Question: How should the Mets handle R.A. Dickey’s future?

Michael Baron , Contributor

In yesterday’s Daily News, Andy Martino said the Mets could open official contract negotiations with both David Wright and R.A. Dickey this week.

According to Martino, while the Mets intend to commit the necessary resources to retain Wright, the situation with Dickey is different and there is more of a debate as to how the Mets will handle Dickey’s future with the Mets.

“[Sandy] Alderson is said by associates to be sincere in his view of the 37-year-old Cy Young candidate as worthy of another multiyear deal,” Martino writes. “In some corners of the organization, there is concern about the knuckleballer’s age, and the injuries that he was able to pitch through during the past two seasons.”

In a recent report for CBS Sports, a rival GM told Jon Heyman he believes Dickey’s value to be around $15 million per season and says the Mets are not thinking along those lines for Dickey at this point.

Dickey just completed a two-year, $7.8 million contract he signed with the Mets before the 2011 season. The Mets hold a $5 million option on Dickey for 2013 with a $300,000 buyout, after which he can become a free agent.

The issue shouldn’t be centered around what Dickey might be able to contribute as he gets older through the life of his next contract. There probably isn’t an organization in baseball who doesn’t understand the risks of a long-term contract, especially for a player who, while he has propelled himself into elite status in the game, is in his late 30’s and odds are he will struggle to reproduce his magical 2012 season in future seasons. Period. But whether they sign Dickey to an extension or not, those questions are easier to answer when it comes to justifying whatever move they make, so I understand that public argument.

No matter what anyone in the organization says, the Mets remain in a building stage. I don’t think they’re at square one, but they’re clearly a number of stages away from completing the puzzle. But they continue to be faced with identity, branding, and reputation issues among the fan base and they have to work equally as hard in restoring “faith,” and “trust,” as they do in building the Major League product.

In the case of Dickey’s future, how the Mets handle that can have both positive and negative impacts on the Major League roster and their ability to restore that faith among fans, no matter what they decide. Alderson has said recently he does not expect to have “unlimited funds” in the short-term, and the resources it will likely require to retain both Wright and Dickey will impact the organization’s ability to invest in the Major League roster in the same time period. In addition, Alderson has also said he is reluctant to offer back-loaded deals to players, which means it’s unlikely the Mets would give either player a deal which offers them fluid payroll flexibility for the life of their contracts.

And so, what the decision should come down to is not whether Dickey is injury prone, or his advanced age, or the wear and tear an 80 mph knuckleball will have on his arm as he gets older. If they want Dickey (and Wright for that matter) to be a part of the solution, those are all understood risks in the engagement. They would be in a better position to debate those issues if they were closer to a championship. It should be about whether or not Dickey’s presence for the next few years makes them better, whether or not his presence makes the organization healthier, and whether or not he can help put the team on the quickest path to not only being successful in the short-term, but the ability to sustain success over the long-term.

It would be hard to feel comfortable about the a possible deal on the level Heyman suggests for Dickey right now. If that’s the reality, I could see the Mets pick up Dickey’s option for 2013, shop him during the Winter Meetings and try and get other parts they need in a trade. Of course, trading a player like Dickey who holds such a deep connection with the base might be perceived as a continued “disconnect” between the team and the fans. However, so can locking up resources necessary to evolve and mature the team in future seasons. It’s almost a “can’t win” situation for the organization. It’s clear Dickey has become his own drawing card at the stadium, and that is important, especially at a time when the team is losing more than it wins. He is a terrific story and an inspiring personality. But if the Mets do decide Dickey will be in the mix, they have to ensure their flexibility to continue to build the roster is not hamstrung – as I said, that can have an equal, if not greater impact on restoring that trust among those they need to come to the ballpark on a nightly basis…