‘Too absorbed with his new celebrity’: The sliming of R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey. (Photo by paul.hadsall via flickr)
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The New York Mets held a holiday party for 100 local children on Tuesday, and it somehow turned into a public-relations crisis.

It's happened before, of course: Perhaps you remember the saga of Anna Benson, whose low-cut Mrs. Claus outfit at the Mets' holiday gathering back in 2005 reportedly led to the trade of her husband Kris shortly thereafter.

This is different, though. It concerns R.A. Dickey, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner who is well-liked by the fans and the media, and who attended Tuesday's holiday party at Citi Field dressed as an elf.

After Dickey called out the Mets for an incredibly low contract offer, the team decided to revisit the playbook they used with Anna Benson, and with various players they've disagreed with in recent years; they attacked.  

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From today's Post:

The Mets, meanwhile, have mounting concerns whether all of Dickey’s off-the-field endeavors could impact his on-field results or his standing in the clubhouse if the perception is that he has become too absorbed with his new celebrity.

The Mets already were annoyed, The Post has learned, Dickey last week turned down a personal appearance request from owner Fred Wilpon.  

Here's Dickey, meanwhile: "In the context of the market, you want what you think is fair. I feel like we're asking for less than what's fair because that's how it's been for me. There is a surprise sometimes when things don't get done quickly and you already think you're extending the olive branch. At the same time, they have a budget they have to adhere to. I don't know those numbers. And I try not to take it personally."

That must be hard, when your team's management is suggesting anonymously, and on the basis of no apparent real-life evidence, that your ego is having an impact on your ability to play well and be a good teammate.

Perhaps the "distractions" the team sources are referring to are that book event at Citi Field that the Mets hosted, charged admission for, and offered at a discount as a season ticket holder perk; or Dickey's work with the Citi Field Kids program.

Or maybe they're also referring to the book itself, the adventure at Mt. Kilimajaro and Dickey's numerous other charitable endeavors.

The resulting lack of focus on the field in 2012 led to... the first 20-win season by a Mets pitcher since 1990 and the first Cy Young Award since 1985.

If only Victor Zambrano had been similarly unfocused.

The Mets have every right to lowball Dickey, as shortsighted as it may be to engage in a public spat with one of the team's most popular players when ticket sales are awful and the player is asking for less than market rate. But to then be surprised that the guy you're trying to avoid paying market rate doesn't want to do you a favor?

It's about as logical as asking that guy to be a public spokesperson at your event, and expecting he won't answer forthrightly about the state of his contract talks.

The Mets are supposedly busy engaging in trade talks for Dickey, who has one year and $5 million remaining on his contract. They are attempting to simultaneously lowball Dickey, indicating a willingness to improve a two-year, $14 million extension offer--or exactly what Joe Blanton, off of his E.R.A.+ season of 84, just received--to a three-year, $25 million total package, which is exactly what Jeremy Guthrie just received off of his 94 E.R.A.+ season.

For those keeping score at home, Dickey's E.R.A.+ last season, in more innings than either Blanton or Guthrie, was 140. Over the past three years, it has been 129, in case you thought he was a one-year wonder.

But the Mets aren't conducting business in a bubble. The teams they are talking to? They see how little the Mets are willing to commit to Dickey. And Dickey? He sees how much the Mets are demanding from other teams.

And while the Mets may believe they hold all the leverage, with the option of simply letting Dickey pitch in 2013 for $5 million is no option at all for the team. Sandy Alderson acknowledging the possibility that the 2013 roster won't look much different than the 2012 roster. That would be the same roster that won 74 games last year, that Alderson described as needing major changes way back on ... December 2, a roster that as of today, lacks a viable starting major league outfielder, catcher, and more than a skeletal bullpen.

Having Dickey in 2013 won't be useful. Dickey, or what he gets the Mets in a trade, should be hugely useful to the team in 2014 and beyond.

Dickey can eliminate any leverage the Mets think they have by ending this dance tomorrow, playing out his option year and reaching free agency next winter. Gone will be the team's ability to claim they might sign him, while teams can simply wait for next winter to acquire him for nothing but a draft pick.

And even that return might be beyond the Mets. It only comes about if the Mets make a qualifying offer next winter. This winter, a qualifying offer was for $13.3 million or, roughly what the Mets offered Dickey over two years. It's no guarantee the Mets will be willing to take the chance Dickey accepts it next winter, while some expect the qualifying offer to increase to $15 million next year.

If the Mets don't make that offer to Dickey, and he signs elsewhere, they won't get the draft picks they got when Jose Reyes left town. They'll let the fans down again. And they'll get nothing.

The Mets can still satisfactorily resolve this by increasing their offer to the still well-below market level Dickey is asking for: three years, $31 million, including 2013's ultra-bargain $5 million for the reigning Cy Young Award winner.

And if the fallout and subsequent unattributed character-sliming the Mets do so well leads to an unproductive divorce from Dickey, the Mets will have no one to blame but themselves.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

N.B.A.

The Knicks spotted the Nets a 17-point lead, received next to nothing from Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, but still managed to squeak by the Nets, 100-97, at the Barclays Center. Carmelo Anthony's 45 points covered up plenty of blemishes.

YANKEES

Kevin Youkilis has agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal to be Alex Rodriguez's replacement for as long as necessary. Youkilis still needs to pass his physical, no sure thing with his medical history.