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The Hot News From the Winter Meetings

R.A. DickeyNews and notes as we roll into Day 2 of the Winter Meetings …

• The Rangers signed former Royals closer Joakim Soria to a two-year, $8 million deal. This marks the second straight offseason in which Texas inked a closer rehabbing from Tommy John surgery to a multi-year deal, following the November 2011 signing of Joe Nathan. I hated that deal at the time, writing that Nathan had lost fastball velocity and seen his strikeout rate drop considerably after TJ, and that the Rangers were getting at best a diminished pitcher and, at worst, a pitcher who’s about to get injured. I was, obviously, spectacularly wrong. But beyond dwelling on my incredibly poor judgment, the Nathan deal is a great example of information asymmetry. Simply put, teams often know things that we the public do not, even when deploying intelligent statistical analysis. This is doubly true for injured players, or players coming off injury. Doesn’t mean we should blindly trust every general manager to make the right decision every time. Only that there might be more to a deal than the obvious circumstances might suggest, such as when a team signs a late-30s relief pitcher with major surgery in his recent past to a multi-year contract.

In Soria, the Rangers are getting a much younger — and similarly talented — relief pitcher, for a bit more than half Nathan’s price. If Soria can make it back for Opening Day, Texas might end up with a bargain at $4 million a year, especially given the market for likely departing setup man Mike Adams, which is said to be hot and heavy. Even throwing out his outlier 2009 season in which Soria struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings, you’ve still got a pitcher with a track record of a strikeout per inning, with good command and little platoon split (in fact, the right-handed Soria has been a bit better vs. lefties in his career, with a .558 OPS allowed to that side, vs. .601 against righties). Given the likely asymmetry in play again, we won’t go too far with predictions. But if Soria is 90 percent the pitcher he used to be, this is a great deal, and an excellent alternative to a potentially pricey Adams.

• R.A. Dickey’s name continues to light up trade rumors. The Mets owe the 38-year-old knuckleballer $5 million for 2013. Of course, this knuckleballer happens to be the reigning NL Cy Young winner who also posted the best numbers of his career in 2012, by a country mile. I’ve maintained that the Mets have a tinge of sleeper to them, with Dickey heading a rotation that could be absolutely stacked if top prospect Zack Wheeler joins Dickey, Jon Niese, and Matt Harvey by Opening Day. Of course the Mets also have multiple lineup holes, even after re-upping David Wright, and lack high-impact hitting prospects in the minors. If one year of Dickey could fetch that kind of young bat, that’s a trade most teams would have to consider, let alone a ballclub that’s finished below .500 for four years running and whose owners have a bit of a cash-flow problem, the Wright deal notwithstanding. There’s never been a pitcher quite like Dickey, waiting until his late 30s to hit his stride and wielding a pitch that’s improved this much at a time when most other pitchers would be gone or about to retire.

As you’d expect, the Dodgers have reportedly contacted the Mets, setting up a potential rotation top-three that would include three Cy Young winners. But really, the list of teams that could use a pitcher this good signed for one year, $5 million with the possibility of a creative contract extension would include … almost all of them. The Jays are actively seeking a front-line veteran starting pitcher, as are the Royals. He’d make sense in Detroit (replacing Anibal Sanchez), D.C. (replacing Edwin Jackson), even Pittsburgh if the Russell Martin signing was the tip of an unlikely spending iceberg.

• If you’re looking for a sleeper impact move this winter, Yunel Escobar could be it. The shortstop’s off-field struggles range from pissing off the entire Braves organization to the case of the offensive eye black. But he’s also signed to an extremely team-friendly contract, owed $5 million in his own right for 2013, followed by two club options at the same price. Though he slumped to .253/.300/.344 last season, we’re still talking a reasonably durable 30-year-old shortstop who remains an above-average fielder, puts the ball in play a lot, and can hit double-digit home runs in a good year. If you’re a team like the Rays that’s fanatical about capping payroll and has a need for a starting middle infielder, you take the risk on attitude for a potential three- or four-win player being paid as if he’s a one-win player, especially with the Marlins apparently eager to trade him, presumably without expecting a mint in return.

Other leads we’re watching:

    • The Mariners are talking to Josh Hamilton about a free-agent deal and to the Diamondbacks about a potential Justin Upton trade. The Orioles remain my pick to surprise the baseball world and land Hamilton. But Seattle is an excellent candidate to make a surprise splash or two, as well
    • Alex Rodriguez’s hip injury not only delays the start of his 2013 season. It also raises the question of whether A-Rod can ever again be an everyday third baseman, and if the Yankees need to be more aggressive in finding a replacement or at least a caddy there. Two problems with that situation: 1) The Yankees are standing firm on not breaking the bank for anyone, given their opportunity to get under the luxury-tax threshold and thus pocket tens of millions of dollars in would-be penalties. 2) The market for third basemen right now, in a word, sucks. Pick your poison: a hobbled Kevin Youkilis, Jeff Keppinger returning from a broken leg, Ryan Roberts coming at an inflated trade price from a division rival, etc.
    • The Phillies seem to be throwing up any smokescreen they can to reduce the leverage that Michael Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, have with the last impact center fielder on the market. The latest reports have Philly talking to the Rockies about Dexter Fowler, but the Rockies have said they’re not motivated to move Fowler coming off a breakout season, with multiple years of team control left, and a likely affordable salary of about $5 million next year. The Phillies or any other team interested in Fowler’s services should beware his splits: .332/.431/.553 at home vs. .262/.339/.381 on the road in 2012, and a career OPS nearly 200 points higher at home. Even acknowledging the possibility that some Coors-dwelling hitters might change their hitting habits on the road with bad results, these are huge, scary splits.
    • The Angels are reportedly eyeing Edwin Jackson as a potential backup plan if their crosstown rivals pay the expected infinity dollars to land Zack Greinke. Good idea. Over the past four seasons, the 29-year-old right-hander ranks 16th in innings pitched and 23rd in Wins Above Replacement among 166 qualified pitchers. He was criminally underpaid when he signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Nationals and would seem lucky to at least lap Jeremy Guthrie’s three-year, $25 million pact this time around, assuming the whole world hasn’t gone nuts.

More from the Winter Meetings:
For Some Reason, the Giants Think Angel Pagan Is Worth $40 Million (12/3)

Red Sox Make Their First Move With Napoli Signing (12/3)

Who will make the biggest splash? (12/3)