If there’s anyone who understands how the business side of baseball can throw a 12-to-6 curveball at a player, it’s R.A. Dickey.
After all, he’s the guy who had his $850,000 signing bonus sliced to $75,000 by the Texas Rangers in 1996 when an exam after the draft revealed his right arm was missing a key ligament.
Friday, Dickey felt the cut of a different kind, this time from the Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners waived him, along with right-handed minor league pitcher Sean White, and outrighted them to Class AAA Tacoma.
Dickey, a 34-year-old knuckleball pitcher who went 5-8 with a 5.21 earned run average this year, has until Dec. 12 to either accept the move to the minors or decline it and become a free agent.
It’s almost a certainty he’ll decline, but that doesn’t necessarily end his time with the Mariners, who he would like to play for next year.
The Mariners are expected to make a contract offer to Dickey by Sunday, and then he’ll have a better idea whether he’ll come back in 2009.
“Now that I’m off the roster, I feel they can offer me a contract and I’ll have to consider that when it happens,” Dickey said Friday night from his home in Nashville. “I knew they were considering this, but I wasn’t real sure they would follow through with it. There have been years when I’ve been surprised about things like this, but this time I was caught off-guard.”
Besides the moves involving Dickey and White, the Mariners continued to work Friday on their hitting coach vacancy, with no resolution by the end of the day.
It seems clear, however, that it won’t be Jose Castro, who was considered the frontrunner early this week. Castro, hitting coach at the end of this season, helped shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt tighten up his plate discipline and bat .325 in the final two months
The latest name to surface for the hitting coach job is Alan Cockrell, who was fired by the Colorado Rockies after his second as their hitting coach. He was called the Mariners’ leading candidate by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and several people with knowledge of the process said Cockrell’s name has been mentioned recently in connection with the Mariners.
Manager Don Wakamatsu said earlier this week that he hoped to have his coaching staff in place before the winter meetings begin Monday in Las Vegas. Mariners personnel are scheduled to fly there today and resume their offseason work to rebuild a team that lost 101 games this year.
One reason Dickey and White were moved off the 40-man roster was to create room for more personnel moves.
“Their explanation for me was they wanted to clear some roster spots and pursue some free agents position player-wise,” Dickey said. “There’s obviously a need there.”
He hopes there’s still a need for him.
Dickey, in his first full season in the big leagues since converting to a knuckleball pitcher, pitched 1121/3 innings in 32 games, 14 of them starts. While his overall record and ERA didn’t stand out, he was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 36 innings of relief, holding opposing hitters to a .205 average.
“If you take away six innings of work out of the 112, I was 5-5 with a 3.50 ERA,” said Dickey, who would have been eligible for arbitration, another possible factor in the Mariners’ move Friday. “That’s pretty damned good, especially in the American League and in that division. That’s the part that’s confusing from a personal standpoint. I would think they would appreciate numbers like that, and I was the only guy on the staff who didn’t have to take a day off (because of injury or a tired arm).”
Dickey also is enthused about next year because he plans to spend time with famed former knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro this offseason to refine that pitch.
“I feel like I’m going to get better and better at it,” he said.
Dickey said he would consider a minor league contract and a chance to make the Mariners out of spring training if the terms satisfied him.
“After going through something as bad as last season, I really want to be part of the turnaround,” he said. “If I come into camp on the minor league side of things and not on the big-league roster, it’s not unheard-of to make the team. I can hold to the hope that it’s not over.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com