On Oscar night, ordinary civilians are assigned to fill seats when someone like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie gets up to present or receive an award. (Empty seats look bad on TV.) That’s what R.A. Dickey is to the Atlanta Braves: He has been hired to keep a seat warm until someone more gifted comes along.
In 2012, Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award. The Mets promptly traded him to Toronto, and it was a far better deal for the New Yorkers — they received Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in return — than the Blue Jays. With Toronto, Dickey was pretty good for three seasons.
Last year he stopped being even pretty good. He worked 169 2/3 innings with an ERA of 4.46. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 5.03, which was sixth-worst in the majors among qualifying starters. He wasn’t included on the Blue Jays’ postseason roster for either the ALDS or the ALCS. The late-season addition of Francisco Liriano rendered him the sixth-best starting pitcher on his team.
The Braves will be happy if he’s their fifth-best starting pitcher next season. They’ve signed him as a free agent for one year, with a club option for another. He’s 42 years old and, even though he throws the minimally taxing knuckleball, he’s near the end. That’s fine. The Braves don’t need him to pitch until he’s 50. They only need him until a couple of their younger arms — Allard and Anderson, or Fried and Soroka, or Newcomb and Toussaint, or Wentz and Muller — are ready.
The biggest disappointment of last season was the regression of Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair. The Braves said they were going to sign at least two veteran starting pitchers to fill out their rotation. Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz are set. Josh Collmenter, whom the Braves bought from the Cubs in mid-September, made three starts and just re-upped for next season. He’s a possibility. Dickey is a definite.
The fifth starter could be, depending on who shows the most in spring training, Wisler or Blair. If neither shows anything, the Braves will need one more starter. This week MLB Trade Rumors linked them to Jason Hammel, who was omitted from the Cubs’ postseason roster and whose option was then declined by the club. Me, I’m intrigued by the notion of Bartolo Colon, largely (but not entirely) for entertainment purposes. He is, however, a year older than Dickey.
I’d be shocked if the Braves’ arm-shopping is done. They’ve been linked to the Rays’ Chris Archer, who’s 28 and who’s signed through 2019 (with team options thereafter), but a lot of other teams want him, too. Tampa Bay tends to move slowly, and it would want you’d expect for a gifted pitcher in his prime — a basket of prospects. The Braves have said they’re reluctant to part with any of their lovingly assembled youngsters. Archer might be tantalizing enough to make them reconsider.
Back to Dickey: This is a logical move for him. He’s from Nashville; he lives there still. He gets to keep pitching and drawing a salary — earlier reports had him mulling retirement — and there’s no reason he and his knuckleball can’t do what’s being asked: To eat a bunch of innings, to give the Braves a reasonable chance to win and, most of all, to buy time for the young arms.
Further reading: The remade Braves have become a place to be.
Still further: The Cubs are champs. The Braves are on the clock.