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ATLANTA — R.A. Dickey was won over by an Atlanta Braves sales team that included two Hall of Famers, including a fellow knuckleballer.
Dickey said he knew the Braves would be a good fit after meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, with a group that included manager Brian Snitker, general manager John Coppolella and two Hall of Famers — former manager Bobby Cox and knuckleballer Phil Niekro.
“I had a great feeling then there was great hope I would be able to join the organization,” Dickey said Thursday after agreeing to a one-year contract with an $8 million guarantee.
He considers Niekro to be part of the “Jedi council of knuckleballers” who influenced his career.
“Phil and I have a good relationship,” Dickey said. “I consider him a friend. We filmed a documentary together.”
He gets a $7.5 million salary next year, and the Braves have an $8 million option for 2018 with a $500,000 buyout. The deal for the 42-year-old right-hander, the first of the 157 free agents to switch teams this offseason, is subject to a successful physical, tentatively planned for late next week.
Dickey said he had the Braves near the top of a short list of prospective teams. He noted the short travel distance — “3 hours, 15 minutes from doorstep to doorstep” — from his home to Atlanta was a big factor.
“I’ve grown up a Braves fan and have always admired the organization,” Dickey said.
Dickey said having four children ages 14 and younger kept retirement an option if he did not find interest from the right team.
Dickey had a career-high 20 wins and won the NL Cy Young in 2012, his final season with the New York Mets. The right-hander spent the last four years with the Toronto Blue Jays, going 10-15 with a 4.46 ERA this year.
Dickey said the velocities on his knuckleball “were as high as they’ve ever been” and he expects to pitch 200 innings in 2017.
No one had double-figure wins for Atlanta this year, prompting Coppolella to say he will pursue at least two established starters on the free-agent market. Julio Teheran heads a rotation projected to include Josh Collmenter.
Dickey is 110-108 with a 4.01 ERA in his career. He logged at least 200 innings five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015. Since 2010, his 1,441 innings rank ninth in the majors.
He said it was a challenge to pitch in the AL East’s small parks and said the rebuilding Braves’ potential in their new SunTrust Park in suburban Atlanta was a selling point.