Background: David Allen Wright was born on December 20, 1982 in Norfolk, Virginia, and was raised in nearby Chesapeake. He grew up a Met fan partly due to the Mets then having their AAA team in the area. He was an all-state player, among the very best in the state, and was drafted by the Mets with the second of their 2001 first round picks (the 38th choice) which came from the Rockies as compensation for losing free agent Mike Hampton (they used the first pick, number 18, on Aaron Heilman.)
Wright progressed steadily in the minors with two good years at a young age in A and A+ ball, rocketing to being rated Baseball America’s number 21 prospect before 2004. After putting up eye-popping numbers in 60 games at AA Binghamton, the then-awful Mets promoted him to the bigs after just 31 games at AAA Norfolk. Despite only having 91 games above A ball and being just 21, Wright had a very respectable MLB debut season in 69 games, with 17 2B, 14 HR, and a .293/.332/.525 line.
In 2005, he instantly showed that he was destined to be a star, and his 2006—2008 seasons established him as one of the game’s brightest young players, making the All-Star team all three years and finishing in the top 9 in MVP voting each year, topping it off with Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards in 2007 and 2008.
The 2009 move to Citi Field dramatically affected Wright’s power, although his BA and OBP remained high, at .324/.414 when he was beaned by Matt Cain on August 15. He did return 17 days later, but ended the season in a downward spiral, with just 10 HR and a by-far career high 140 K. 2010 saw the power return, as Wright finished with 29 HR and 103 RBI, but his BA and OBP were significantly down, and he again hit a new career high with 160 K. Clearly, this was not the same player as was present from 2005—2008.
In 2011, Wright fought injuries and the continued pressure of being the leader of a bad team, and finished with his worst season by far in the majors, with a line of .254/.345/.427. The hope was that after nursing the injuries and working hard in the off-season, Wright would return reinvigorated for 2012, and he did. While not hitting HR as in the past, Wright was hitting everything in the first half, with authority and to all fields, and at the break was hitting .351 with a .441 OBP and .563 SLG. Immediately after the break, the numbers began what would be a consistent second half swoon, and Wright’s latter part of 2012 was eerily similar in all ways to 2011, and he finished at .306/.391/.492.
The Contract, Then and Now: During the magical 2006 season, Omar Minaya, in one of his less-appreciated fine moves, locked Wright up for 6 years and about $55 million, with a $16 mil option for 2013, which the Mets have exercised. The Mets now are faced with a serious dilemma, as Wright is after what will be his one massive, $100 mil+ deal. Like Jose Reyes in 2011, Wright is a very wealthy young man, but clearly understands the economics of his sport and his value, and will surely demand at the very least about 6-7 years and well over $100 mil, with media numbers often in the vicinity of 7 years and approximately $125-130 milllion.
Wright’s Numbers: There is no doubt that the 2005—2008 Wright was on the path of a perennial All-Star, and possible Hall of Fame consideration. Among the best young players in the game, a fine fielder, on a team which was winning games, and, despite the always-wrong bleating of his vocal minority of detractors, he was indeed a player who could be counted on—while Jose Reyes disappeared down the stretch in 2007 and 2008, the numbers show that Wright was excellent during those months, and was clearly not among the reasons for the late-season failures during those two vexing years.
However, since then, Wright has not been the same player.
Here are some numbers from the last two four-year periods of Wright’s career, the first four at Shea and the last four at Citi:
—–WAR numbers from 2005—2008: 23.1 (5.8 AVG.)
—–WAR numbers from 2009–2012: 14 (3.5 AVG.—this includes the 6.7 number from 2012—from 2009—2011 Wright’s total WAR was 7.3)
—–HRs per year from 2005—2008: 29
—–HRs per year from 2009—2012: 18.5
All of his numbers–G, R, H, 2B, SB, BA, OBP, SLG–have been down (some more significantly than others) in the last four years from what they were in the previous four years.
As the new deal will almost certainly start in 2014 and very likely be for 7 years, the next 8 years must be considered. As Wright will be 30 in December, when one considers the age he will be throughout this new deal, and what the last two four-year periods look like, what can be expected over the next TWO four-year periods?
The Reasons for the Decline and Their Meaning for the Future: Wright clearly has been affected by Citi Field. In addition, from the beaning to the broken bone in his back to 2012’s finger issues, he has had many very real factors which can help explain the drop in production over the last 4 years. In addition, as many point out, Wright was at his best when he had other sluggers around him. His breakout year of 2005 saw Cliff Floyd as his mentor on and off the field, and from 2006—2008 he was surrounded by near-MVP years from Beltran and from the HR bat of Carlos Delgado. This type of support has been absent for the most part since early 2009.
While these are all indeed very, very valid issues, the rub here is that none of them are going to change anytime soon. Citi’s fences were brought in and might be again; but the overall structure and sightlines of the park remain the same. In addition, while Ike is a HR hitter, he is not Beltran or Delgado, and he is the only even remotely feared other bat in this anemic Met lineup. This is almost certainly not going to change in the next year, and Wilmer Flores is about the only power bat even on the horizon for the next 2—3 years within the Met organization.
