R.A. Dickey, Travis d'Arnaud

Blue Jays, Mets finalize seven-player R.A. Dickey trade

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R.A. Dickey passed his physical, clearing the final hurdle for his trade to Toronto. Here’s the official transaction:

Blue Jays acquire RHP R.A. Dickey, C Josh Thole and C Mike Nickeas from the Mets for C Travis d’Arnaud, C John Buck, RHP Noah Syndergaard and OF Wuilmer Becerra.

The final two names — those of Nickeas and Becerras — were just revealed today, and that part of the swap certainly favors the Mets. The soon-to-be 30-year-old Nickeas is strictly a third catcher; he’ll be called up to serve as a backup in the event of an injury to J.A. Arrencibia or Thole. Becerra has no track record to speak of — he played in just 11 games in his pro debut last season before getting drilled in the face and suffering a broken jaw — but he’s just 18 and he was a big signing out of Venezuela in 2011.

We also learned that there’s no cash in the deal, meaning that the Mets thought it was worth taking on Buck’s entire salary to get both d’Arnaud and Syndergaard in the deal. Buck was actually slated to be the most expensive player in the deal for 2013; he’s due $6 million, while Dickey was set to make $5 million. However, Dickey will be receiving a bit more now after agreeing to an extension as part of the deal.

That extension rips up Dickey’s previous deal, replacing it with a three-year, $29 million contract that includes a $12 million team option for 2016. It’s a bargain for a reigning Cy Young winner. For comparison’s sake, Zack Greinke will average $24.5 million per season as part of his six-year deal with the Dodgers.

Dickey will head a Toronto rotation also set to include Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Thole will likely serve as the knuckleballer’s personal catcher, with Arencibia handling the rest of the staff.

The Mets, obviously, get less help for 2013. While d’Arnaud may get a chance to compete for a starting job in spring training, expectations are that he’ll spend a couple of months in Triple-A to start the year, pushing back his free agency clock. The Mets will likely go with Buck as a starter and sign a cheap backup, hoping that Buck plays well enough to give himself a little trade value come June or July.

Still, if the Mets felt that had to trade Dickey (though they most certainly didn’t), this isn’t a bad return at all. D’Arnaud has All-Star potential and should be a solid regular at worst. Syndergaard, a 2010 supplemental first-round pick, is one of the game’s top 25 pitching prospects. He’ll open 2013 in high-A ball and perhaps contribute in 2014. Becerra is a lottery ticket.

The Jays are now the obvious favorites in the AL East, barring a surprise blitz from the Yankees. There are still some question marks in the bullpen, but the lineup could challenge for the AL lead in runs and the rotation is as talented as any in the league.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]