free agent signing

Braves make first free agent signing of the year

The seal has been broken by the Atlanta Braves. They’ve made the first free agent signing of the offseason; R.A. Dickey.

Dickey, who turned 42 on October 29, was a first round draft pick of the Texas Rangers – way back in 1996. He spent a significant amount of time playing for the Rangers, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays with short stints in Seattle., Milwaukee and Minnesota. 

Now he’ll join the Braves in his age 42 season. Dickey won a Cy Young Award with the Mets in 2012, leading the league in games started, innings pitched and strikeouts. He also led the league pitching five complete games, three of which were shutouts. He won 20 games in 2012 while posting a 2.73 ERA all at the age of 37. Dickey won a Gold Glove the following year with Toronto.

Still, is this a good move by the Braves. If they want an innings eater they got one in in Dickey who has led the league in innings pitched three times and started the most number of games three years straight from 2012-2014. 

HIs career ERA isn’t the best at 4.01, finishing last season with an ERA of 4.46 going back to what appears to be his old habits. He’s finished the season with an ERA under four in just five of his 14 big league seasons. 

free agent signing
R.A. Dickey. Getty Images.

Dickey is somewhat of a medical miracle. He has no ulnar collateral ligament in his  right elbow joint which is the ligament that is usually fixed during Tommy John surgery. Doctors were shocked that he could pitch with no pain. Still, his time in Texas was disappointing as he had just a mid-80’s fastball, a below average changeup and a pitch he named “The Thing.”

It got so bad that the Rangers demoted DIckey to the minors. Dickey started to turn things around in 2007 while playing in the Brewers farm system and winning the award for Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year. He signed a minor league deal with the Twins but was taken by Seattle in the Rule 5 draft.

Still, he hadn’t perfected his pitch “The Thing” and it would be what Dickey would need to turn his career around. “The Thing” is a forkball or fast knuckleball. Dickey realized that he needed to perfect that pitch in order to save his career. Fortunately he did and he is one of just two active players in a big league starting rotation that throws a knuckleball, the other being Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. 

While with the Mets, Dickey perfected his knuckleball. Famous knuckleballer Phil Niekro, who pitched from 1960-1987, had this to say about the knuckleball,

“It’s not your second or third pitch. It’s your pitch. Everything comes off your knuckleball.”

Dickey’s career began to turn around and he has since posted an ERA under 4.00 in five of his last seven seasons while winning his CY Young and an all-star appearance. 

Still at 42 years old and having gone 10-15 with a 4.46 ERA in 2016 this could be a risk being taken by Atlanta. That said their choices are limited and knuckleballers often have longer careers than other pitchers.

“A regular guy can get away with a 95 MPH pitch down the middle,” says former knuckleballer turned Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching coordinator Charlie Haeger. “We don’t get away with those very often. The process is longer, but the career can be extended with what we are doing, too.

The team is supposedly looking for three starting pitchers to join Julio Teheran and Josh Collmenter, and the free agent market for starters in the thinnest it has been in years. So signing Dickey could end up being either a disaster for the Braves or they may have found a diamond in the rough on the free agent market.

If they do, in fact,  find two more good pitchers during the offseason, expect Dickey to slide in the fifth rotation spot. Regardless, the Braves have made the first free agent signing by most this year, expect more to come and come quickly, both by the Braves and many other teams over the offseason.

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