Before the offseason's pitching market slowly came into focus, the Mets spent the general managers' meetings in November letting rival clubs know they'd listen to offers for reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
Those efforts escalated last week at the winter meetings, where a steady stream of interested parties proved that the Mets had successfully drummed up interest.
The Mets can afford to be deliberate in deciding to trade or retain their most precious trade commodity, whom they've positioned as the next-best alternative to top free agent Zack Greinke. And things could pick up now that Greinke is reportedly off the market, having agreed to a six-year, $147-million deal with the Dodgers, leaving suitors such as the Rangers to explore other options.
"I honestly could not tell you how this will play out,'' said a person familiar with the Mets' thinking.
The Mets have three viable options: trade Dickey, sign him to an extension or let him play out the final year of his contract for $5 million. Although the final option is far from ideal, the Mets would benefit from either of the first two, a testament to Dickey's value.
In the last three seasons, 58 big-league starters have logged at least 500 innings. In that group, Dickey's 2.95 ERA ranks 10th. He was worth 12.1 wins above replacement during that span, also ranking him 10th. By those measures, he has been the most productive pitcher available.
Several rival executives said this past week that they were surprised that the Mets were shopping Dickey. They acknowledged that his age, 38, is reason for pause. But knuckleballers have pitched effectively well into their 40s, and Dickey's recent body of work has been strong.
"I just don't see why not," one rival executive said when asked about Dickey's chances of remaining productive.
Dickey is coming off his best season. He led the NL in innings (2332/3), strikeouts (230) and complete games (five), finishing second in ERA (2.73) and victories (20).
Bo McKinnis, Dickey's longtime agent, said his client might be capable of more. "I heard Phil Niekro say he thinks there's another gear there, he thinks R.A.'s got even another step to take," McKinnis said at the winter meetings. "Which is so exciting to think about, you know?"
But even if Dickey never reaches those heights again, Mets GM Sandy Alderson said steady performance in the coming years is a reasonable expectation.
"Is he going to win the Cy Young this year? Odds are not," he said at the winter meetings. "But it's not about performing to the same level he did last year, necessarily. If you look at his three-year performance . . . and compare it to almost every other pitcher in baseball, [the statistics are] pretty good."
Rival clubs also have taken note, and the Mets have responded. One rival official who engaged in trade talks this past week said the Mets were open-minded in their demands.
"They described their interest in getting difference-makers back," said a rival executive who discussed Dickey with the Mets.
That characterization fit in with Alderson's public stance. Though the Mets have insisted that players involved in the deal be major league-ready, they have been open-minded as far as defensive positions. It is yet another acknowledgment that Dickey remains the team's best trade chip to fill holes in several areas of need.
Said McKinnis: "Sandy's not going to give him up for nothing.''