Mets hold all the cards with Dickey, but the game’s almost over

R.A. Dickey. (Photo by paul.hadsall via flickr)
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Back in October, New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson described urgency in his desire to resolve the situations of David Wright and R.A. Dickey, the team's two best players, each with a year remaining on their contracts.

Ultimately, he signed Wright to a long-term extension, keeping Wright in New York until 2020. The situation with Dickey, however, remains unresolved, with the winter meetings ending Thursday. He has the clarity he sought, both in terms of Dickey's demands and what other teams are willing to offer.

But Mets C.O.O. Jeff Wilpon once again asserted that the Mets would prefer to enter 2013 with an unsigned Dickey, meaning he'd play under contract in New York for another season and then probably go away for nothing, to the idea of trading him.

Wilpon was considered to be blustering the first time he said this, and it may still be so. But by the end of Wednesday, even Alderson started to acknowledge that such an outcome is possible. Since Wilpon signs Alderson's paychecks, it isn't hard to see how he came to this conclusion.

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It still may not happen this way. But it is by far the worst possible outcome for the Mets. And any delays that possibility is causing are an opportunity cost to the Mets as well.

The team has two months until pitchers and catchers even report to spring training. But that implies a false sense of time to put together the 2013 roster, given the timetable with which other players and teams are operating on, along with the enormous task still facing the Mets.

The Mets entered the winter meetings needing to assemble an entire starting outfield, come up with a starting catcher, and ideally, increase the inventory of available arms in the bullpen.

While other teams have made signings large and small, trades as well, the Mets have added no one. The only move of any consequence has been the extension to Wright. The second-biggest move this offseason was the trade for infielder Brandon Hicks, who would be Triple-A depth for most organizations, but looks to be the primary backup in the middle infield for the Mets right now, replacing Ronny Cedeno.

In the meantime, each day that passes sees the number of outfielders available via free agency shrinking. Catchers and relievers, too, are signing elsewhere or changing hands. Teams around baseball aren't waiting for the Dickey situation to be resolved.

It's not clear why the Mets would be. If Dickey is ultimately signed to an extension, it would be for 2014 and 2015, when the Mets have no one on the books except for David Wright and Jon Niese, at a likely total cost of less than $30 million each season. And between Wright's decision to agree to an $8 million salary in 2013, and the deferred buyout of Jason Bay dropping the team's obligation to him from $16 million to $6 million, even simply maintaining the 2012 payroll should give the Mets $18 million in flexibility for 2013 alone. Take Jeff Wilpon at his word that payroll could rise to $110 million, and the gap between what they currently owe and what they can take on rises to more like $35 million in 2013 alone.

It wouldn't be the first time the Mets' estimate of payroll was off in the post-Madoff era; it is worth waiting and seeing how close the team actually gets to that number. Delays likely have more to do with an inability to complete the team's debt refinancing than with anything the Mets decide with Dickey.

Simply put, if the Mets truly had a one-year budget crunch in 2013, nothing should have been stopping them from spending on needs for 2014 and beyond. And the Bay/Wright pacts have opened up 2013, too: hypothetically, they should be able to add even a salary such as Josh Hamilton to patrol the outfield, with room to spare.

And yet, so far: nothing. No indication, despite the happy talk about expanding budgets, that the Mets are major players for any free agent of significance. Part of that is a combination of rising prices and a mediocre free agent class.

But the Mets aren't ultimately going to win games in 2013 based on an ability to avoid bad contracts. The other major reason salaries are going up this offseason is a new television contract that has put roughly $50 million into the pockets of every team. Accordingly, everyone can spend more, and more teams can spend some. That increases what all players will earn, and shrinks the remainder pool the Mets are aiming to shop in dramatically over past seasons.

And once the season starts, Dickey's trade value itself begins to ebb. Alderson is smart enough to know that teams aren't going to offer more, on aggregate, for a partial season of Dickey than a full season of Dickey. And the longer the Mets take to decide, the more teams are going to make alternate plans to fill their pitching needs.

So no, there's nothing like a noon deadline for Alderson and the Mets to re-sign or trade Dickey. But every day without resolution simultaneously decreases the ultimate haul Dickey's likely to fetch them, and increases the chances that Wilpon isn't just bluffing when he advocates keeping Dickey on the cheap: a 2013-only move for a team unlikely to contend.

That may make sense for an ownership group still fighting to hang on. But yet again, it makes absolutely no sense for the team, whose needs are taking a back seat for as long as the keep Dickey in 2013 charade keeps up, and no other talent comes in.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

YANKEES

The Yankees, needing a third baseman and preferring not to spend money in 2014, offered Kevin Youkilis a one-year, $12 million deal for 2013. Brilliant!

KNICKS

Carmelo Anthony struggled in the second half, and J.R. Smith struggled for the first 47 minutes. But Smith hit the game-winner in a 100-98 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Anthony hurt his finger diving for a loose ball late in Wednesday's win, and may not play against the Heat on Thursday.