On the subject of trading R.A. Dickey

Marc Serota

This seems like something that would make Mets fans yell at me if I came up with it on my own.

This feels wrong. I keep looking around as I write this, expecting to see someone glaring at me through the window. See, this is a column about the Mets trading R.A. Dickey. Which is a gross idea. Sensibly gross. Horrifically logical.

Hey, I didn't come up with it. Sandy Alderson did. From Newsday:

The Mets have come to the realization they may have to trade R.A. Dickey, and if that means he has to leave New York with the Cy Young Award in tow, so be it. Sandy Alderson said as much in talking about his plodding contract negotiations with the team's top pitcher.

There are two things at work here:

1. R.A. Dickey is the coolest. He climbs mountains and wields light-sabers, which would be cool enough, but then he has to go and throw the coolest pitch ever invented. And he doesn't throw any old knuckleball -- he throws a hard variety of knuckler, making him perhaps the first pitcher in history who can command it like a two-seamer.

2. Teams that finish under .500 are required by law to trade their pending free agents for prospects because prospects always pan out.

To point #1: What would the Mets be without Dickey? There are other things to pay attention to, sure. David Wright is still around for at least a year, and they'll likely have Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler in the same rotation soon, which would be thrilling. But right now, as of November 9, 2012, the biggest reason to watch a Mets game is R.A. Dickey. I know I watched more Mets games than just about any other non-Giants team this year, specifically for Dickey. And maybe to light a few votives for Andres Torres's hamstrings. But Dickey is one of the things that makes baseball worth watching.

To point #2: He could also bring a mess of prospects, most likely. Cy Youngs don't get swapped a lot during the offseason, and it's not like you have to view Dickey as some sort of fallback plan for the team that misses out on Zack Greinke. For one, Dickey is probably the better pitcher, but more than that would be the cost to acquire the player. With Dickey, a team would commit about $90 million fewer on a much shorter contract, and that's if they extend Dickey, which they wouldn't have to. Is that worth a couple of top prospects? Probably.

The trade that keeps popping in my mind, though, is a different Mets trade. It's an imperfect comparison on several levels, and maybe the Mets' involvement is the only thing holding this together, but here goes. When Johan Santana was entering his final year with the Twins, the scuttlebutt was that he had to be traded. Just had to. It was the only thing that made sense. The Twins were coming off a disappointing season, and they could exchange their best pitcher for prospects. And since prospects always work out, the Twins would then have two or three All-Stars in the bush instead of that one measly All-Star in the hand.

What really happened: The 2008 Twins lost the A.L. Central by one game. They gave 35 combined starts to Livan Hernandez and Boof Bonser, which was a disaster. Santana won the ERA title with the Mets, leading the league in innings pitched. In exchange, the Twins received 1500 plate appearances from Carlos Gomez, in which he hit .244/.291/.361.

With Santana, the Twins almost certainly would have won their division. Instead, they turned Johan Santana into Carlos Gomez, whom they turned into J.J. Hardy, whom they turned into 24 innings of Jim Hoey.

That isn't to suggest that whatever prospect-laden package the Mets got for Dickey would fail. Nor is it to suggest the Mets are going to contend next year, so would be insane to trade anyone for prospects. But the Mets don't need to raze the earth and start over. They aren't the Astros or Cubs. They're a few things going their way from being interesting and competitive. If you want proof, there's the first half of 2012, even though that was dozens and dozens of days ago.

That means the strategy with Dickey should be kinda sorta simple. Taking the best available offer because they're scared they'll get nothing if he leaves as a free agent = bad. Taking a monstrous, talent-stuffed prospects-based deal that they would be silly to reject = good.

And this is kind of burying the lede: signing Dickey to a two- or three-year deal to throw sweet, sweet knucklers = better. But I'll leave that to the Mets and their bean counters. If they really can't re-sign Dickey, trading him just to trade him seems like a mistake. They need to be overwhelmed. Mets fans can be excused for quietly hoping no other team comes close to doing so.

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