As I watched Ryan Braun hit a 700-foot home run tonight to put the Brewers ahead in the 8th inning of a 1-1 potentially division-clinching game, I couldn’t help thinking of how he had cemented his claim to the MVP award and how he is the type of player the Mets no longer have. Fred Wilpon was right when he said David Wright is "a nice player, not a superstar." And that depresses the living shit out of me.
This is not a "TRAID DAVID WRONGZ" post, but an honest take on what is a baffling decline that started at the age of 26. Besides, there’s no way the Mets could get enough value in a Wright trade, considering the one-year option they hold on him only applies to their team. Wright is not going anywhere, even if Jose Reyes might be a different story. You could argue that Reyes took the superstar title from Wright this season, but the total derailing of his season in the second half has only created more questions with regards to his durability. Much like Wright last year, he had a MVP first half only to put up middling numbers thereafter. If Reyes manages to still win the batting title, it will be the definition of an empty victory.
I think I mention the following any time I talk about Wright’s fall from the top of baseball, but the great Bill James himself named Wright the player he would choose to build a team around before the 2008 season (but he named Albert Pujols the best player). It’s like this 60 Minutes interview was the kiss of death for both Wright and the Mets. Since then, Mets fans have just become more frustrated and perplexed with the purported face of their franchise. Sure, Wright had one more great season in 2008, but he’s remembered for not coming through in a couple of big spots late in the season by all too many people. Since then, it has become nigh impossible for me to defend him against my father, poker buddies, or that random dude in the bar.
The issue now is not just his clutchness, but his overall level of performance. He’s gone from a hitter you could pencil in for .300/30/100 every year to one whose performance fluctuates immensely from year to year and week to week. One season his power disappears, another he regains his power stroke but consequently strikes out at an alarming rate, and now this year his batting line is the worst it has ever been — despite looking like he had finally gotten it back together after his stint on the DL. Throw in his fielding woes and you have a player that is a shell of his former self and objectively inferior to his contemporaries, Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman (although the latter has struggled with his own throwing yips). There’s also Pablo Sandoval and the already scary-good Brett Lawrie in the young third basemen discussion.
Does all this mean the Mets can’t make the playoffs or (gasp) win a World Series with Wright manning the hot corner? Of course not. But it does mean that expectations might need to be tempered and that the Mets front office needs to embrace the reality of needing to build an actual team, not the real-life equivalent of the fantasy baseball stars-and-scrubs approach. And I’m sure Sandy Alderson and his self-assembled dream team realize this — it’s just going to take a little while to undo the damage wrought by Omar Minaya. By that time, the Mets will need to make a decision on Wright, just like they will have to do with Reyes this offseason.
No one can predict how the next year or two will play out. Perhaps the rumored changes to Citi Field will help Wright get back to his 2006-08 level of play and the Mets will pick up his option while giving him a contract extension (especially if they don’t sign Reyes). Or he can sink further into his personal defensive hell at third base and combine that with slightly above-average performance at the plate so that he’s barely worth the $16 million club option for 2013.
I just know it’s not fun watching teams intentionally walk Angel fucking Pagan to load the bases for David Wright, and then expecting the strikeout that inevitably comes. It’s crushing for any Met fan to bear witness to a player seemingly destined for the Hall of Fame turn into a hitter totally disregarded as a threat at the age of 28. It’s something that would never happen to Evan Longoria or Ryan Braun, and that absolutely destroys me inside. Wright was to be the cornerstone player who, in tandem with Jose Reyes, would lead a Mets dynasty for a decade or more. Now there’s a very real possibility that — without ever reaching a World Series — the latter will be gone, while the Mets are left with half of the former. It’s enough to make a man want to watch football.