not for the Marlins hoarding All-Stars in hopes of one big rush to the playoffs (they gave it about four months), and if not for the Mets trying to be a big New York team but instead seeing their money disappear into horrible contracts, the Blue Jays would have had to go to the free-agent market like everyone else. But instead they’ve gotten in first, and gotten in on top, and now they’ve got what looks like the best roster in the American League East.

The Blue Jays couldn’t have picked a better time to come to life. While everyone saw the Marlins give away much of their talent midway through last season, few could have expected that the team would further dismantle the roster to the extent that Toronto got half a rotation and a couple of stellar position players for very little effort. In the same way, the Mets keeping Dickey would be a no-brainer in New York — if the hapless Mets weren’t so preoccupied with trying to dig out from under the wreckage of poor management that they only feel comfortable giving out one big contract, to David Wright, while otherwise focusing on rebuilding.

The Blue Jays are proving themselves to be just as aggressive and opportunistic as the AL East teams that have beat them for so many years. They’re also doing it at the expense of those teams.

All across the AL East, teams that could have been contenders are suddenly shy. The Rays just sent James Shield and Wade Davis to the Royals and got the future back. But, combining that with how they looked last year, they may be counting on a bridge year or two. The Yankees are amusingly obsessed with the luxury-tax threshold. While general manager Brian Cashman says that won’t affect championship planning, the amount of short-term contracts and players in their 30s on the New York roster doesn’t scare anybody. The Orioles, while a great story in their 2012 playoff run, have done nothing splashy this offseason. And the Red Sox, of course, are dropping $13 million a year here and there but are veering away from anything drastic.

The Blue Jays took stock of the tentative nature of their division and saw no reason to flounder as the fourth- or fifth-place team. They moved quickly and smartly. They now have a head start to not only win the division but also to have at least three or four years of rope to get their setup to work.

The Jays’ big moves could backfire, of course. The Marlins didn’t find luck with their blend of players, and the Red Sox and other teams have shown that collecting big names at high prices doesn’t guarantee success. Even Dickey could be a disappointment and a money trap.

But there’s good reason to think Toronto will come out on top after all of this, and that’s because the Blue Jays have followed the one rule of baseball dreaming: Why not?

Why not get rid of prospects you don’t know will pan out for two solid starting pitchers and the most electric shortstop in the game? Why not pick up a 38-year-old knuckleballer who has been nothing but a good soldier for his team? Why not give that knuckleballer a contract extension and add a storyline and character to a team that has long been nothing but nondescript?

Toronto is shaping up to be a place where dreams come true, and that’s what makes the Blue Jays the real winner in the American League East. It may be safe to farm out one- or two-year deals (Red Sox), to hedge below the luxury-talk threshold (Yankees), to rebuild for tomorrow (Rays) or to hope miracles happen again in a town where they had all but disappeared for two decades (Orioles).

But it’s a lot more fun to trade away your boring pieces for shine and promise. And it’s irreplaceably great to be the team that steps up for a player who has shown he deserves a great payday, whether he pitches well again or not. A team couldn’t lose by signing Dickey, whatever the cost, and the Blue Jays couldn’t have found a better way to announce a new day for a resurgent franchise than to move for a player who reflects those ideals.

The rest of the American League East is playing not to lose, while the Blue Jays are playing to win — and if not win games and the division, then at least attention and the hearts of fans. Their gamble could come up short, but it wouldn’t put Toronto in any worse of a spot than the team has been in for years.

That’s the thing with a knuckleball, after all. It’s either on or it’s off. But oh, how good it is when it’s on.

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