R. A. Dickey’s Hidden Trade Value

The Toronto Blue Jays helped re-ignite the hot stove late Friday night by trading outfielder Ben Revere to Washington for relief pitcher Drew Storen. But while the baseball world was still digesting the trade, Jeff Blair of SportsNet hinted that the Jays might have some more moves up their sleeve:

Later, in response to a Twitter question, Blair estimated the chances of a trade involving Toronto starter R.A. Dickey at about “60/40”. Although Dickey is joined by Jake Arrieta as the only pitchers not named Clayton Kershaw to win the National League Cy Young award since 2011, the knuckleballer is already 41 years old and clearly in the downswing of his career. He’s still plenty reliable, however, in part thanks to his unique pitch arsenal. In fact, FOX Sports insider Ken Rosenthal himself hinted in his latest notes column that the rumors surrounding a trade of Dickey may be overblown and the Blue Jays may prefer to keep him.

Reports surfaced Saturday that the Blue Jays next could trade Dickey, but the team has not had any discussions to that effect, sources say. The Jays are reluctant to trade pitching given their lack of depth, and only three pitchers in the majors have thrown more innings than Dickey in the past five seasons — James Shields, Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez.

That ability to eat innings explains why Dickey has trade value in the first place, despite his underwhelming numbers (3.91 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 101 ERA+) in 2015. He’s not nearly as good as Kershaw or Hernandez, yet the ability to throw over 200 innings per year – which he’s done in each of those five seasons – shouldn’t be overlooked. More so than ever, teams are trying to pace their pitching staff as much as possible to prevent wear and tear on their valuable arms. Dickey’s ability to soak up necessary innings that might otherwise go to younger, less durable pitchers is an extremely huge benefit, and as Rosenthal noted above, Toronto knows it.

The Jays aren’t exactly trading from a position of strength, either – the cost of an epic trade deadline that brought playoff baseball back to Canada for the first time in over two decades was a whopping nine pitching prospects, including several that are major-league ready or almost at that level. As a result, it’s doubtful they’ll have much in the way of emergency options at AAA in 2016. Fortunately, their rotation depth at the big-league level looks decent enough, and it will look a lot better of they end up hanging on to Dickey.

Yet the Jays would be wise to at least dangle Dickey on the trade market, because there are plenty of teams that may need him more than they do. Assuming Blair is correct, at least one mystery National League team is gunning for the right-hander. My guess is one of the five or so clubs in the midst of a full-flung rebuild: the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Rockies, or Reds. Narrowing that list down further, the best fits for Dickey are the Brewers, Rockies, or Braves. All of those teams have holes in their rotations – as well as elite pitching prospects gearing up to have a major impact in 2016. The chance to plug in Dickey in order to buy those prospects some more time to develop may be too much for those teams to resist, and they could actually give up something remotely valuable to acquire him.

It’s also worth noting that even besides the inning-eating ability that makes him so appealing, Dickey perfectly fits the profile of a rebuilding team’s “rental” player. He’s a solid veteran whose contract is up at the end of the season, meaning if he has a strong first half, he could be flipped to a contender in exchange for a rebuilding team’s most valuable commodity: prospects. So even though his role in Toronto could still be important, don’t be surprised if Dickey is wearing a different uniform on Opening Day 2016.

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