The basics of R.A. Dickey's looming trade to the Blue Jays appear straightforward. According to a person with knowledge of the talks, the Mets are close to sending Dickey to Toronto for Travis d'Arnaud, a highly regarded prospect who could be the Mets' starting catcher for years.
But the two clubs were still working on Saturday night on the structure of the deal, according to several published reports, which likely will involve the inclusion of multiple players. For yet another day, Dickey and his immediate future remained open to speculation as the teams sorted through the pieces needed to complete the deal.
The identity of the other players involved remains unclear, but assuming that the central trade pieces stay in place, the Mets have positioned themselves to fill what general manager Sandy Alderson has identified as a major need.
D'Arnaud, 23, is considered by some as baseball's top catching prospect.
The Phillies selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft before trading him to the Blue Jays two years later as part of a package for pitcher Roy Halladay. In each of the last three seasons, d'Arnaud has been sidelined by injuries, the latest a knee issue that limited him to 67 games at triple-A Las Vegas in 2012. But when healthy, he flashed his potential in 2012, hitting .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBI. Though he played in a hitter friendly environment, d'Arnaud's performance translated on the road as well.
One longtime talent evaluator raved about d'Arnaud's abilities both at the plate and behind it. He also praised what he called d'Arnaud's mental toughness, which will serve him well as he adjusts to the big leagues.
"All-star talent, but (we'll) have to see how well he can use it at the major league level," the talent evaluator said. "I think he'll be a good one."
Around the game, solid catching has become as rare a commodity as solid pitching. The Mets suffered the consequences of that talent drain last season, when starter Josh Thole led a quartet that together ranked as the least productive catchers in all of baseball.
D'Arnaud would represent an instant upgrade. But first, the final pieces of the trade must fall into place. And as they've done throughout this two-month process, the Mets have proceeded methodically.
They have operated on two distinct tracks -- entering talks with Dickey about a contract extension while simultaneously trying to gauge his value on the trade market. But that task has proved difficult on both fronts.
The Mets and Dickey remain $6 million apart on extension talks, leading to the stronger push to trade him away. But Dickey is a one-of-a-kind trade chip, a 38-year-old who has revived his career by mastering the knuckleball. The Mets have been deliberate about slapping the proper price tag on their precious jewel.
"The fact that this has drawn on, at least publicly for quite some time, would suggest that the Mets have just been trying to figure out, trying to establish for themselves, what that value is," one AL executive said.
However, the Mets appear closer than ever to establishing that value.
The Blue Jays have spent the last two decades as also-rans in the powerful AL East. But adding 20-game winner Dickey would be the latest aggressive move this winter by general manager Alex Anthopolous. He also orchestrated the 11-player blockbuster with the Marlins that brought stars Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to the Blue Jays.