Exactly what would the Mets get for R.A. Dickey?
The question remains pertinent; the Mets are considering trading the National League Cy Young Award winner if they do not sign him to a contract extension.
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon also has said the team might choose neither course, and simply carry Dickey into the final year of his contract.
Such an outcome would buy time -- and it actually seems quite possible, considering the slow progress in both the contract and trade negotiations.
The Mets are far apart on a two-year extension with Dickey, major league sources say. And teams interested in trading for Dickey say the Mets' asking price is high.
Obviously, the Mets would have moved Dickey by now if they had received a suitable offer. But Dickey's trade value is indeed subject to debate.
"Hard guy to evaluate," one rival GM said Saturday.
Dickey is 38. He throws a knuckleball, which many baseball officials dismiss as a "trick pitch." And while his salary in 2013 is an absurdly modest $5 million, he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
So, what is his true value in a trade?
For the sake of discussion, let's consider two rumored trade possibilities; whether either actually has been discussed is unclear.
Possibility No. 1: Dickey for Rangers infielder Mike Olt.
For the Rangers, Dickey likely would become an option only if they failed to sign free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke. But even then, would they give up six years of Olt, a top offensive prospect, for one year of Dickey?
Maybe, if they could sign Dickey to an extension. But that assumes the Rangers would be comfortable giving Dickey his desired terms, believed to be in the range of $25 million for two years.
One rival executive says that if Dickey wants that kind of money, he should prove himself again next season, then go out on the open market. But any perception of Dickey as a one-year wonder is unfair; he's 39-28 with a 2.95 ERA over the past three seasons, averaging 205 2/3 innings.
A two-year, $25 million extension, then, would amount to a three-year, $30 million investment -- a potential bargain, considering Dickey's recent level of performance and low risk of arm trouble as a knuckleballer.
Olt, meanwhile, has no obvious spot with the Rangers. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is signed through 2015. First baseman Mitch Moreland, while not a star, is under control through '16.
Using Olt at first or in the outfield would diminish his value, particularly with so many teams desperate to upgrade at third. In fact, the Mets might be better off flipping Olt if they acquired him, given that he is not going to displace David Wright.
But that leads to another question -- just how much could the Rangers get for Olt?
Other teams also like him, and perhaps the Rangers can include him in a package for a pitcher they regard even more highly than Dickey -- say, Rays right-hander James Shields.
Which brings us to:
Possibility No. 2: Dickey for Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia and center fielder Anthony Gose.
The Jays definitely would say "no" to this. They would be trading a combined 10 years of control over Arencibia and Gose -- both of whom play premium up-the-middle positions -- for one year of Dickey.
Young players such as Gose and the Rangers' Olt not only are inexpensive, but also offer upside and the possibility of signing club-friendly extensions in the future.
Arencibia, the veteran in the package, still is a year away from arbitration, and under club control through '16. Travis D'Arnaud, a top prospect, eventually will surpass him. But catcher is another position of scarcity -- and rising salaries -- increasing Arencibia's value.
Here, perhaps, is a better idea: Dickey for Arencibia, straight up. The Jays obviously are trying to win; otherwise, they would not have made their blockbuster with the Marlins. And while Arencibia has averaged 21.5 homers the past two seasons, his career on-base percentage, in nearly 900 plate appearances, is .275.
Come to think of it, the Mets almost certainly would want more than such a player for a Cy Young winner, which brings us back to something resembling the Arencibia-Gose package.
See how difficult this is?
Perhaps the Mets, who also are discussing Dickey with the Royals and other clubs, will find a deal that both sides consider fair. But I'm starting to think that all of the trade conversations might just be an exercise in futility.
Better the Mets should sign Dickey to a below-market extension and enjoy what they have.