The Braves seem committed to fielding a competitive product next year. I don’t think we see eye-to-eye on this — the way I figure, it’s not yet time for the Braves to attempt to push forward. But I also can’t bring myself to be too critical of an operation that wants to build a winner for its fans, so I’m just looking for the Braves to keep from getting too aggressive. There’s nothing wrong with making affordable upgrades. And the Braves have made their first, signing R.A. Dickey for one year and a guaranteed $8 million. Dickey is back to being a starter in the NL East.
This is not about the Braves suddenly being a great team. This is not about Dickey suddenly being a great starter. But, you know what kind of shape the free-agent market is in, with regard to starting pitchers. You’ve seen some of the numbers thrown around when talking about Ivan Nova. Nova is a lock to get three years, and he could get four, or even five. And, well, Nova’s almost 30. Dickey just turned 42. But last year, Dickey had the worse ERA- by just four points. Over the past two years, Dickey has been better, by 10 points. Over the past three years, he’s been better by 19 points.
As far as just 2017 goes, I’m not convinced Nova will be better than Dickey. I know, I know, Ray Searage magic and everything, but Nova’s track record is unimpressive, and his contract will come with a ton of risk. Dickey isn’t nearly so risky. He projects to be basically the same as Jeremy Hellickson, Jason Hammel, Edinson Volquez, and Andrew Cashner. Dickey has been basically the same pitcher in Toronto for four years, and he practically never misses a start. With any knuckleballer, you think of the pitch as being unreliable. Pitch-to-pitch, that might be true, but Dickey himself is remarkably consistent.
He’s something in the vicinity of an average pitcher, and you can put him in for 30+ starts in ink. The Braves might not yet be within that competitive bubble, but last year, no other baseball team used as many starting pitchers as they did. They entered the offseason with an assortment of question marks behind Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, and Dickey is a useful stopgap. Maybe he won’t teach a younger player a nifty changeup grip or whatever, but there’s value in reliability. There’s value in fielding a better major-league product, and the Braves got Dickey without giving anything up. It’s not a bad way to start the push.
If the Braves want to win 80+ games in the season ahead, they need to make so many improvements. This is one they can cross off. Pitchers who are equally average are going to receive far bigger commitments, and they are unlikely to look very good.