Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wright & Dickey Contract Conundrum

If they haven't already mapped out their plan regarding the futures of David Wright and R.A. Dickey, Sandy Alderson and Co. will have to quickly do so and spring into action once the 2013 season concludes.  Although the Mets hold contract options for both Dickey and Wright for next year, their long-term fates need to be decided between October and the end of March.  Simply exercising their options and letting the matter sit can't be the plan.  Here's why:

Both before and during this season, Wright and Dickey have been candid when asked whether or not they wanted to remain with the Mets.  At this point, it almost seems as if their answers are carbon copies.  They have emphatically stated that they want to remain with the Mets and be part of the long-term solution.  However, they've also indicated their strong desire to win and a need to know what the Mets' direction is before making a decision.  The pressing issue here, is the fact that both are unlikely to negotiate in-season next year.  Meaning, if the Mets are to extend them it has to be done this fall/winter.  I attended last Sunday's season ticket holder Q & A at Citi Field, and Sandy Alderson was quick and to the point when asked about the futures of Wright and Dickey.  He dodged tons of questions, but not that one.  Without hesitation, he noted that although the Mets hold options on both players, he's not comfortable going into next season without both of them locked up long-term.  He said that he "fully expects" Wright and Dickey to be Mets not only next year but for years to come.  I believe Alderson wants them to be here, and I believe the Mets have the payroll flexibility to make it happen.  A potential hurdle, though, could be convincing both Wright and Dickey to stay.

In order to get the Wright and Dickey contract extensions taken care of, Alderson needs to be quick and decisive.  He has to approach and present them with immediate offers.  Moreover, those offers have to be accopmanied by an explanation of the Mets' long-term motives.  What is Alderson's grand plan?  What will the payroll look like going forward?  How does Alderson plan to fill the roster inadequacies alongside Wright, Dickey, and the other holdovers?  These have to be contract offers wrapped up in a concise presentation of the type of organization these men will be playing for after those contracts are potentially signed. 

Just how does Sandy Alderson show Wright and Dickey that they should stay?  I doubt this year's final win total will matter much, but I'm sure it wouldn't hurt for the team to finish strong.  Alderson recently made a series of comments to Mike Francesa on WFAN, intimating that "evaluation time" is over.  He stressed the need for serious roster turnover, which will likely be accomplished through trades.  Alderson has to fill Wright and Dickey in on how he plans to improve the club, while stating that if 2013 isn't a year where the Mets are likely to contend, 2014 certainly will be.  If needed, ownership should step in and assure both players of the financial health of the franchise going forward. 

From 2011 to 2012, the Mets' payroll was slashed from $143 million to $95 million.  It was an enormous year to year reduction.  The drop was necessary because of the still ongoing Madoff litigation, and due to monetary losses the team had sustained.  Now that the litigation is over and things have calmed down, the payroll for 2013 is expected to remain about the same as it was in 2012, or potentially be slightly higher.  After next season, the Mets will have roughly $40 million coming off the books when Johan Santana and Jason Bay's contracts expire.  Even if you factor in potential raises to Wright and Dickey, the team should have a significant chunk of money to spend in free agency after 2013. 

After he was acquired via trade in1983, Keith Hernandez was counting the days until he'd be able to depart via free agency.  Once he saw what was on the horizon, though, his intentions quickly changed.  The rest is history.  Much like in 1983, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Mets.  Yes, the Mets will likely be coming off four consecutive losing seasons.  Still, strong teams are built with strong starting pitching.  And in Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Collin McHugh, and soon Zack Wheeler, the Mets will have five young, cost effective, talented contributors - two of which have legitimate top of the rotation potential.  If R.A. Dickey is here, it makes the group that much stronger.  The state of the bullpen and offense is far more unsettled than that of the rotation, but the situation is far from dire.  Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis, and Daniel Murphy can all be contributors to a contending club.  It's clear, though, that the outfield has to be re-made.  The bullpen has a few solid contributors in Bobby Parnell and Josh Edgin, but it will have to be overhauled as well.

To me, Sandy Alderson has three options when it comes to handling the futures of David Wright and R.A. Dickey.  Option one is signing both long-term this winter.  Option two, if both reject contract extensions, is to trade both this winter.  Option three, would be to trade them during the 2013 season (the least appealing option).  Those are the only three options, due to the fact that the Mets can't afford to let Wright and Dickey walk for nothing.  And if they hit free agency, that's exactly what will happen.  However, if Fred Wilpon allows Sandy Alderson to do his job, option one should be the only scenario on the table for the Mets.

I'm of the opinion that the Mets' fanbase has been through such hell over the last four years, that letting Wright and Dickey go would be the last straw for many.  If Alderson decided that the right move was to deal both in an effort to acquire a host of young impact players, I suppose I'd be able to swallow it.  Still, I simply don't believe that would be the right course of action.  Wright will turn 30 in December, and is the face of the franchise.  He's expressed over and over his desire to stay.  His love of the team and the fans is unrivaled, and his work ethic is impeccable.  If the Mets sign him to a 6 year extension with a 7th year option, those last few years may turn out to be less than stellar.  However, there's no reason to expect a downturn from Wright any time soon.  As far as Dickey is concerned, he's not only become one of the best pitchers in the league, he's become a fan favorite because of the man he is off the field.  Like Wright, there's no reason to anticipate a precipitous decline from Dickey.  He'll be 38 next season, and while he throws a harder knuckle ball than most, his arm has been through much less stress than pretty much every other pitcher his age.  Both men should be part of the long-term solution.  They should be built around, not pawned off for other pieces who may turn out to be something of worth.

It makes zero sense for David Wright to stay with the Mets from 2004 to 2013, riding the highs and lows (but mostly lows) only to depart prior to the 2014 season - when the Mets should have both the talent and spending ability to contend.  As far as Dickey is concerned, the type of contract offer the Mets would need to present him with would likely be less than half of what they would have to guarantee to Wright (both in years and dollars).  These deals must get done. 

The Mets need to sign these two men long-term to bolster the future quality of the product on the field, and as a sign of stability and seriousness to their fanbase.  They need to do it to show that the worst is over, and that the team is again ready to rise from the ashes. 

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