R.A. Dickey Rangers Rumors: Is NL Cy Young Winner Better Move Than Zack Greinke?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 10, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25:  R.A. Dickey #43 of the New York Mets pitches against the Houston Astros at Citi Field on August 25, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers were unable to sign 2009 American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, as he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend for six years and $147 million.

Oh well. Maybe now the Rangers will trade for 2012 National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey instead.

In fact, maybe that should have been their plan all along.

For the record, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News has heard that the Rangers are at least considering the New York Mets knuckleballer as a Plan B after missing out on Greinke:

Sources: Texas expressed willingness to Mets to move Olt for Dickey. BUT I'm told it will take more than just Olt for Mets to move Dickey.

— Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) December 9, 2012

If the Rangers are going to insist that the deal be centered around Mike Olt, it's going to be tough for the two sides to hammer something out. The Mets need young players, but they don't have a need for Olt at either third base or first base with David Wright and Ike Davis already in place.

Still, this is a case where the Rangers may be desperate to find a way, given their desire for an ace and how quickly they're running out of options. There's also the possibility that the Rangers will go out of their way to acquire Dickey, because they view him as a better fit for them than Greinke ever was.

Hey, you never know. This probably isn't the case seeing as how ESPN's Jayson Stark said last week that Greinke was at the top of the club's wish list, but it's a notion that's surprisingly easy to justify.

There's no question that Greinke is going to be the better pitcher five or six years down the road, as he'll just be hitting his mid 30s, and Dickey, who is 38 now, will probably already be retired. But since the Rangers are trying to win now, a better question for them is who the better pitcher is right now.

The traditional numbers point to Dickey. He just finished off a campaign that saw him win 20 games with a 2.73 ERA while leading the National League in strikeouts and innings pitched.

Greinke had a solid year in 2012, but the 3.48 ERA he compiled in his time with the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels pales in comparison. He also pitched about 20 fewer innings than Dickey and struck out 30 fewer batters.

Now, the numbers behind the traditional numbers tell a different story. According to FanGraphs, Greinke had a higher WAR than Dickey, and he also topped him in fielding independent pitching (or FIP). These things suggest that he should have finished with better traditional numbers than Dickey.

The counterpoint here is that you can't argue with results, and Dickey has a very good chance of repeating his results in the future after making some significant steps forward with his signature pitch.

Dickey threw more strikes than he did in 2010 or 2011, in large part because he was baffling hitters like never before. Per FanGraphs, Dickey achieved a career-high 12.2 swinging-strike percentage, and he had the lowest contact rate within the strike zone among all major league starters.

In the end, Dickey's knuckler rated as the single most effective pitch in baseball in 2012 as far as PITCHf/x is concerned. That's not a small accomplishment given the awesomeness of Clayton Kershaw's fastball and Matt Cain's slider.

Granted, the knuckleball is an unpredictable pitch, but Dickey's knuckler is a horse of a different color. It's both hard and relatively easy for him to control, and he clearly mastered how to use it in 2012.

Dickey's ability to baffle hitters had little to do with the National League either, as he had a 1.88 ERA in interleague play and also dominated American League clubs in 2010 and 2011.

So if there's one pitcher whose stuff—and only stuff—is worth gambling on, it's Dickey's. The Rangers would be justified in forking over some valuable trade assets to get him, as they'd be getting a pitcher with a very special pitch who could help them contend for World Series titles in the immediate future.

And therein lies another area where a trade for Dickey could work out very well for the Rangers.

Dickey is only signed through the 2013 season at $5 million, and the word around the campfire is that he's not looking for a colossal raise in an extension. Andy Martino has reported that Dickey has set his asking price at two years and $26 million, which is very reasonable given how well knuckleballers tend to age and how high prices for premium pitchers are skyrocketing.

The Rangers can afford to commit a total of $31 million to Dickey over the next three years, and a low-cost partnership like that would give them the financial flexibility to make an all-out effort to win at least one championship with Dickey on the team.

For example, a partnership with Dickey wouldn't keep the Rangers from re-signing Josh Hamilton if they so desire. Things would have been entirely different had they matched the Dodgers' price for Greinke, as signing him and Hamilton would have maxed out Texas' payroll space, if not exceeded it.

Just think. In Dickey and Hamilton, the Rangers could theoretically get the best of both worlds for only $30 million in 2013 (Hamilton has been reported to be seeking $25 million per year). That's just $4 million more than the Dodgers will be paying Greinke in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the Rangers would still prefer to trade for Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton even after trading for Dickey. It's hard to see them still having the assets to get a deal done, but Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has said that the Rangers are still coveting Upton in the wake of the Greinke signing.

Trading for Upton after a deal for Dickey would be difficult, but it wouldn't be hard for the Rangers to keep him from a financial standpoint. He's only owed $38.5 million over the next three seasons, which is less than it's likely going to take to keep Hamilton even for two seasons.

Still, the Rangers re-signing Hamilton will be by far the more likely outcome if they trade for Dickey, just as a trade for Upton would have been a more likely outcome had the Rangers signed Greinke. Either move would have/will lead to another move.

However, putting Dickey and Hamilton on the same team would give the Rangers a better chance of winning the World Series in the short term than signing Greinke and trading for Upton would have, and that's because of how things stand now. Right now, Dickey is a more dominant pitcher than Greinke, and Hamilton is a more dominant hitter than Upton.

None of this is to suggest that signing Greinke would have been a downright bad move. He would have come at a high cost for the Rangers, but they would have been adding one of the league's true aces to the top of their rotation.

But they'll be getting a slightly better ace if they trade for Dickey, and they'll have the financial flexibility they need to construct a legit championship roster around him. The trade would be worth the trade-off, so to speak.

Beyond that, you have to admit that it would be cool to see Dickey reward the very team that first took a chance on him way back in 1996.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts

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