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New York Mets must sign David Wright, R.A. Dickey to long-term deals

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COMMENTARY | Last week, the New York Mets exercised club options on third baseman David Wright ($16 million) and pitcher R.A. Dickey ($5 million). Let's hope that was just the beginning.

Whatever it might say about the current state of the team, Wright and Dickey are the club's core players. In many ways, they are more valuable to the Mets than they would be to any other franchise, though the suitors would line up to get their hands on one of the game's best third basemen and a 20-game winner. Mets fans don't have much to root for these days but at the very least, Wright and Dickey offer a glimmer of hope.

Aside from their production on the field -- the third baseman market is bare and starting pitching is always at a premium -- there are intangibles at play with both guys. Wright is a Met through and through. He already holds a number of franchise records, and if he finishes his career in Flushing, he'll go down as the greatest Met of all time. Dickey has only been with the team for three years, but he captivated an entire city last season during his quest to become the Mets' first 20-game winner since Frank Viola did it in 1990.

The Mets are in a tricky situation. On the one hand, they're not good enough to compete with the best teams in the National League over the course of a full season. On the other hand, they're not bad enough to be written off entirely. As the last two seasons proved, the Mets are capable of putting together good stretches, though sustaining those runs over the course of a 162-game season has been more difficult for them to do. Now we're asking the organization, which is hurting for money, to invest a lot of it in two players whom they may have to overpay to keep.

Still, it's important that the Mets resist the temptation to trade Wright, a third baseman in his prime, and Dickey, a knuckleballer who came into his own a decade and a half after he was drafted.

In terms of where Wright stands among Mets legends, he's second all-time in batting average (.301); first in runs (790); first in walks (616); fourth in on-base percentage (.381); third in home runs (.204); first in hits (1,426); first in extra-base hits (545); first in total bases (2,398); fourth in slugging percentage (.506); first in runs batted in (818); first in doubles (322); third in games played (1,262); fifth in stolen bases (166); and third in on-base plus slugging percentage (.887). He came up as a rookie in 2004, and despite some struggles the past few years, Wright has put together six All-Star-caliber seasons. For a franchise that's been deprived of that big-time hitter who spends his entire career in Queens, keeping Wright long term becomes even more important.

Remember when the Mets lost Darryl Strawberry to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1990 season? It's true that Strawberry was never the same player he was in New York, but there was still a huge void in the Mets' lineup. At a time when the playoffs seem like such a distant memory, losing David Wright would be a public relations nightmare.

As for Dickey, though he's only been with the Mets for three years, he's won 39 games. Twenty of those came last year when he pitched to a 2.73 earned run average and had 230 strikeouts, five complete games, and three shutouts. He is a top contender for the National League Cy Young Award, which will be announced on Nov. 14. Dickey is 38 years old, but he's a knuckleball pitcher and his age isn't as important as his marketability.

Why would 31,506 fans come to Citi Field for a Thursday afternoon baseball game in late September with the Mets long gone from playing meaningful baseball? Because Dickey was going for win No. 20, that's why. Without October baseball to dream of, Mets fans spent the month of September tuned in to every Dickey start to see if he could get to 20 wins. Not bad for a guy who didn't come into his own until the age of 35. Not bad for a fan base desperate for something to root for.

We have to remember that this is an organization that's suffering financially. Don't expect any big-time free agents to be coming here anytime soon. And the money issue may lead the Mets to conclude that they'd be better off trading Wright and Dickey and looking to the future.

But that future should include both players, assuming they can get deals done that make sense for all sides. For Wright, it's looking like a seven- or eight-year deal in the neighborhood of $150 million. That's at least $18 million per season, meaning the Mets are overpaying based on statistics but doing what they have to do to keep a guy who's become the face of the franchise. In terms of Dickey's contract, we're probably talking somewhere in the neighborhood of a three-year deal for around $40 million. Again, you're taking a chance with both, but it's a chance they almost have to take.

If you sign Wright and Dickey to long-term deals, you're giving fans a reason to go to the ballpark in 2013 and beyond.

Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

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