In 2011, the Mets had the reigning National League batting champion in Jose Reyes.
He took his talents to South Beach.
In 2012, R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award throwing his juiced-up knuckleball.
Now he's across the border.
But that's not to say Mets fans should wish the same ill will on Dickey as they do on Reyes. Reyes had hustle issues, pulled himself out in the first inning of his last game as a Met to save his batting title and fled to sunny Florida to play for division rival Miami.
If you know anything at all about R.A. Dickey, you know you can't hate him. The journeyman knuckleballer won 20 games for the first time and collected his first All-Star appearance and Cy Young this past year at the age of 37. With his grizzly beard and love of Star Wars, Dickey looks like he belongs at a comic book convention more than a ballpark, yet the guy is a flat-out bulldog competitor that hustles more than guys 20 years younger than him.
But baseball is a business. After Zach Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez and other free agents signed monster contracts, the Mets knew that the market was beginning to thin out for pitchers, and that many teams were still interested in a legitimate ace. New York also knew that they could not pay Dickey a competitive rate in line with the three pitchers mentioned above.
So they sold high. And for the first time in a long time.
This was a must-make deal for the Mets. I love Dickey as much as anyone, but why gamble on a large contract for a 38-year-old knuckleballer when you can acquire a much-needed catcher for the future, a major league-ready catcher, a 20-year-old flamethrower and an outfield prospect that could make a major impact on the team in a few years?
The biggest return back, catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, is a stud. Entering 2012, he was rated the 17th-best prospect in all of baseball, and had it not been for a knee injury (which won't affect him this year), he easily would have finished in the top five. If d'Arnaud pans out, the entire trade would have been worth it.
But what is the best-case scenario for Mets fans?
The easy answer would be to say that everyone the Mets received makes the All-Star Game and everyone they gave up tanks in Canada, but fans have emotional bonds to their players, and I highly doubt that any true Mets fan would like to see Dickey fail.
In a perfect world, John Buck finds his 2010 form (.281 batting average, 21 home runs) and proves himself to be a reliable everyday option for the Mets to begin the season. If this is the case, d'Arnaud can start the year in Triple-A, get a couple games (or many games if Buck is really playing well) under his belt and then make his major league debut later in the year. Plus, if the catcher is down in Triple-A for at least the first 20 games, the Mets will have him under team control for another year.
When d'Arnaud does make it to the big leagues, he performs as well as all the scouts and executives expected. He has legitimate 30 home run potential, and at his young age he could be one of the premiere catchers in the game for a decade or more.
Down in the minors, Noah Syndergaard keeps developing a curveball and change-up to go with his mid-90s fastball as he rapidly moves up the levels. While he likely won't be in the show in 2013, hopefully he progresses quickly enough to make an impact in 2014. Along with other super-prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the three combine to be the East Coast version of the A's Tim Hudson, Mike Mulder and Barry Zito.
Wuilmer Becerra keeps growing in the minors (he's only 18), and he also makes an impact around 2015 or 2016, becoming an everyday outfielder for the Mets.
The guys they send to Canada also find moderate success. While no fan wants to see Dickey win another Cy Young, which would make us regret the Mets ever trading him, we wish for 15-or-so wins for the knuckleballer, with an ERA in the mid-threes.
As for Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, Mets fans respect them as great character guys, but despise them for the miserable seasons they've put together in New York. If Thole somehow finds his swing and remembers how to play baseball while in Canada, he will be booed out of the stadium if he ever returns to Citi Field.
The worst-case scenario is simple.
The Mets rolled the dice in acquiring three young prospects, and there's always a huge chance in baseball that prospects won't pan out. D'Arnaud has already had a knee issue and Syndergaard is a raw talent, so both of them will need to work hard and stay on the right track off the field to improve their chances of making it in the big leagues.
But now, let's be realistic.
R.A. Dickey is a tremendous pitcher, but he's going to the American League, which is a hitter-dominant league. He will face the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles on a weekly basis, along with loaded lineups like that of the Angels. He will most likely win between 12 and 15 games with an ERA in the high threes, which wouldn't make for a bad year in that division by any means.
Thole is going to Toronto because the Blue Jays lost two catchers and need someone who can catch the knuckleball. They don't expect him to be an impact player, but rather a caddy for Dickey. He'll catch around 40 or 50 games and hit close to .250 with a homer or two.
Nickeas is headed north to be the second catcher in return, and a back-up option if Thole gets hurt and they need someone else with experience catching the knuckleball. If he plays more than five big league games this year, I will be shocked.
John Buck will probably have a decent year for the Mets, hitting around .250 with about 15 home runs. He will provide some protection for David Wright and Ike Davis in the lineup and also be a great influence on a very young pitching staff.
D'Arnaud will probably come up about halfway through the season. He may have some first-year struggles, but he'll finish with about a .260 batting average and a handful of home runs this year before breaking out for 20 in 2014.
Syndergaard probably won't make the team this year, but could make a serious impact in 2014 when Johan Santana is gone. I expect him to have a long major league career and win 20 games somewhere down the road. He'll likely spend this year in Double-A, winning two-thirds of his starts and averaging more than a strikeout per inning.
The Mets wouldn't have made this deal if they didn't think they were getting away with murder. By making the move, they saved money and improved a position they drastically needed to improve while also solidifying their pitching staff for the future.
As I previously mentioned, prospects come with no guarantees, but these guys have what it takes to make Mets fans glad their team shipped away a lovable knuckleballer.