According to ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin and Joe McDonald, Boston is one of eight teams that have contacted the New York Mets about knuckleball starter R.A. Dickey. While the team should leave no stone unturned during the offseason, they must be very prudent about their pursuit of the Mets pitcher.
The ESPN.com story reported that Mets GM Sandy Alderson spent his first full day at the winter meetings fielding inquiries from teams about Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner. Despite the interest, the discussions were downplayed by Alderson, who said, “Everything we did today was preliminary. We've met with several clubs on a variety of topics—not just R.A.”
Dickey is signed through the 2013 season at the bargain salary of $5 million, but he's seeking a contract extension that will pay him more appropriately for a pitcher with a Cy Young award under his belt. Since he is already 38, any extension will likely be the first and only significant contract of his playing career.
ESPN.com indicated that the Mets asked the Red Sox for shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., the team’s top two position prospects, as the price for Dickey. If that is true, Boston must end their pursuit and not think twice about that decision.
It sounds like New York wants 2012 Cy Young value for Dickey. However, teams like the Red Sox would be better off making aging knuckleballer-level counter-offers. Even if the price is lowered to just one of the team's best prospects, Boston still might want to consider that too steep.
Dickey has a combined 2.95 ERA for the Mets over the past three seasons after posting a 5.43 mark during the first seven years of his major league career. His surge is primarily owed to his mastery of the knuckleball, a pitch he learned as a last-ditch effort to stay in baseball.
A move to Boston would represent a substantial difference in pitching environment for Dickey. Citi Field, the home of the Mets, is considered one of the better pitchers' parks in baseball, while Fenway Park is renowned for being hitter-friendly.
ESPN’s Park Factor, which measures how each park plays, ranked Fenway as the third-best hitters’ park in 2012, while Citi Field lagged behind in 23rd place. A major difference is how conducive the two parks are to extra-base hits. Fenway ranked first in park factor for doubles and fourth for triples in 2012. Meanwhile, the Mets were 29th and 26th in the same two categories, respectively.
Such numbers suggest that Dickey could experience quite a change in results if he were pitching half of his games in Boston.
Even if Dickey were able to maintain a reasonable level of success, it’s a bad idea to plan on him being a viable top-of-the-rotation pitching option for the next several seasons, which is what the Red Sox would want if they were going to trade some of their prospects. A pitcher of his advanced age simply can't be counted on when making long-term roster plans.
Tim Wakefield’s 17-year career with the Red Sox showed that knuckleball pitchers can survive and thrive in Fenway but that the pitch is extremely volatile. When the knuckler isn't knuckling, it can be hit a long ways, and Fenway Park is the wrong stadium for that kind of risk.
Like most teams, the future of the Red Sox lies with their young players. If they include some of their best prospects in a trade for a 38-year-old pitcher, they are trying to placate fans in the short term and not looking after the best long-term interests of the franchise. If they can’t get Dickey for a reasonable price, it’s better to simply walk away and look elsewhere for less risky pitching help.
Statistics via BaseballReference.