R.A. Dickey has no regrets from polarizing Blue Jays tenure

Toronto Blue Jays' outfielder Jose Bautista made some impressive plays, but the Atlanta Braves' offence was dominant as they topped Toronto 10-6, snapping the Blue Jays' 5-game winning streak.

TORONTO – At the end of the 2016 season, after the elation of a second straight post-season trip, the collective disappointment of another American League Championship Series loss, and the personal disappointment of being left off the playoff roster, R.A. Dickey understood it was over with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 42-year-old was a pending free agent, the team had five prime starters under control and had bumped him from the starting rotation in mid-September, leaving him to idle in the bullpen save for one emergency extra-inning appearance. After four sometimes brilliant, sometimes turbulent and too-often underappreciated years together, it was clear their complex relationship had run its course.

“It stoked the fire in me to keep playing because of how it ended here,” Dickey says in an interview Tuesday. “I had pitched fairly well the last month and a half and just didn’t have a chance to contribute in a way I was hoping to contribute, but I never wanted to be a distraction for the team because I was much more into us winning and we had pitchers that were pitching really well, so it was certainly understandable.

“But from a personal standpoint, I was a competitor and I wanted to play and I felt like if I were to leave the game at that point, it wouldn’t really be on my terms. This is another opportunity to do what I know I’m capable of when someone gives me the ball every fifth day and gets out of the way.”

Dickey contemplated retirement before signing an $8-million, one-year deal plus a club option with the Atlanta Braves in November that struck the right balance for the knuckleballer. The proximity to his home in Nashville has made things easier for his family while on the baseball end, the Braves are offering him a chance to tack an epilogue onto his career after his selfless parting with the Blue Jays.

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Amid his disappointment over being relegated to the role of spectator as the Blue Jays chased down a wild-card berth and made a post-season run, he quietly accepted his fate in a professional manner.

“I would probably have responded differently earlier in my career, I probably would have been more externally upset,” says Dickey. “But I’ve grown from that place into a place where in the twilight of my career the only singular focus I have is how can I win a championship. When that’s what you care for, it’s easy to lay down ego and embrace what’s best for the team.

“Now, if I thought I was better than the guys they picked, then I probably would have went into John Gibbons’ office or Mark Shapiro’s or Ross Aktins’ and said as much. But those [other pitchers] deserved to be there – that’s who I wanted out there. When it’s like that, it’s easy to not emote as much as you might otherwise.”

In a sense, that was his final contribution to the Blue Jays, for whom he delivered three straight seasons of 200-plus innings, won 49 games and made 130 starts without missing a turn. There is lots of value in that type of dependability.

Still, his tenure in Toronto will always be viewed through the prism of the Cy Young season he was coming off with the New York Mets, and whom he was traded for – right-hander Noah Syndergaard, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.

The Blue Jays paid an ace price in prospect capital for him but didn’t get quite that level of performance.

“We were looking for a catcher and a pitcher and something else,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said during an interview in the spring. “We had our eye on Syndergaard, we liked [Roberto] Osuna, we liked [Aaron] Sanchez so we would have been happy with any of the three. They’ve all turned out well, a credit to the Blue Jays. And those were the three that were left after they made the deal with the Marlins.

“Most of the negotiation was over d’Arnaud and there was a recognition from Alex [Anthopoulos] that they were going to have to put something else in the deal, a pitcher, and a guy that’s a little ways away.”

While Becerra, currently at advanced-A St. Lucie, was just added to the Mets’ 40-man roster, the return for the Mets could have been even more plentiful as they tried to get shortstop Franklin Barreto, one of the centrepieces in the Josh Donaldson deal Anthopoulos made with Oakland a couple years later.

“We liked Franklin Barreto,” said Alderson, “but we weren’t in a position to dictate which of the two we were going to get.”

The steep price made the trade a polarizing one at the time, and the dismay only grew as Syndergaard emerged into a dominant starter for the Mets. The present-value Dickey provided for a team in a win-now mode became lost as the Blue Jays didn’t reach the post-season in either 2013 or ’14, and fan angst became a constant accompaniment to his ups and downs.


“Part of me really embraced that here. From a lot of people’s viewpoint, I didn’t succeed in being all that was hoped for, but it drove me, it motivated me, it kept me accountable,” says Dickey. “All those things were good for me in the moment and helped me to turn in what were 3½ pretty good years in the AL East. I was not displeased, in retrospect, with the overall body of work that I was able to give the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I had certainly hoped to be a Cy Young Award winner for every year I was here but this was a much greater challenge than I had ever had.”

Dickey’s challenge is a different one now as a bridge player on the building Braves, charged with keeping the team competitive as its young players acclimate to the big-leagues, and in assisting their process along as needed.

“I got the most out of guys I was able to observe, not necessarily the guys who were the loudest,” he says. “I want to be consistent in my work ethic, I want to be consistent in the way that I behave on the mound, in adversity and in success, I want to be an encouragement to my teammates.

“They’ve got some real young studs coming up and they’re trying to protect those guys a bit and still field a competitive team and that’s where we are right now.”

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