One of the difficulties for the Mets, along with anyone attempting to gauge just what R.A. Dickey’s value would be on both the trade and free agent market would be, is that his story defies comps, when comps are what ultimately drive such talks. Quick, who was the last first-time Cy Young Award winner at 37 who throws a pitch that defies the aging curve?
But a free agent signing last week, and a fascinating read today, provides insight into both Dickey’s free market value as a pitcher (or, at least, the floor), and the limitations of what the Mets can expect from a Dickey trade. Both involve the Kansas City Royals, coincidentally.
First up: the free agent contract given to Jeremy Guthrie, middling free agent starter. The Royals will be paying him $25 million over the next three years. More interesting still: the deal pays Guthrie $5 million in 2013, precisely what Dickey will earn from the Mets under his current deal, then 2014-15 check in at two years, $20 million.
Now what did Guthrie do to earn this contract? Last season, while Dickey threw 233 2/3 innings at an ERA+ of 140, Guthrie threw 181 2/3 innings at an ERA+ of 94. Worlds apart, to be sure.
Let’s take a larger sample, though, and look at the three-year samples for each. Over 2010-12, Guthrie threw 599 innings with an ERA+ of 100. Dickey threw 616 2/3 innings with an ERA+ of 129. The two simply are not comparable in quality, and are roughly equal in durability (though Dickey’s 2012 suggests that is a false equivalence, too).
Guthrie will be 34 in April. Dickey just turned 38. Again, the knuckleball makes direct comparisons difficult, but it is hard to imagine Dickey’s signature pitch doesn’t come close to evening out the question of who has more time left as an effective pitcher.
In short: the Guthrie deal makes it awfully difficult to imagine the Mets signing Dickey for anything close to two years, $20 million. Coincidentally, that is roughly what the Daily News reported the Mets were prepared to offer Dickey.
And let’s not lose sight of the other fact inherent in this: dealing Dickey means if you want to replace him for that money, you’ll probably end up with the equivalent of… Jeremy Guthrie.
But of course, there’s the tantalizing prospect of receiving a young, cost-controlled player in trade. Take a look at the track record of Baseball America Top 10 prospects who were traded within three years of a top-10 ranking, as per Baseball Prospectus. Not an inspiring list. By my rough count, 4 of 23 turned into stars.
So essentially, a deal of Dickey is making the bet that he’s a less than 17 percent bet to continue excelling over the next three years. After all, a prospect would be cost-controlled, but Dickey on a two-year extension, even at the high end of what he is asking for (reported to be 2/29 or less), is still paying him below what he’d earn on the free agent market. Put another way, that means as long as Dickey is effective over the life of an extension, it is more or less impossible for the acquired prospect to provide more value for the dollar.
Whether the Mets see it that way, or are even in position to do anything about it if they do, we’ll find out in the coming days and weeks. The winter meetings are a week from today.