Going into the offseason, the two priorities for the New York Mets were signing third baseman David Wright and pitcher R.A. Dickey to contract extensions.
The Mets took care of Wright last week, reaching agreement on a seven-year, $122 million deal that makes sure the team's franchise player spends the rest of his career in Flushing. The next order of business was working out a two-year contract with this season's NL Cy Young Award winner.
However, it appears that the Mets have either decided that they can't negotiate a new contract with Dickey or that the team is better off trading him to a club looking for a No. 1 starter.
Judging by the chatter from the first day of MLB's winter meetings, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has decided to see what he can get for Dickey.
ESPN's Jayson Stark reports that the Mets have gotten serious about trading Dickey rather than working out a contract extension. The knuckleballer could get dealt away as soon as this week, during MLB's winter meetings.
Stark mentions the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals as the two best fits for Dickey. Several other clubs could use Dickey at the top of their rotation, but let's look at the two Stark highlighted first.
The Rangers have been looking for a No. 1 starter going back to this season's trade deadline, even before Colby Lewis suffered a season-ending elbow injury.
General manager Jon Daniels acquired Ryan Dempster with the hope that he could be a top-of-the-rotation starter. But the transition from the National League to the American League was a rough one for him. In 12 starts, Dempster posted a 5.09 ERA.
Did Daniels' failure to get an ace for the Rangers' rotation cost the team a division title and possibly their third consecutive trip to the World Series? That's an oversimplification, but not having a No. 1 starter certainly didn't help matters.
For the romantics among us, Dickey returning to the team that first encouraged him to become a knuckleballer after notable failures would be a nice circular route for his career. From a pure baseball standpoint, it would be intriguing to see how Dickey fares at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington versus Citi Field.
The Royals could obviously use an ace starter for their rotation. Hoarding starting pitching has become something of a hobby for Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore.
First, he acquired Jeremy Guthrie from the Colorado Rockies at midseason. After the season, he picked up Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels. He also claimed Chris Volstad on waivers from the Chicago Cubs, but later designated him for assignment.
Moore wants an ace and has even dangled top outfield prospect Wil Myers in an attempt to get someone like Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox or the Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields. But both of those pitchers are under contract for multiple seasons.
The Mets probably couldn't get top prospects from Kansas City without Dickey agreeing to a contract extension with the Royals first.
Going to a team like the Royals would be such a letdown for Dickey as well. His story of becoming a major leaguer after years of struggle in the minors, adopting the knuckleball and eventually being named the best pitcher in the NL, is a great one. It shouldn't end with pitching for a non-contender in Kansas City.
However, the interest in Dickey doesn't begin and end with the Rangers and Royals.
ESPN Boston's Joey McDonald tweeted that the Boston Red Sox have also inquired about Dickey. However, the Mets reportedly asked for Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley in return. Those players happen to be the team's top two prospects, according to Baseball America.
Either that means that Alderson doesn't really want to trade Dickey or isn't going to deal unless he is blown away by an offer. That's probably the way it should be, although how much are the Mets going to dig in on this?
If the Mets really want to get something in return for Dickey, they're probably not going to get very far by asking teams for their top two prospects. That's especially true with Dickey only under contract through the 2013 season. Not to mention that he's 38 years old with questions regarding whether or not he can repeat his 2012 performance.
Other teams that have checked in on Dickey at the winter meetings include the Los Angeles Dodgers (according to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick) and the Toronto Blue Jays (who SiriusXM's Dan Duquette tweeted as a "serious suitor").
The interest in Dickey is so strong—and seemingly growing by the hour—that Alderson almost certainly has to deal him. Of course, the Mets GM doesn't have to trade Dickey if he doesn't get the offer he wants. But with the number of teams in pursuit, it seems likely that the Mets will find something they like.
Even manager Terry Collins seems to be acknowledging the inevitability of losing his staff ace.
"I like R.A. Dickey a lot," the Mets skipper told MLB.com (via Twitter), "but there is a whole process going on."
The Mets aren't going to win the NL East or make the playoffs with Dickey next season. So the team might as well see what it can get in return for him. With negotiations on a contract extension stalled, it looks like Alderson has decided to do just that.
Newsday's David Lennon tweeted that the Mets and Dickey's agent aren't even scheduled to talk this week.
However, the biggest obstacle to a trade could be something beyond the Mets' control. Teams looking to acquire or trade away starting pitching are waiting for Zack Greinke to set the market, according to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.
Everyone with whom I've spoken today says the same thing: The entire pitching market -- FA and trade -- is waiting for Zack Greinke to sign.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2012
In the meantime, Alderson might as well ask for the moon and the stars in exchange for Dickey. Later on, he can check back and see who looked like a willing trade partner.
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