With Zack Greinke and James Shields off the board, the Mets would appear to be in a good spot. After all, R.A. Dickey is the best available starting pitcher on the market, and it's not even close.

If there was a time to turn a top-of-the-rotation starter into a package of young prospects, this is it. The Kansas City Royals just gave up four of their best prospects to get Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays.

Dickey had better numbers than Shields and is making less money in 2013. He's also about as marketable as any player in baseball.

That's why these next few days should be interesting as the Rangers, Blue Jays, Red Sox and other clubs look again at the pitching market. Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse are still available in free agency. And there's Dickey.

He's 38 years old and coming off a season in which he led the National League in innings and strikeouts, winning 20 games and the NL Cy Young Award. He seems like a perfect fit for the Rangers, who were unable to acquire Greinke or Shields. Actually, he'd make pretty much any club way better.

Here's the rub. There appears to be a gap between how the Mets value Dickey and how other teams value him. Hey, that's how the game is played. Now, with Shields and Greinke gone, the Mets would appear to be in a stronger position.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has asked for such a large package of prospects that some executives have wondered how serious he is about trading him.

On the other hand, Alderson has said all along he's simply in a listening mode, that he's also OK with signing Dickey to an extension or beginning the 2013 season with him and allowing the market to play out after that.

There probably is a part of Alderson that doesn't want to trade Dickey. He became the face of the Mets last summer, his every start an event. Also, if the Mets hang onto him, their rotation would be solid.

But there are holes up and down the roster, and until some of those are filled, the Mets probably won't compete in the NL East. As difficult as it might be for Alderson to deal him, Dickey's value might never be higher.

He pitched more innings than either Shields or Greinke. He had more strikeouts, too, and a lower ERA. Actually, Dickey's ERA was significantly lower -- 2.73 compared to 3.52 for Shields and 3.48 for Greinke. Even if you adjust Dickey's number upward because he is in the NL, he'd be a huge pickup.

He brings more than just great numbers to the table. He has a story to tell, a story of being kicked in the teeth a few times, of refusing to give up, of believing in himself when almost no one else did.

Dickey is pretty close to the nicest guy in baseball, and he's also one of the most marketable. His starts are a reason to go to the ballpark. Dickey essentially invented a new pitch, a knuckleball he throws harder than any previous knuckleballer attempted to throw his pitch.

Dickey would be a nice consolation prize for the Rangers, and there'd be some symmetry in him returning to the franchise that originally drafted him in 1997.

Dickey spent five seasons with Texas and struggled almost from start to finish. Finally, manager Buck Showalter bluntly told him to go back to the Minor Leagues and work on that knuckleball, that his traditional stuff wasn't good enough.

Dickey did as he was told and allowed six home runs in his first start as a knuckleballer in 2006. The Rangers showed him the door shortly after that, and Dickey spent time with five organizations over the next five seasons.

As he kept getting thrown off the bus, he never stopped believing in himself. He continued to tweak his knuckleball and finally came up with a spectacular version of the pitch. This season was a reward for 15 mostly tough seasons.

Because Dickey is 38 years old, there's no way to know how much longer he can pitch at a high level. But the knuckleball doesn't require the arm strength of other pitches, and Dickey has worked hard to keep himself in great shape.

At the moment, he appears the next logical domino to fall in the pitching market. If nothing else, Alderson finally may be able to gauge Dickey's value and whether he should move him or not.