David Wright, who last played for the Mets on May 27, 2016, officially started a rehab assignment with Single-A St. Lucie, batting third as the designated hitter Tuesday night.
This is great news for Wright. However, regardless of what happens the next six weeks, if Sandy Alderson has any doubt about Wright's ability to play at a high level in 2018, he has to proceed this winter as if Wright will not be on the roster next year. If Wright is healthy next spring, and Alderson has too many infielders, so bet it. He can cross that bridge when he gets to it. Because, sadly, the fact is, that bridge may never come in to view...
David Wright of the Mets during an at-bat against the Nationals in spring training. Wright went 0 for 4, with two strikeouts, for Class A St. Lucie on Tuesday. Credit David J. Phillip/Associated Press
"It was a lot of fun. It was a long time coming," Wright said Tuesday after playing for St. Lucie. "There's still quite a bit to go to where I want to be, but it was a good first step. ... I'll take it. Certainly sooner rather than later I want to see some results, have some better at-bats. It's not going to come overnight. I haven't played in over a year, so it's going to be somewhat of a slow process."
The Mets have played 462 games since April, 2015, during which Wright has played only 19 percent of the time, including the 2015 postseason.
"This is a huge step going forward," Mets manager Terry Collins said Tuesday after losing to the D-backs at Citi Field. "I'm anxious to hear how he feels tomorrow."
Wright, 34, was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2015, after which he had neck surgery for a herniated disc in 2016. According to Wright, issues related to the neck surgery limited his ability to throw during this season's spring training, at which time he was left only able to hit.
In early-August, Mets assistant GM John Ricco told reporters that Wright had started baseball activities, but gave no indication of how they would proceed. However, shortly thereafter, Wright asked the team if he could at least hit as a designated hitter during a minor-league game.
So far, he is reserving throwing and fielding for pre-game workouts and practice. From what I understand, as he feels more stable, he may begin doing work at first base to help create options on the roster next season.
Feb. 2017: Wright signs autographs for fans at FirstData Field (Credit: Matthew Cerrone, MetsBlog)
Meanwhile, according to Collins, there is no short-term plan in place to have Wright throw during a game, which had been what he struggled most with earlier this year during spring training. In the event he's activated from the disabled list during September, Collins said it's possible Wright only is used as a pinch hitter.
It's good for Wright to get back in action so that he can create for himself the right off-season plan. But, for a similar reason, it helps Sandy Alderson, Ricco and the front office because seeing him in action will hopefully direct how they handle third base in 2018.
The fact is, even if David returns in September and looked great, Alderson still needs to approach third base as if Wright will not be able to play... because, like it or not, he's missed so much time, while not getting younger, it's hard to imagine how he's able to play enough -- and well enough -- to leave the spot 100 percent open for him next spring.
Thankfully, the Mets have Wilmer Flores, who is again showing this season that he's a terrific super-utility guy, capable of hitting 20 home runs and playing 120 games at every infield position. In the event Wright can play, and play well enough, the Mets can cobble third base together between him, Flores, Travis d'Arnaud, and another platoon player (maybe Neil Walker again). However, is this the best approach? I don't think it is.
Why? Because if Wright goes down with an injury again, and Wilmer is needed every day at third, what happens when Dominic Smith gets hurt? This is the exact scenario Alderson allowed the Mets to be in this current season. Instead of repeating the same mistake, he has to acquire an everyday, middle-of-the-order third baseman.
Aug 3, 2017; Moustakas (8) handles a ground ball at Kauffman Stadium. Credit: Medley-USA TODAY Sports
For what it's worth, Royals 3B Mike Moustakas is a free agent this winter. He's 28 years old with 35 home runs and 77 RBI this season, while batting .282. It's also possible the O's look to deal 3B Manny Machado, who is set to be a free agent after 2018 and is expected to seek a monster, long-term, deal worth at-least $300 million.
I understand this may seem disrespectful to Wright, who is the team's captain with a franchise-best 1,777 hits in the second-most games ever played. My heart breaks for him. It really does. He's a terrific, upstanding, smart, passionate guy that has done a lot for the team we love. He's also one of the most productive players in team history. But, as much as I respect and appreciate David, Alderson can't confuse Wright's dream of playing every day with the reality of whether he can actually do it. There's business to handle, and a franchise to get back on track, and Wright's legacy should only be part of the story. It should not dictate the future.
Thankfully, I've heard rumblings about two things that indicate Alderson is thinking about this situation in the correct way. The first of which is a quote from Alderson last week...
1) "We're always looking to get better, and -- at the same time -- I think we have to recognize the reality of David's situation. We have to plan around that, as we have over the last year," Alderson said during a talk with reporters.
2) The team's top management and owners intend to meet with David this winter to discuss his future role with the organization, be it on field, off field, and/or financially.
3) Wright will be asked to begin working again at first base to help create options for himself and Alderson. I suppose, if Wright is feeling strong and hitting, he could play third base on days he can throw, spot Dominic Smith on days he can't, and rest every other day in between. Of course, this is all dependent on if David's body cooperates, otherwise it'll be more of what we've seen from him during the last few years.
This is a critical moment in the franchise's history, let alone Alderson's time at GM. It's also a critical moment in Wright's career. It is not surprising that these two events are meeting up at the same time. How it is all handled may dictate how much the team wins or loses during the next three seasons, at which time Alderson will be 72 years old and Wright's contract will have officially expired. Good luck, gentlemen, you both have a lot of thinking to do...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is the host of SNY's MetsBlog Q&ACast and the lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!