As we move away from the World Series and baseball's offseason drags along through the frigid winter months, the hot stove becomes sort of a daily waiting game for the diehard baseball fan. In those moments of waiting, when you're bored and yearning for baseball to return, suddenly there's only one game available and it typically involves refreshing the internet browser to see when your favorite team will make a transaction. You probably won't admit to it but I'm sure many of you are guilty of doing it in moments of weakness. "Just make a move already!"
Often when something happens, the move is inconsequential, the type of housekeeping that teams must go through every winter to prepare for the next season. A marginal player is taken off the 40-man roster. Somebody else is designated for assignment or claimed on waivers. Another random guy signs a minor league contract. Typical. Once in a while, however, those transactions will pay off in an unforeseen way and your team hits the jackpot.
Enter the Mets, who on December 21, 2009, inked veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to a relatively ordinary minor league contract. Dickey, a 35-year old MLB journeyman at the time, had had little success in the big leagues to that point and appeared (and ultimately was) ticketed for the team's Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, where he'd serve as veteran depth and maybe even a de facto coach to the Mets minor leaguers. Ho-hum, right?
As we all recall, Dickey made it up to the big leagues early in 2010 when the Mets had an opening in their rotation and he pitched well initially. Then he pitched well for the rest of 2010. Then, he pitched well all throughout 2011 before he pitched fantastically in 2012, reeling in a Cy Young award for his phenomenal season. For Dickey, it was the culmination of years of hard work in the minors and majors. For the Mets, it was a story of a footnote signing turning a headliner. Despite being a couple of years removed from all of that, Dickey's legacy with the Mets isn't complete, either, as he was subsequently dealt to the Blue Jays for a large return that offseason. All of that from a single minor league signing.
Here's the question I'd like to pose: is R.A. Dickey the best minor league signing in Mets franchise history and could he end up becoming one of the greatest minor league signings in the history of Major League Baseball?
Let's take a look at the value Dickey has provided to the Mets thus far. From 2010-2012, Dickey was excellent for the Mets, making 91 starts and throwing 616.2 innings with a 2.95 ERA. All in all, that performance was worth 12.9 wins by Baseball Reference's estimate and the Mets paid all of around $8 million in total to get it. On its own, that's an incredibly valuable minor league signing before you factor in the trade that netted the Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, current top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, catcher John Buck, and outfield prospect Wuilmer Becerra.
The value of the trade return becomes a little trickier to parse, given the fact that two of players have yet to see big league time (Syndergaard and Becerra), another of them (Buck) was packaged with another excellent minor league signing in Marlon Byrd to net the Mets second baseman Dilson Herrera and reliever Vic Black in 2013, and that d'Arnaud only has a little over a season in the major leagues. It appears, though, that the Mets could reap a great deal of value from d'Arnaud, Syndergaard, Black, and maybe Herrera in 2015, 2016, and beyond. That's a lot of promising players who likely never would've been on the Mets today had they not signed R.A. Dickey in December 2009. Maybe things don't end up working out as hoped with them but it's still an impressive list of young players.
Now that we're in the post-Super Bowl, pre-spring training lull period of the offseason, it's easy to see these kinds of signings and think nothing of them. Sometimes you might even laugh at them. The Mets inked lefty pitcher Duane Below to a minor league contract yesterday and it was paid little to no mind by most. In searching Below's background, I found little more than minor league statistics and a vague scouting report here and there. But once in a while, one of those signings works out far better than anyone could've ever imagined when they were sitting at their computer, refreshing the browser, waiting for a transaction to happen. Anything can happen and for me, that's part of what makes baseball so great.