The Atlanta Braves have signed free agent pitcher R.A. Dickey to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million, with an $8 million club option for 2018.
Dickey was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 1996 MLB draft, and he was one considered of baseball’s top prospects until it was discovered that he was missing the ulterior cruciate ligament in his right elbow—a fact that should have made something as simple as turning a doorknob nearly impossible, let alone hurling a baseball. He made his debut with the Rangers in 2001, and pitched parts of five seasons there before being granted his free agency and playing with the Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, and Minnesota Twins. All in all, Dickey was ineffective, posting a 5.43 ERA in 442.2 innings split between the starting rotation and bullpen.
In an unheralded move, then-GM Omar Minaya signed the 35-year-old knuckleballer to a minor league contract in early 2010, extending to him an invitation to spring training. Little did anybody know that when the veteran hurler was called up to the major league roster in mid-May, he would not only change Amazin’ Avenue, but he would change the entire Mets organization. He would wind up making 27 starts for the Mets that year, posting a team-best 2.84 ERA. The knuckleballer signed a two-year contract with the Mets in early 2011 and came into the season with job security for virtually the first time in his career. He did not disappoint, posting a team-best 3.28 ERA in 208.2 innings.
For as good as Dickey had been in 2010 and 2011, nothing could have prepared us for how good he was in 2012. After starting the season off solid-but-unspectacular, the 37-year-old knuckleballer went on a roll of dominance that placed him among the best not only in Mets franchise history, but in all of baseball. Along the way, he became the first Mets pitcher since Pedro Martinez to strike out ten or more batters in consecutive games, became the first pitcher since Dave Steib in 1988 to throw consecutive one-hitters, the third pitcher in baseball history—along with Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan—to pitch two complete game one-hitters with 12 or more strikeouts in one season, and the first pitcher in baseball history to pitch two consecutive complete game one-hitters with 12 or more strikeouts in one season. He broke Jerry Koosman’s franchise record for most innings pitched without allowing a run and set a new record at 32.2 innings, was named an All-Star at the first All-Star Game held at Citi Field, won his 20th game in front of a home town crowd of 31,506, and won the National League Cy Young Award, the first time that a pitcher utilizing the knuckleball had ever done so.
After weeks of speculation, among rumors of conflict between the pitcher and the Mets’ front office, Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. In exchange, the Mets received a pair of top prospects in Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, an outfield prospect in Wuilmer Becerra, and a major league ready catcher in John Buck. In the four years that Dickey played with Toronto, he was nowhere near as effective as he had been with the Mets, posting a 4.05 ERA in 824.1 innings. John Buck, meanwhile, had a productive season with the Mets, and was eventually traded for reliever Vic Black and second base prospect Dilson Herrera. Travis d’Arnaud has shown growing pains, but has flashed the potential that made him the centerpiece in not only one, but two trades for Cy Young Award winners. Noah Syndergaard matured into one of the top pitchers in the National League, and at the tender age of 24, should remain so for years to come. Wuilmer Becerra is still in the minor leagues and remains an intriguing prospect.
Signing the 42-year-old veteran was high on Atlanta general manager John Coppolella’s to-do list because of his veteran presence and ability to eat innings. The knuckleballer has pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past five seasons, averaging 219 innings pitched during that period. Julio Teheran, the staff ace, is the only other Braves pitcher to come close to throwing that many innings, averaging a shade under 200 innings pitched over the last four years. Along with Teheran, Dickey will be anchoring a rotation that includes Mike Foltynewicz, Josh Collmenter, Matt Wisler, and Aaron Blair.
"I've grown up a Braves fan and have always admired the organization," Dickey said. "So having the opportunity to play for the team that I grew up watching in Nashville when TBS was really the only channel we had is really an honor…I'm happy to be part of the organization because I feel we have a chance to be competitive in a very competitive division."