If the Mets’ negotiations with David Wright were a test of ownership’s willingness to spend, not even the most cynical can deny that the team just passed in a big way.
Time to give credit where credit is due.
I was among those who questioned when the Mets, under Fred Wilpon, would emerge from their post-Madoff funk and resume operating like a high-revenue franchise.
The answer came early Thursday morning, when the team agreed with Wright on an eight-year, $138 million contract — the largest in team history.
The deal, which is pending a physical, is not necessarily a wise one for the club. Wright turns 30 on Dec. 20, and so many of these large contracts rarely work out well.
But for the Mets, who last offseason lost shortstop Jose Reyes in free agency, locking up Wright was absolutely essential, just to prove they are back in business again.
The next question, obviously, is whether Wright will be an isolated case. The news on that front, however, also is good: The team’s Opening Day payroll is likely to be between $105 million and $110 million, an increase from $93 million last season, major-league sources say.
That doesn’t mean the Mets are going to embark upon a free-agent binge; Sandy Alderson is not that type of general manager. But the team’s commitments in 2014 are so low, the Mets will be in position to make a strong impact in the market next offseason. Wright’s decision alone provides supporting evidence that the team is serious about improving.
Players want to win, no matter how much money they’re earning. Wright, even with $138 million guaranteed, is no different. He might be more loyal than most, but he wasn’t interested in spending the rest of his career in a baseball Alcatraz.
Surely, Wright asked for assurances that the team intends to spend the money necessary to contend in the highly competitive NL East. Surely, he was satisfied by what heard. Otherwise, he would not have instructed his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, to complete the deal, which guarantees him an average salary of $17.25 million.
Now, teams aren’t always bound by such promises, as the Miami Marlins have proved time and again. But Wright is not some free-agent mercenary joining Fire Sale Central. The Mets are his original club, and he is close to ownership.
The question of whether the Mets should have traded Wright is not unreasonable; some within the organization, in fact, believed that it was the proper move. From a baseball perspective, that might be true. But the Mets play in New York, the nation’s largest media market. They needed to start acting like it, rather than continue operating like the Cleveland Indians.
Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey is next on the Mets’ agenda; he is under contract for $5 million next season, and the team has been talking to him about a two-year extension. A deal seems likely, given Dickey’s desire to remain with the club. But you know what? Trading him in a pitching-starved market could make sense.
The Mets, after signing Wright, could pull off such a move without incurring much public-relations damage. Indeed, their fans might welcome such a trade if it appeared to be in the team’s best long-term interests.
That is a baseball question, the kind of question that every team confronts daily, the kind that had gotten lost with the Mets because of all the talk about their financial difficulties.
That’s the best part about the Wright deal.
Maybe now Mets fans can start talking about baseball again.