Finally, perhaps one of Wright’s previous injuries was affecting him during the second half of 2012. Maybe this is part of the reason for the precipitous decline.
Regardless, it is fair to assume that some or all of these factors will remain in play in the near future; perhaps they will have even more meaning as Wright reaches his mid-30s.
Face of the Franchise: Many, many fans love David Wright. At this writer’s annual late-season game, he noted the virtual sea of David Wright jerseys, and the cheers for his every action in the game. Fans love him and the front office knows this. Many, many followers of the team want Wright to retire as a Met, as he is the “Face of the Franchise.” There is indeed a massive emotional attachment to this player, who by all accounts is smart, kind, considerate, religious, and charitable, and while this is very understandable from the heart, the head must often make tough choices.
Clearly, part of the current attachment to Wright comes from his being a homegrown player who was a key part of the 2006 team, and today from his being the last real symbol of when the Mets were very good. But when the team starts winning again, new heroes will emerge, as we may already be seeing in the maturing of Niese and the arrival of Harvey. Clinging on to the past will not help the present or the future.
Wright vs Dickey: Obviously Wright is much younger than Dickey; 8 full years. While some may find it hard to fathom, Dickey has a higher WAR total over the last 3 years, 12.1 to 11.1. Some argue that everyday players are more important than a pitcher who appears every fifth day. The results of many teams—especially the recent pitching-driven Giants’ two title teams—strongly argue for the high value of top-of-the-rotation starters. Lack of starting pitching—and diminished starting pitching—has haunted this team since 2007. Once Johan lost his effectiveness in 2012, the team’s decline rapidly accelerated. Pitchers from Figueroa to Misch to Schwinden to Hefner and beyond have vividly shown the value–and the relative scarcity–of reliable quality starters. Dickey has been utterly reliable, and was one of the very best in the game in 2012. Even if he was simply to put up 2010—2011 numbers over the next 3–4 years, he simply will be a much, much better value to the team at what his re-signing will cost in terms of years and dollars than Wright will.
Conclusion: Wright clearly is still a very good player; excellent on defense, and capable of very serious hot streaks with the bat. He is asset off the field as he clearly is a fine individual whose heart and mind seem to be in the right place. He is tough, he works hard, he plays hurt, and he has become more vocal with his teammates and his manager while becoming an older player and a team leader. He has been a great Met who should eventually have his #5 retired by the team.
But the feeling here is that a contract for 7 years and over $120 million for Wright will be an unmitigated disaster on more than one level. The Minaya era taught us the danger in such long-term deals. Beltran was 28 when his deal started; Santana was 29. Wright will be 31. Beltran and Santana were each clearly in their prime, coming off multiple excellent years.
This simply is not the case with Wright, no matter what his supporters insist. He has played at his 2005—2008 level for precisely 3 months of the last 2 seasons, and has been far, far below this level for the rest of that time.
The feeling here is clearly that Wright should be aggressively shopped. Some folks say that Dickey should be traded, as we have a fine potential starting rotation, and we must “trade from strength.” But creating a huge hole at the top of the rotation with Niese as the only other real sure thing right now will almost certainly subtract more than it will add. Wright’s age would almost surely mean obtaining more for him in a trade.
Trade Wright, for as many top prospects or younger MLB players as you can. Maybe explore AZ’s interest and think about Upton. Maybe explore TOR’s thoughts on a larger package possibly including Lawrie (and d’Arnaud if we include enough?) if they might want to re-unite Wright and Reyes and are really in win-now mode; Wright being signed for just one year would give a team with this mentality optimum flexibility.
Play Murphy at 3B and platoon Turner and Valdespin at 2B in 2013. Hope really hard that Flores is ready to take over 3B in 2014. Then Murphy can be moved back to 2B unless Valdespin really develops or Havens beats the odds and recovers the track he was once on to be the 2B of the future.
Final Thoughts: This writer has been a big fan of David Wright and remains so. If he was still signed for 2-3 years, there would be zero opposition to and much happiness about his remaining a Met. But a contract like this is absolutely the wrong thing for this team, for the wrong player, at the wrong time. Wright’s decline, his age, the team’s financial situation, and the overall record of long-term deals for players beginning at age 31 or thereabouts all argue most vociferously against extending Wright at anything close to the terms being bandied about.
These are not your Uncle Omar Madoff’s Mets; there are not another 1 or 2 big name players coming in with big salaries every year.
Major League Baseball is a massive, billion dollar business, and it is completely understandable that Wright should maximize his value, especially at a time when we are at the cusp of another huge increase of the TV money many teams will be making. He deserves to earn whatever he can, as someone with a skill possessed by such a tiny number of people. But the same realism dictates that the current Mets simply cannot afford a deal with this kind of risk when the team has so many needs and such dramatically reduced spending ability.
Trading David Wright for the best possible package of players is clearly the right move for this team right now.