R.A. Dickey's journey to becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League in his late 30s is one that has captivated an entire sport, let alone the Mets fan base. He's the type of player fans easily attach themselves to because he's overcome so much personally and professionally, he's engaging and he's intelligent. And he throws the game's quirkiest pitch, a knuckleball, quite well.
But baseball teams are businesses and general managers are paid to run their business in a way that maximizes value and performance. They are paid to make tough decisions, sometimes those that many of their paying customers disagree with, despite the longer-term implications. Sandy Alderson is faced with just that type of choice this offseason: to trade Dickey, a frontrunner for the Cy Young award who has $5 million left on his contract, or keep him in Queens?
If I'm Alderson, I'm doing whatever it takes to spin the knuckle baller because it's the right move for the franchise now and into the future.
"It would be a little unusual to trade a Cy Young winner," Alderson said, "but I can remember a time (as GM of the Oakland A's in 1990) when we traded for the leading hitter in the National League at the time, so it happens."
There's been multiple reports this offseason of the front office canvassing other teams to gauge what the trade market is for the Mets' ace. That's the right strategy to take. If the return is weak, then you re-sign him. But if there's an offer out there that blows you away, then it's Alderson's job to take it. And right now, it's his job to sell other teams on Dickey, who at 38 is in his prime for a knuckleballer. The Mets are far away from contending and a way to speed up the rebuild process -- and even being more serious contenders in the present -- is trading from an area of strength.
Look, Dickey had a tremendous year that saw him throw 233 2/3 innings, 2.73 ERA, strike out 8.86 per nine innings and post a 4.6 wins above replacement. There's no denying how good he was. The problem is, even during a 20-win campaign, the Mets won 74 games, finishing with the 10th-worst record in the majors. Fans don't want to hear it, but the team is very much in a rebuilding stage. The Mets don't have enough in-house options (on the roster or in the minors) ready to fill the many gaps now (or even a few years down the road). Couple that with such little financial wiggle room, and it's not like the Mets can just go out and sign a few players to put them back into contention, so there has to be some outside-the-box thinking here.
The Mets have a laundry list of needs in their every day lineup and one of them is not starting pitching. The rotation is considered a major strength, with top prospect Zack Wheeler on the cusp of the big leagues. Sure, there are risks involved with dealing your most dependable starter, but there's just no way to address a variety of holes on such a limited budget without trading an asset at the top of his game for multiple pieces, those of which who would be ready to help now and into the future when the Mets are real contenders. Because let's face it, the Mets aren't the Oakland A's from this past season -- their hitting doesn't have nearly the power. The Mets have no outfield, they lack a legitimate starting catcher and could really use an upgrade at second base, too. On such a shoestring budget, there's no way of filling all of these holes adequately.
Now's the time to move Dickey not only because his value is at an all-time high, but because even with statistics proving that knuckleballers age well, Dickey is not the typical knuckleballer. He's successful, in part, because he throws the pitch much harder than the norm, averaging 77.1 mph last year. History may paint a promising picture, but there's been no pitcher like this ever with which to base data off of. There's reason to believe he could "age" faster due to the fact there's more power and effort involved throwing the pitch. There are a lot of unknowns here, and at age 38, it's not like he'll be getting any younger or more athletic, either.
This trade would be one with a short- and long-term focus. Alderson won't be making a deal that wouldn't aid the team now. But he's also not going to bring back over-the-hill veterans with expiring contracts either. It's a chance to build for the future, while bringing about some cost-controlled players -- not prospects years from arrival -- as well. It's a chance for Alderson to acquire some pieces in order to continue build a foundation that would allow him to sign a top-tier free agent to eventually put the Mets over the hump.
But with all that said, if Alderson and Co. deem the return insufficient, then there's no problem to me in signing Dickey for a few more years so long as it's a contract that doesn't hamstring the front office. After trading Carlos Beltran in the final year of his deal for a prospect of Wheeler's ilk, though, I just have a tough time not seeing Alderson strike gold if Dickey's truly on the market.