Personal achievement aside, R.A. Dickey was thrilled to win the Cy Young Award as a way of erasing the stigma of knuckleballers as trick-pitch artists who can’t be trusted as part of an organizational blueprint for success.
And yet in Dickey’s case, if he is going to remain a Met next season and beyond, it’s not quite that simple. He has the additional stigma of being old, meaning that even a Cy Young Award doesn’t necessarily answer the obvious question:
Would it be smarter for a franchise in rebuilding mode to sign a 38-year-old knuckleballer to a multiyear contract or trade him while his value is high and he has a $5 million option year remaining on his contract?
It’s a question the Mets’ decision-makers are wrestling with on a daily basis as they begin to engage teams in trade discussions as a means of filling the many holes in their ballclub.
Dickey can be a valuable part of a starting rotation for a few more years. He probably doesn’t have another 20-win season in him, but he’ll almost certainly have plenty of dominant starts — on nights the knuckler is dancing for him.
In addition, as Daily News beat writer Andy Martino has been reporting, Dickey is willing to sign a two-year deal, in the $20 million-$24 million range.
Even with the Mets still determined not to add significant payroll, that’s practically a no-brainer.
However, there is concern in the front office that Dickey could break down over the next couple of years, and that if they don’t trade him now they’ll be missing out on a great opportunity to solidify their future.
Because Dickey throws his knuckler as hard as 80 mph, with the type of effort more associated with a conventional power pitcher, some of the Mets’ people believe Dickey can’t be viewed as a typical knuckleballer who can maintain his level well into his 40s.
“I don’t trust it,’’ was the way one Mets person put it this week. “I’m not even worried about his arm, necessarily. At his age his back or his knees are at risk, the same they would be with any older pitcher. ‘’
Is that overstating Dickey’s risk of injury? Perhaps. But it’s the way baseball executives think, especially those in the Sandy Alderson regime who have been looking toward 2014 and beyond since they took on the task of rebuilding the Mets two years ago.
With that in mind, you can understand the appeal of trading Dickey. On the other hand, at some point all this talk about the future begins to sound like a way of merely buying more time, as the Mets wait for the contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay to come off the payroll.
In any case, the Cy Young Award shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Dickey has established a nice rapport with Mets fans, but these are fans who are thirsting for a winner, above all, so this shouldn’t be about making the right PR move.
Instead it should be about doing what’s best to build a championship ballclub. If the Mets find a win-now team willing to deal them a major-league ready outfielder with 30-home run power for Dickey, then it would be hard to argue against such a trade. And most fans almost surely would buy into it.
But would they be better off trading Jonathon Niese than Dickey? As a 26-year-old lefthander who is under team control at $5 million-a-year for six more seasons, including two option years, Niese may have more trade value than Dickey, especially for small-market clubs.
When I asked one Mets person if he thought Niese would be enough to fetch the Royals’ Alex Gordon, a Gold Glove left fielder who led the majors with 51 doubles last season, he said he had no doubt.
“But I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I’d rather keep the young arms and buy the bats (when the Mets have money to spend next winter).”
The Mets are over-valuing Niese’s potential, but in any case, it’s clear the front office’s focus is very much on a future beyond next season.
Whether that future includes Dickey probably depends more on what type of offers they get for him this winter than th e feel-good vibe that comes with winning the Cy Young Award.