Should M’s Make a Play for R.A. Dickey?
Tonight, the Reds, Indians, and Diamondbacks completed a three-way trade that may very well have some real implications for the Mariners. The Reds sent shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius to Arizona, the D’Backs shipped Trevor Bauer to Cleveland, and the Indians sent Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. There was some other stuff involved too, but for the Mariners purposes, those are the names that matter. And they mostly matter because Arizona finally landed the young shortstop they’ve been trying to acquire all winter.
Which means that they’re probably going to stop trying to trade Justin Upton, who was a primary target of the Texas Rangers. And that means that the Rangers are now more likely to re-sign Josh Hamilton, who is apparently a target of the Mariners. Welcome to Six Degrees of Shin-Soo Choo.
I know some people got fired up by the idea of the Mariners signing Josh Hamilton. And, who knows, they still might. But if Hamilton does decide to go back to Texas, and Arizona does decide to keep Upton, and just for the sake of argument, let’s say Nick Swisher doesn’t want to come to Seattle… what then? Besides the media freakout from people who don’t understand that a team can win without a 35 home run guy in right field, I mean? That would happen, but what else could the team do to improve if Hamilton, Swisher, and Upton were off the board?
How about go the other way entirely and acquire the one impact guy who we know for a fact is definitively available in trade? R.A. Dickey.
If you haven’t been following along, the reigning NL Cy Young winner has one year left on his contract, and he has been negotiating with the Mets on a new deal for a few months now. Most reports suggest that he’s asking for a two year extension at $13 million per year, which would begin in 2014, making the total commitment from the Mets $31 million over three years. The Mets apparently countered with a 2/16 extension, which would have paid him $21 million over those same three years, or about the same amount that Marco Scutaro just signed for. You can see why he hasn’t re-signed yet.
Apparently, the Mets recently increased their offer to 2/20, which equals out to 3/25 overall — Jeremy Guthrie money, so, yeah, still a steal for the Mets — and now they’re only $6 million apart, so it seems like something should get done. But, at the same time, the Mets have actively shopped Dickey around the league, and as Jon Heyman wrote today, they continue to make him available for the right offer even as they draw closer to a middle ground on an extension.
In fact, in that piece, Heyman notes that “at least a couple teams have offered one elite prospect for Dickey, but the Mets are looking for multiple players back in a package.”
The Mets want multiple young players in exchange for Dickey. Dickey is willing to sign a more-than-reasonable contract extension with the Mets, and you can probably infer that he’d be willing to sign a reasonable extension with a team that trades for him as well, especially if he had some comfort level with the organization and the area. You can probably see where I’m going with this.
All winter long, people have been trying to figure out what they can get for some kind of package involving Nick Franklin and James Paxton. First it was Justin Upton, then Alex Gordon, then Wil Myers… pretty much every interesting young outfielder in Major League Baseball has been traded for Nick Franklin and James Paxton on some Mariner blog at some point this off-season. Obviously, the Mariners couldn’t make any of those moves in real life, so Paxton and Franklin remain, even though they are somewhat superfluous to the organization given the other assets already in place here. It doesn’t mean the Mariners have to trade them, but you can bet that they probably would if given the chance to acquire an impact player.
And, while he’s not a power hitting right fielder, Dickey qualifies as an impact player. Over the last three years, Dickey has allowed 3.28 runs per nine innings. For comparison, Felix has allowed 3.31 runs per nine innings over the same time period. You have to account for the different leagues, different parks, and different number of innings, of course, but even after you do all that, Dickey still grades out as a top notch starting pitcher. By a runs allowed based WAR — knuckleballers are an exception to FIP, so you should use RA9-wins for Dickey instead of FIP-wins — Dickey has been worth +15 WAR over the last three years; Felix is at +18, or about one additional win per year.
Other guys around +15 RA9-wins from 2010-2012: Matt Cain, Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Tim Hudson, and Ian Kennedy. CC Sabathia is at +17. Cole Hamels and David Price join Felix in the +18 crowd. Put simply, Dickey has been similarly valuable to the best pitchers in baseball over the last three years. He simply was not a one year wonder. He’s been excellent for the past 600 innings, and is probably the best player on the market right now, even including Hamilton.
As we’ve noted many times before, the Mariners could use another starting pitcher. Blake Beavan is basically a replacement level scrub, and none of the team’s pitching prospects look like they’re ready to contribute in the big leagues. Replacing Beavan with R.A. Dickey would likely constitute a larger upgrade than bringing in any right fielder, even Hamilton, Swisher, or Upton.
And, if Dickey is willing to sign an extension for something along the lines of what he’s asking for the Mets, then he’s not really a Cliff Lee style one year rental. Instead, Dickey should be viewed as a guy under team control for the next three years at something in the $30 to $35 million range.
Yes, Dickey’s a 38-year-old, but he’s also a knuckleballer, and knucklers just don’t age like normal pitchers. They’re often just as effective in their late 30s and early 40s as they were earlier in their careers, and it’s not uncommon for a knuckleballer’s best years to come after traditional pitchers have long since retired. If we grade Dickey out as a +15 win pitcher over the last three years, then I’d expect he’ll be a +10 to +12 win pitcher over the next three years. You have to adjust the number of innings downwards, but it’s unlikely that Dickey’s knuckler is just going to stop getting big league hitters out any time soon.
So, if we see Dickey as a +4 win player in 2013, and then maybe a +3ish win pitcher in the following two seasons, he’d be a pretty huge steal at $30 to $35 million over those three years. And all of the sudden, giving up Paxton and Franklin for a 38-year-old pitcher doesn’t look so crazy.
In fact, because of his $5 million salary in 2013, the choice isn’t really between Dickey or a right fielder. The Mariners could easily afford to have both. Even if they sign Hamilton or Swisher, they’re likely to have enough payroll space left to squeeze Dickey into the budget if they so desired, and the combination of both Dickey and an impact right fielder could add something in the range of +7 to +10 WAR to the Mariners roster next year. If you’re super bullish on Dickey repeating his 2012 season, maybe even +12.
It would be a go-for-it kind of move, and probably wouldn’t go over all that well in Seattle, especially if it wasn’t paired with the signing of a “big bat”. But, Dickey would represent a pretty monstrous upgrade for the Mariners, and he is available, potentially at a price in talent that the team can afford. If the pieces the Mariners have to trade won’t land them a big offensive upgrade, perhaps those pieces can land them a big pitching upgrade. It’s at least worth kicking the tires on. And if the Mets told Jack tomorrow that they’d ship Dickey to Seattle for Paxton and Franklin, and that Dickey would sign the same extension with the Mariners that he wants from the Mets, I’d suggest pulling the trigger.
Wins are wins, no matter what form they come in. R.A. Dickey would make the Mariners a lot better in a hurry. If he can be had for something like Paxton and Franklin, then I hope Jack is at least exploring the option.