David Wright finally made his spring debut and wasted no time shaking off the rust. After an extended absence because of a strained abdominal muscle, the Mets’ third baseman promptly singled up the middle in his very first at bat. The ball was fielded in center by Carlos Beltran, which is rather appropriate, considering the fate of the Mets’ offense generally rested on the shoulders of both figures over the last seven years.
Beltran may have found green pastures in St. Louis, but Wright’s future in Flushing is still up in the air. After this season, the Mets hold a $16 million option on the third baseman, after which, he would be free to test the market. As recently as last month, Wright expressed a desire to spend his entire career with the Mets, but the team’s sentiment on the matter seems less certain. Because of the financial struggles faced by the franchise, the Mets haven’t been in a position to make any long-term commitments. However, now that a favorable settlement to the Madoff-litigation has lifted some of the clouds, the team should be in a position to at least make an overture to Wright.
The Mets haven’t expressed much urgency to sign Wright to a long-term extension, but there are many reasons why it would make sense to strike a deal sooner than later. For starters, by spending money instead of trimming payroll, the Mets would send a signal to their fans (and all of baseball) that a sense of normalcy was returning to the team. Also, by acting now, the team could capitalize on the perceived decline in Wright’s value. At the very least, by offering him security two years in advance of free agency, the Mets would be able to negotiate a discount versus what will undoubtedly be fair market value when he becomes a free agent. Of course, the most compelling reason to offer a new extension is really much simpler: Wright is one of the best players in the game.
So much has been made of Wright’s power outage since the Mets moved to Citifield. Based on all the hand wringing, a casual observer could easily come away with the impression that Wright has been mired in a three-year slump. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. From 2009-2011, Wright has an OPS+ of 124, which, despite being a shade off his career average, is still very impressive. What’s more, since his first full season in 2005, Wright ranks ninth and sixth respectively in terms of bWAR and fWAR. By just about any metric over any timeframe, Wright’s performance stands out, especially considering the relative scarcity of top-notch third basemen.
Source: baseball-reference.com (bWAR) and fangraphs.com (fWAR)
Considering how great Wright has been over the years, why aren’t more Mets fans clamoring for an extension? One reason is probably because the fan base has been beaten down by the recent string of mishaps on and off the field. However, another dynamic also seems to be at play. Whether its talk radio, the blogosphere, or conversation, it’s not uncommon to hear Mets’ fans complain about Wright’s performance. In particular, the Flushing faithful seem quick to lament his inability to come through in the clutch, even though he has hit a respectable .282/.389/.446 in “close and late” situations over his career. Much like many Yankees’ fans unfairly labeled Alex Rodriguez as a choker until his historic World Series in 2009, a large segment of the Mets’ fan base has chosen to make Wright a scapegoat for the franchise’s ills.
Mets fans, and most baseball fans, have taken David Wright for granted during much of his career. Will the Mets’ front office be guilty of doing the same? Wright’s contract has a unique feature that allows him to void the 2013 option if he is traded, making it likely that he’ll remain with the Mets for the entire 2012 season. However, if GM Sandy Alderson does not make a move to extend him during this period, it could signal a trade during the offseason. After all, if not now, why later? Although injury and age-related risks are always relevant when offering long-term deals, Wright has mostly been healthy during his career. Also, if the Mets fold his current deal into something like a new seven-year contract, it would only take him through his age-35 season. All of the advantages seem to argue for prompt action, unless, of course, the Mets have already determined Wright is not in their long-term plans.
In an effort to rebuild his franchise, Fred Wilpon recently took on several new partners, so why not one more? If David Wright also wants to be a part of the solution, the team should be eager to comply. For too long, the faces of the franchise have been accountants and lawyers, but now it’s time to return the focus to the field. With Wright, the Mets have the perfect place to start, but it remains to be seen whether they see it that way. If not, in 2014, the Mets could be watching him across town in pinstripes, which, for many of the team’s fatalistic fans, just might represent a new all-time low.