R.A. Dickey celebrates his 20th victory of the season after...

R.A. Dickey celebrates his 20th victory of the season after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field. (Sept. 27, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- It doesn't figure to be much, but Sandy Alderson suggested Friday that the Mets' payroll should inch upward from the $93 million spent for last season's disappointing 74-88 finish.

"I think we're going to have a little more leeway," he said shortly after the general managers' meetings concluded. "I think there's a little more flexibility."

If that turns out to be the case, it will mark the first time under Alderson -- now beginning the third year of his four-year deal -- that Mets ownership is not directing their general manager to further slash payroll.

When Alderson took over, the Mets were at $143 million, so it's been a steep drop, one prompted by the fallout of the Bernard Madoff scandal.

But negotiating the early expiration of Jason Bay's contract, which includes deferred payouts of his $21 million over several years, opened up some room for 2013. Alderson didn't say how much specifically other than to indicate that the removal of Bay's baggage -- financial and otherwise -- has made the club's decision-makers more optimistic looking forward. "At least psychologically," Alderson said.

The Mets already have allotted a sizable chunk of money to an extension for David Wright, and the expectation is that he will be locked up in the near future. The signs are not quite as positive for R.A. Dickey, who is looking more and more like the pivotal piece of the Mets' offseason puzzle.

Alderson reiterated the team's desire to extend Dickey, but he isn't against dealing him, as evidenced by the recent trade conversations with other clubs at the GM meetings. There's a number of different scenarios involving Dickey, and things are sure to accelerate late next week after the National League Cy Young winner is announced Wednesday.

The Mets' thinking on Dickey's worth won't be influenced by the award, which he is likely to win. But Dickey, who is under the team's control in 2013 for $5 million, might choose to see what current free-agent pitchers command before agreeing to an extension with the Mets.

A similar comparison might be Hiroki Kuroda, who at 37 is a year younger than Dickey and could wind up with a one- or two-year deal with an average salary in the range of $14 million to $16 million. The Mets would prefer a two-year deal with a series of mutual options, but with the trade speculation now in full swing, Dickey might believe he could get a better deal with another club.

Alderson said he had not been asked by other clubs for a window to negotiate directly with Dickey -- a new extension could bring back more talent for the Mets in a trade -- but that hasn't been ruled out.

For now, the focus is on trying to keep him in Flushing -- while knowing full well that he might have to be dealt if that doesn't work out.

"I think it's always been a possibility," Alderson said. "I think that's always been understood by R.A., by his agent and by us. That doesn't mean it's a preferred avenue.

"But one of the reasons we wanted to talk and perhaps get something concluded before this time is because these kind of discussions begin to take place, publicly in terms of speculation and privately in terms of reality. So I don't think those dynamics should have any significant impact because I think they've always been assumed as part of the equation."

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