INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The possibility of trading R.A. Dickey firmly lodged into the Mets' consciousness months ago, even as Dickey was in the midst of his best season as a professional. But at the General Managers Meetings this week in California, it began dominating the landscape of New York's offseason.
General manager Sandy Alderson, in particular, spent his final two days here talking more candidly about potential trades than ever before.
"I think it's always been a possibility," Alderson said after wrapping up his work at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells. "I think that's always been understood by R.A., by his agent, by us. It doesn't mean it's the preferred avenue but ... it's always been assumed as part of the equation."
Alderson's optimism for locking up third baseman David Wright apparently does not entirely translate to Dickey, who is 38 years old and coming off the best season of his life.
In other words, despite the unorthodox career arcs of many knuckleballers, Dickey's trade value has most likely reached an all-time high. So Alderson made it clear to other GMs this week that Dickey could be available, farming out lieutenants John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta at these meetings.
Dickey and his agent, Bo McKinnis, meanwhile, must weigh the Mets' best offers against the possibility of a trade and long-term extension elsewhere. When the Mets acquired Johan Santana from the Twins after the 2007 season, for example, the deal was contingent upon Santana signing a long-term deal in New York. Though Dickey does not possess a no-trade clause as Santana did, he could still try to parlay a trade into a new contract -- perhaps even with a perennial World Series contender.
But the Mets also know that if they are to compete in the short term, they will have a heck of a time doing so without Dickey. Starting pitching is their strength, and -- considering how often injuries occur on the mound -- pressing that advantage may be the Mets' best chance at competing anytime soon.
"We've got other players to trade," Alderson said. "Of course there will be the free-agent market that we've tapped the last couple years at the bottom end, so we have plenty of options. Starting pitching is our strength. But we'd like it to be our strength in '13 and '14 and '15 also.
"It's a good place to start building a team, and that's a place where we're strong. We've got to be a little bit careful about who we trade, particularly those who are going to be valuable to us for more than one year. And I would include R.A. in that category."
Either way, the next few weeks should be telling as the Mets and Dickey continue to negotiate. If nothing else, Alderson spent this week refining his sense of what might be possible on the trade market.
"I wouldn't say that we've learned a great deal," Alderson said. "Maybe we confirmed a few things that we anticipated."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.