By all accounts, New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is one of the nicest guys around. That combined with his sick knuckleball and incredible life story account for why he's such a fan favorite.
But now is not the time for Dickey to be Mr. Nice Guy. Now is the time for him to bare his teeth and stomp his feet, and he needs to do these things where his employers can see him.
The Mets have been toying with the possibility of trading Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young award winner. What he should do is demand that they trade him.
It's either this or Dickey can continue to sit idly by while the Mets downplay his worth to his face, only to turn around and sell him as a true ace to prospective trade partners. As John Harper of the New York Daily News wrote last week, the Mets are treating Dickey like a Cy Young-winning pitcher much more in trade talks than they are in extension negotiations.
According to Andy Martino of the Daily News, the Mets haven't yet shown a willingness to match Dickey's asking price of two years and $26 million on top of the $5 million he'll make in 2013. The Mets are only willing to do a two-year extension worth $20 million on top of Dickey's 2013 salary.
At the same time, the word from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com is that the Mets have turned away teams willing to offer only one elite prospect for Dickey. They want to get multiple players in a trade for their ace, and good ones to boot.
Understandably, Dickey is starting to get annoyed with the mixed messages the Mets are sending. Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com got a chance to speak to him on Tuesday:
Very pointed comments from R.A. Dickey. Said he likely would be a goner after 2013 season as free agent if Mets just let extension play out.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) December 11, 2012
Dickey also indicated pretty strongly that he's not about to settle for anything less than he's worth:
Dickey added he has been more than generous in his asking price and feels like he has extended olive branch. Says he's disappointed.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) December 11, 2012
Before the thought even begins to cross your mind, don't write this off as just another case of a greedy athlete letting his greed run wild. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dickey has every right to demand the contract he wants, as $13 million per year over two seasons is really not so bad for a pitcher of his caliber. He just won 20 games with a 2.73 ERA while leading the National League in strikeouts and innings pitched. It's surprising that he's not demanding more like $15 million per year after the season he just had.
We're not talking about a one-year wonder either. Dickey has a 2.95 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP over the last three seasons, and he ranks in top 20 among starters in innings pitched despite barely ranking in the top 40 in starts made. Considering these things, $13 million per year once again sounds like a steal.
Dickey's contract demands sound like even more of a steal for the Mets once this winter's market for pitchers is taken into consideration. He's asking to be paid roughly $10 million less per year than Zack Greinke, who has a 3.83 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over the last three seasons.
Also, Dickey isn't even asking for twice as much money as Joe Blanton and Brandon McCarthy will be making per year in their new contracts, and he's surely worth at least twice as much as either of them.
Beyond the fairness of Dickey's contract demands, you can't call him greedy because this is the first chance he's ever had to strike it rich in baseball. Baseball-Reference.com has his career earnings marked at just under $9 million, a woefully small number for a veteran ballplayer in this day and age.
This is also probably going to be Dickey's last chance to strike it rich in baseball. He's 38 years old, and he's likely never again going to be able to negotiate a contract fresh off a Cy Young season.
Dickey's age may be why the Mets are low-balling him in their extension talks, but the age excuse doesn't work so well for knuckleballers. As Chris Cwik recently pointed out in a piece for FanGraphs, knuckleballers age much better than normal pitchers once they get into their late 30s and early 40s.
In Dickey's case, it helps that his knuckleball is only becoming more effective with age. In fact, PITCHf/x data (see FanGraphs) had it as the most effective pitch of 2012, better than Clayton Kershaw's fastball and Matt Cain's slider.
If the Mets don't want to pay a premium price for Dickey's services over the next few years, he shouldn't feel guilty about trying to put himself on a team that will. The only way he can do that now is by marching into Sandy Alderson's office and telling him to that the Mets can either give him what he wants, wave goodbye to him for nothing after the 2013 season or trade him now while the getting is good.
A trade demand could light a fire under the Mets, as it may be the motivation they need to bridge the gap between them and Dickey in contract negotiations. If they really want to keep him, perhaps they'll give in and pay him what he thinks he's worth (which is already less than what he's actually worth).
Or, a trade demand could force the Mets into aligning their asking price for Dickey in a trade with what they want to pay him in a contract extension. It would surely still take at least one elite prospect to acquire him in a trade, but perhaps not several.
There is, after all, a limit on how much the Mets can ask for Dickey in a trade as long as he's only signed for one more year. It's not like he's a young, up-and-coming All-Star with years of controllability still ahead of him.
However, any team that is willing to give up a top prospect and one or two other youngsters for Dickey presumably won't be interested in only keeping him around for one year. Especially not if his contract demands don't change after a trade, as his desire for two years and $26 million will be just as big a steal in any other city as it is in New York.
The money isn't the only reason Dickey should be willing to demand a trade. If he's looking to win a World Series between now and the end of his career, he really doesn't want to stick around with the Mets and hope that they can shape up in the near future. His best chances at a ring lie elsewhere.
To this point in the offseason, Dickey has been nothing short of a saint. He's asked the Mets for less than he's worth, and he hasn't yet raised a huge stink over the pitiful counter-offers they've made him. He may be disappointed, but it's amazing that he isn't downright angry yet.
He should be. The Mets haven't shown him the respect he deserves, touting him only as an elite ace in trade talks rather than at the negotiating table. They have not played nice with Dickey.
Two can play at that game, and it's about time he suited up.
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