TORONTO - Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos paid a steep price to land knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, but he says it was the deal he needed to make for Toronto to be contenders for longer than just next season.
Anthopoulos made another splashy move in an off-season full of them, acquiring the 38-year-old reigning NL Cy Young winner in a bid to improve the Jays' starting rotation.
"We're just so close to contention," Anthopoulos said on a conference call Monday night. "It's not just about one season, this allows us to put what we feel is a contending team together for an extended run, for a three to five year period."
The Jays gave up prized young catcher Travis d'Arnaud to the New York Mets as part of a package.
Toronto then signed Dickey to a two-year contract extension for US$29 million, with a $12-million option for the 2016 season. Dickey was already signed for $5.25 million next year.
The Blue Jays also acquired catcher Josh Thole and minor-league catcher Mike Mickeas, while the Mets received catcher John Buck, minor-league right-hander Noah Syndergaard and minor-league outfielder Wuilmer Beccera.
"As painful as it was to trade the kids that we did trade, it might be three or four years down the road before they become all-star status, or whatever is going to happen to them," said Anthopoulos. "At that time (Jose) Reyes could be gone, (Mark) Buehrle could be gone, (Jose) Bautista could be gone, (Edwin) Encarnacion could be gone. We have no idea what our core will look like."
Dickey was 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA last season, capping his rapid rise from the majors' scrap heap to an ace pitcher. He did it by perfecting a way to throw his floater faster than previous knuckleballers, and tossing it with exceptional control.
"We clearly are convinced this can be a front-line starter for us," said Anthopoulos. "I don't think he gets the credit or the respect he deserves because of his age, and because of what he does throw. And I understand because it's so rare.
"But there's so much overwhelming data and evidence that points to him continuing to have this success."
Dickey is set to become part of a stellar rotation that includes recently acquired Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle and returning starters Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.
"Welcome to the Jays," Romero tweeted. "This pumps me up!!! One goal in mind... Win!!! That's all!!!"
Dickey thanked Mets fans for their backing on Twitter, while saying he was all set to pitch for the Toronto.
"Now that its official, I want to say that I don't have the words to express how grateful I am to you for the steadfast support," Dickey tweeted. "Thank you for making me feel wanted."
"Looking forward to a new chapter with the Jays."
The Blue Jays have missed the playoffs since winning their second straight World Series crown in 1993, and have boldly moved to reshape a team that went 73-89 last season in the rugged AL East.
Last month, they acquired a high-priced trio of all-stars — Johnson, Buehrle and former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes — in a 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins.
Toronto then signed free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, an all-star outfielder with San Francisco whose season ended when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test.
Anthopoulos says he isn't ready to sit back and evaluate his busy off-season.
"I look back when the results are in," he said. "We have no idea how any of this is going to turn out. Clearly we believe in the moves that were making. The goal was to make this team better and add some innings to the rotation and that's what we continue to try and do."
Thole gives the Blue Jays a catcher who is familiar with handling Dickey's knuckleball. He joined a lineup that features former home run champ Bautista and Encarnacion, who hit 42 homers last season.
Thole's relationship with Dickey was key to the deal, says the Jays GM.
"It was 100 per cent a factor. R.A. is too important to our chances to take a chance and have a tryout camp to see if someone can catch him.
"The fact that R.A. had so much success, and improved with him, and we all know the importance of the relationship between a catcher and a starter, especially what he's throwing."
Thole, 26, hit .234 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 104 games last season.
D'Arnaud turns 24 in February. He hit .333 at triple-A Las Vegas with 16 homers and 52 RBIs before tearing a knee ligament trying to break up a double play in June. He has been an all-star at several levels during his climb through the minors.
The Los Angeles Angels and Texas also had been interested in Dickey before the Blue Jays swooped in.
Popular with Mets fans, Dickey perturbed team management when he spoke about his contract situation last week during a club event at Citi Field for children displaced from their schools by Superstorm Sandy.
Dickey said he enjoyed playing for the Mets and added it would be "disappointing" if he went through his option year without a new deal and became a free agent.
"If that's the decision that they make, I feel like it would be unfortunate because it probably is going mean that I'm not going to be back," Dickey said then. "And that would be sad."
Buck was an all-star with Toronto in 2010. The 32-year-old hit .192 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs for Miami last season, then was part of the big trade between Marlins and Blue Jays.
The 20-year-old Syndergaard went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA for class-A Lansing. The 18-year-old Becerra hit .250 with four RBIs in 11 games in the rookie Gulf Coast League.
Nickeas split last season with the Mets and triple-A Buffalo. The 29-year-old hit .174 with one homer and 13 RBIs for New York.
— With files from The Associated Press.