What would make it worthwhile for the Mets to trade R.A. Dickey?
The Mets will or won't end up trading R.A. Dickey, but they certainly want at least to see what the market looks like for him.
According to Adam Rubin, the Mets met with eight teams about Dickey on Monday alone. Rather than repeating the steps that led to them losing Joe Reyes for just about nothing, they're following the more successful template that led to them moving Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trade deadline. That deal netted Zack Wheeler, arguably the team's best pitching prospect, give or take a Matt Harvey.
Exactly what the Mets can get for Dickey, what they are asking for, and what is currently being offered has diverged wildly from team to team and report to report. A Blue Jays package centered around mediocre catcher J.P. Arencibia is clearly too light to justify trading Dickey. The Mets asking the Red Sox for Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr., the team's two best prospects, is just as unlikely to result in deal.
The two questions any potential Dickey deal ought to answer are: What does this do for the Mets in 2014 and beyond? And does this trade, since it means losing an ace, address another hard-to-fill need?
If the Mets are trading away Dickey, a knuckleballer, in the period most likely to be a knuckleballer's prime, they are eliminating a significant asset from their team over the next few seasons. They aren't likely to win anything in 2013 either way, but that's not necessarily the case for 2014, given the amount of money coming off the books and the possibility that one way or another, the Mets will have an ownership that's in a position to start spending more on the team again.
Dickey could be extremely valuable in 2014, and any deal that involves trading him ought to be account for his worth to the Mets when they're potentially contending, rather than what he mean to the team, say, next year. The Mets should be able to do that by making a trade with a team that has greater need for 2013 production (to chase a playoff berth) than the Mets do.
But the other part of Dickey's value is that it comes at a position, starting pitcher, where it is exceedingly hard to acquire elite performers. Dickey has been among the dozen most valuable pitchers in baseball over the last three years. That probably underrates him, since he didn't get promoted from the minor leagues until May 2010, and his 2012 strikeout rate suggests he's become a better pitcher than he was in 2010-11.
But the guys who surround him on that list, pitchers like Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, don't tend to become available in trade or hit the free agent market. Teams keep those pitchers. Maybe the Mets can develop someone like that, if Wheeler reaches his ceiling. But they have, in Dickey, a player who is there now, and whose skill set suggests he will age gracefully.
So in getting return for Dickey, the Mets should be making sure the player or players they receive fill a similarly rare hole on the roster. A high-end pitching prospect makes a ton of sense. Best-case, they end up with too many great pitchers, a problem 29 other teams will then help them rectify. Here in reality, attrition will make it likelier that they manage to develop merely enough pitching, the more high-end pitching prospects they stockpile.
Of course the Mets also need hitting prospects, so a deal also might make sense for, say, Travis D'Arnaud from the Toronto Blue Jays, a high-ceiling catcher. And a deal centered around either Bogaerts or Bradley, who play shortstop and center field, respectively, would give the Mets an elite option for 2014 and beyond at spots with real position scarcity.
These are all arguments for keeping Dickey, of course, but that just might not be the team's primary goal right now. Whatever they get in return for him had better be a key part of the plan for 2014 and after, because that's what Dickey would be, too.
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