R.A. Dickey was just recently announced as a finalist for the 2012 National League Cy Young Award. Depending on who you ask, he might well be the favorite to win. R.A. Dickey was just earlier Thursday reported to be the subject of trade conversations. Joel Sherman talked about it, Ken Rosenthal talked about it, and others have talked about it. Right now team executives are all hanging out in the same place, and the Mets are gauging the trade value of maybe the league’s best starting pitcher. It probably goes without saying that this is an unusual situation.
For those who haven’t been following, what makes this more unusual is that there were just reports that the Mets and Dickey had made progress in contract extension negotiations. Dickey’s locked up for just one more year, and he’s interested in returning, while the Mets are interested in having him return. It’s all just a matter of price, as it pretty much always is. At present, Dickey wants more than the Mets are willing to give, which is obviously why they haven’t reached an agreement.
As in virtually all cases, there’s not a thing wrong with the Mets doing their due diligence. It doesn’t do anybody any good to make a player completely unavailable. One should always at least listen to trade ideas around anyone and everyone, because those ideas provide information and opportunities. The Mets should be aware of what’s out there in a possible R.A. Dickey trade market. But the way Rosenthal writes it, it seems like the Mets might have more or less made up their minds. That is to say, this might go beyond simple due diligence — the Mets might already understand that an extension agreement won’t be reached.
In that case, now’s the time to move. The Mets are unlikely to contend in 2013, and the Mets are well aware of it, and it doesn’t do a ton of good to hang onto Dickey another year. They might — might — come away from that with draft-pick compensation. It doesn’t do a ton of good to hang onto Dickey until midseason, because then half his starts will have been used up, potential draft-pick compensation will be off the table for a trade partner, and there will be fewer interested teams than there would be today. Today, nearly every team can imagine a situation in which it’s contending in 2013. Come the middle of 2013, not so much.
The consensus is that Dickey’s value will never be higher, and while you can’t ever say never, it’s a compelling case. Dickey is coming off a Cy Young-caliber season. Dickey is under contract for one season and $5 million. There’s not a team in baseball that couldn’t take on a $5 million contract, and there’s not a team in baseball that couldn’t use a probable ace. This is an opportunity for a team to be incredibly efficient with its money. Dickey’s surplus value in 2013 beyond his salary should be enormous, and so he’s both an appealing get and a hell of a trade chip.
For a team that fancies itself an immediate contender, Dickey would be a boost at the top of the rotation. For a team that would just like to fancy itself an immediate contender, Dickey would be a boost at the top of the rotation, and there would likely remain payroll flexibility to add other pieces around him. In other words, Dickey wouldn’t have to be a team’s only major addition, because, in terms of money, he’d be coming so cheap. So there’s no shortage of teams that could and should be interested.
Obviously, an issue is how Dickey will be evaluated. Wrote Andy Martino:
While rival executives were united in their view that Dickey would draw significant interest, few were confident in predicting his price.
There’s going to be greater variability in opinions of Dickey than in opinions of a more normal player, because there hasn’t ever really been a player like R.A. Dickey. There have been knuckleballers, but there have never been knuckleballers who threw so hard, so effectively. Dickey is newly 38, and with other knuckleballers age is less of a concern, but again, Dickey throws harder, and he also has the whole missing-UCL thing. One can’t know how to properly account for any age-related decline. And Dickey just had a career season. He’s posted low ERAs three years in a row, but his strikeout rate shot up from 15 percent to 25 percent. In no month last season was Dickey’s strikeout rate lower than 21 percent. At an age where most players are nearing the end, Dickey got better at throwing strikes and missing bats. Dickey was, to say it again, one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball.
Given the variability, there will be teams who are interested in Dickey, but only to an extent. They’ll be more cautious, and so they’ll drop out of the running. But given the variability, there will also be teams who are highly confident. Teams who believe in Dickey immediately and also maybe down the road, and all it would take are one or two of these teams to really drive a market.
There would need to be a team that values Dickey more highly than the Mets do, and given that the Mets and Dickey haven’t gotten close to a contract agreement, it seems likely such a team would exist. Because Dickey has an empty list of historical comparisons, a lot of it’s going to be guesswork and faith, and there are reasons to be optimistic about his present and future. The interested team could then offer the Mets pieces that would be of more use to them than Dickey the next time the Mets are competitive.
Zack Greinke has been a good pitcher for a while. He’s had his issues, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been pretty successful. Last July, he was dealt from the Brewers to the Angels for Jean Segura, Ariel Pena, and John Hellweg. Greinke wound up making 13 starts, and while the Angels are trying to re-sign him, if he leaves there’s not going to be any compensation. If Dickey were to be dealt now, compensation would be a possibility, and instead of 13 starts, he’d be in position to make 30+.
So while Dickey’s got years on Greinke, and maybe a little more performance uncertainty, he’s got more in his favor, including his most recent statistics. In a trade return, the Mets would stand to receive at least one ready or nearly-ready young player, along with other young players. Maybe the most obvious fit right now would be those same Angels, who are in desperate need of starters and who could use another starter even if they get Greinke re-signed. Dickey would cost them just that $5 million, and they could offer Peter Bourjos as the main part of a return, since he’s young and talented and plays a position where the Mets are pretty bare. Bourjos wouldn’t be enough on his own, and there’s no guarantee that he turns into a real thing, but he’d be a good starting point. The Angels didn’t strip themselves bare in acquiring Greinke last summer.
But the Angels aren’t the only possible fit. Given Dickey’s low salary, he’d be a possible fit almost anywhere. The Mets value Dickey however much they value Dickey. Right now, they’re searching for a team that values him more. Should such a team be identified, a trade should probably follow, and the Mets will probably be better off for it. There are teams best suited to take a chance on a talented 38-year-old knuckleballer. The present New York Mets aren’t real high on that list.