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Dickey trade may be final piece in getting Blue Jays back to October

Photo: Brad Mills/USA Today Sports

R.A. Dickey is just the latest big-name player to head to the Blue Jays this offseason.

The Canadian currency of choice these days has less to do with dollars and exchange rates and more to do with prospects and exchanges of talent.

Recognizing that the American League East is more uncertain and ripe for the taking than at any other point in the last 15 years, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has seized the moment this offseason with a series of bold strokes, most notably his willingness to trade several of his many highly regarded prospects for proven, veteran major leaguers.

The latest is a seven-player swap, first reported by FoxSports.com, that sends National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto in exchange for two of the Jays' top prospects, catcher Travis D'Arnaud and righthander Noah Snydergaard.

The deal is dependent on Dickey signing a contract extension with Toronto by Tuesday afternoon and passing a physical. Various reports on Monday said the two sides had reached agreement on a new contract.

Presuming the trade is finalized, the Blue Jays will have rebuilt three-fifths of an ailing rotation, found a premium shortstop and received a second baseman all through two trades five weeks apart. In so doing, they have swiftly remade themselves from a stalled-out builder to an instant contender.

This process of team construction didn't quite evolve organically or, presumably, the way Anthopoulos envisioned it, with homegrown players developing through the system into stars and regulars in Toronto. Instead, after seeing the Blue Jays' win total decrease from 85 in 2010 to 81 in '11 and then to 73 last year, he jumpstarted everything by trading some of his blue-chip players rather than hoping they reached the majors quickly and had success concurrently.

Not so long ago, prospects for some teams were almost supposed to be traded, a regular roster remedy that seemed as certain as the old baseball adages of "records were meant to be broken" and "managers were hired to be fired." In the last decade, however, the dynamic of the sport has changed considerably, with free agent prices skyrocketing and thus the value of prospects also rising, as they became a cost-controlled, though unproven, alternative.

The Jays haven't traded away any one single young player of the same caliber of, say, Wil Myers -- the minor league player of the year whom the Royals shipped in a package to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis -- but Toronto's acquisition cost in its trades with the Marlins and Mets have been nevertheless steep.

On Nov. 19, the Jays sent seven players to the Marlins and took on some $160 million in salary to acquire four former All-Stars -- shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle and catcher John Buck (though Buck was coming off down year and the Jays had no shortage of catchers) -- and a possible everyday player, second baseman Emilio Bonifacio. To get Dickey, another All-Star, they would be trading four players, including d'Arnaud, who is arguably the best catching prospect in baseball.

Anthopoulos deserves credit not only for his maneuvering this offseason but also for stockpiling the necessary high-level prospects to put the organization in position to make these moves. He emphasized scouting and development after his hire in late 2009, hiring a new scouting director six days after his own promotion and expanding his number of scouts by more than three dozen.

After taking over as GM, Anthopoulos demurred when asked about his "rebuilding" plan in Toronto because the franchise hadn't won 90 games or made the playoffs since their back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and '93. Thus, they weren't rebuilding anything, per se. Just building.

"To me, you're always building until you get to the postseason," Anthopoulos told SI in an interview before the 2010 season. ". . . Whether you win 75 games or 85 games, that's not good enough to get into the playoffs."

That's why the Dickey trade is so critical, as the extra wins his acquisition ought to ensure may well be the difference in vaulting the Jays toward and maybe past the 90-win threshold when each win is most valuable, as Jay Jaffe explained in Hit and Run.

Importantly, Anthopoulos didn't stack everything for a one-year, all-or-nothing strike for AL East supremacy but, rather, he simultaneously hedged his bets by propping open the club's window of contention with multi-year contracts; every new player except Johnson is under team control for at least two seasons. Incumbent sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both signed through 2015 with club options for 2016.

Now certainly there are risks and gambles taken with any transaction and that may be especially true with the series of moves Toronto has made. Johnson's surgically-repaired shoulder may be balky. Buehrle's soft-tossing, flyball-pitching ways may not translate well to a homer-happy ballpark and division. The oft-injured Reyes will now be playing home games on turf. Dickey will be using his knuckleball as an AL starter for the first time. Then there is Melky Cabrera, the tarnished outfielder Anthopoulos signed as a free agent who will try and reinvent himself after his PED suspension.

Unrelated to the Hot Stove, there are questions about how Bautista's wrist will fare after surgery last year, whether Encarnacion's 42 homers were sustainable or a one-year wonder and whether Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and Ricky Romero can each return to their form of a few seasons ago.

But on paper the new players fill the Blue Jays' most dire needs. Buehrle, Dickey and Johnson staff a rotation whose ERA last year was 4.82, which ranked 25th in the majors. Reyes takes over at shortstop, a position where Toronto's players combined for a .647 OPS, good for only 23rd in the majors. Cabrera becomes the new leftfielder, where the Jays had a .656 OPS last season, which was 26th out of the 30 teams.

The numbers that really matter -- and that will prove whether this winter's gambit worked --- will be Toronto's 2013 win total. Not since 2000 has an AL East team won the division with fewer than 95 wins or made the playoffs with fewer than 91. That's the benchmark to which Anthopoulos and the Jays have been building.

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