NEW YORK -- For the past eight weeks, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and his front-office underlings have consumed themselves with thoughts of David Wright and R.A. Dickey. And little else.
Both players are entering their final years under contract, and both are negotiating extensions to remain in New York.
The remainder of Alderson's offseason hinges upon them.
So if the Mets do not reach conclusions with one or both players prior to the Winter Meetings, which begin next Monday, their time in Nashville, Tenn., may assume a similar tone. What happens with those two will determine whether they can pursue additional free agents, for example. What types of trades they can make. How cautious they must be in allocating their resources. And so on and so forth, from now until February.
"We wanted to get started early and maybe reach a conclusion early on these negotiations," Alderson said earlier this month. "We did get started early. But these things take on a life of their own, so I'm not surprised in either case that things have gone along as they have."
Neither player has seen his situation change much in the two months since the end of the regular season and the start of the Meetings. Entering the $16 million option year on his current deal, Wright, who turns 30 in December, is looking for something that will take him close to retirement. He figures to receive six or seven years at around $20 million annually, which would make him the highest-paid player in team history.
Understanding the third baseman's importance to the franchise, the Mets appear willing to appease him.
Dickey's situation is a bit more convoluted. Coming off a Cy Young Award season at age 38, Dickey is not looking for nearly the same type of deal in terms of years or dollars. But he is searching for an opportunity to win a World Series, and soon, knowing he does not have as much career left as his younger teammate.
Making things more difficult, of course, is that fact that no one knows quite how much career he does have left. The common notion is that Dickey, like most knuckleballers, should be able to remain effective well into his 40s, given the less-stressful nature of his signature pitch. But Dickey also throws his knuckler harder than anyone in history, potentially tossing a wrench into his expected career arc. If the Mets have their doubts, they could look to trade him.
In any event, Dickey's future -- like Wright's -- should become clearer by the end of the Winter Meetings.
"They're both important to the franchise and fan favorites," chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said recently. "So we'd like to keep it that way."
Important may be an understatement -- if the Mets have any designs on winning consistently in 2013, both Wright and Dickey will be crucial. But the Mets also must focus on the rest of their roster, in need of multiple outfielders, a right-handed-hitting catcher and multiple relievers.
They may not have enough money available to check every box on their wish list, given that Alderson expects only slightly more payroll flexibility than when his budget clocked in right around $100 million last season. But no matter the payroll, the Winter Meetings should provide the GM his best opportunity yet to gauge the marketplace in all areas of need.
Outfield looms most important, given the dearth of power on the team's current roster. Ideally, the Mets would like to find a right-handed power bat to potentially platoon with Lucas Duda in left field, then acquire a bona fide starter in right. But their financial limitations could prevent such a spree.
So the Mets will look to be creative, talking to other teams about trades while keeping their eyes on the free-agent bargain bin. The same thinking applies at catcher, where they would like to find a platoon-mate for lefty-hitting Josh Thole, and in the bullpen, where they are plotting a makeover for a second straight year.
But until they reach resolutions with Wright and Dickey, uncertainty will hover over all of those decisions. No two players were more important to the Mets on the field last season, and no two players have demanded more attention over the first eight weeks of the offseason.
Perhaps at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, the Mets will transform that attention into action.