Last week, David Wright’s 20-day rehab assignment ended at Triple-A Las Vegas, and he subsequently re-joined the Mets on their road trip in San Francisco, and stayed with them through their trip to Los Angeles this week. Speculation ran wild about what this would mean, and signs were pointing to a return for Wright this weekend, when the Mets begin a homestand at Citi Field. But it turns out the team’s latest plans are just for him to merely play in some simulated games this weekend, and then they’ll go from there.
If Wright does indeed get activated at some point before the end of this season, it will complete one of the unlikeliest comeback stories in recent baseball memory, and it would be the best feel-good story the Mets have maybe ever had. Wright has not taken the field for the New York Mets since May 27, 2016. Since then, the captain has undergone operations on his neck, shoulder, and back, all while still dealing with chronic spinal stenosis that was diagnosed in 2015. That the 35-year-old Wright has not only the physical ability, but the metal fortitude to continue his career after all he has been through is nothing short of amazing. Even more amazing, though, is that the Mets are doing everything in their power to completely mess it up.
Basically, nobody knows what the team’s plan for Wright actually is. They have given nothing but nebulous reasons as to why Wright must continue playing simulated games now instead of just being activated and playing in real games. At first, Mickey Callaway tried to get one by the media with the transparently false and shamefully weak excuse that Wright was cleared for minor league games, but not major league games, despite that not being something that happens in baseball, and there is nothing in the CBA that states anything about being medically cleared in that manner. Then the Mets claimed that they don’t feel he is really ready yet and want to see more from him, but weren’t very clear on what exactly they wanted to see.
Though the Mets may indeed want to see more before actually activating him, having him take a full week off from playing real games, only to resume playing in slower-paced imaginary games is not going to get him where they want him to be, and it’s not like his condition or his pain management is going to improve anyway. So Wright is effectively treading water now, and for no good reason.
Now, it is extremely fair to question whether he’s at a point where he can physically handle a major-league schedule, or if he even still has the capability to contribute positively in any capacity. But those are things that would need to be addressed if, and only if, he was an active member of the team for next season, because it simply doesn’t matter in 2018.
To put it bluntly, Wright’s actual readiness to produce is completely immaterial at this point. This comeback attempt has nothing to do with the future; this is not about Wright helping the team win, or evaluating his production level, or even getting some at bats to be more ready for next year. Right now, all Wright is trying to do is play Major League Baseball once again. So that’s all we should be hoping to see. Nobody should go in with any expectation levels for his production, and nobody should care at all about what he’s able to do right now, because his production is completely inconsequential to the team’s success this season anyway. Besides, Wright would probably play only a handful of games—whatever his body could take—and call it a year.
And whatever happens after that is not decided yet. Everyone, including Wright himself, should be taking this one step at a time. And step one is getting on the field, which hasn’t even happened yet; we shouldn’t worry about how he can perform going forward when he hasn’t even taken the field yet. Now sure, knowing Wright’s personality, he hasn’t gone through all of this arduous, painful rehab just for the payoff to be a few meaningless at bats in a lost season and some heartfelt ovations from the Citi Field crowd; he wants to come back, and he wants to play. That said, Wright is a humble and honest man, and if he realizes he’s not capable of producing at the MLB level, or is truly not physically able to handle it anymore, he will know. But he wants to find out. All he wants to do is know. All he wants is closure.
So for the Mets to postulate that they can’t activate him because he’s not ready is simply disingenuous, especially since readiness isn’t even a factor they always consider when bringing players back from the disabled list (see: Cespedes, Yoenis).
So why are they really doing this then? Well, you don’t have to squint too hard—or at all really—to see what is likely the real reason the Mets are holding off Wright’s return. And it looks like this:
My major takeaway from John Ricco's conference call earlier: If the Mets are going to resume paying David Wright his full salary they want him to be a major league player. Right now insurance is covering 75 percent.— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) August 28, 2018
It’s about money. It’s always about money. Of course, when Wright is on the disabled list for more than 60 days at a time, 75 percent of his salary becomes insured and paid for by a third party. But when he plays, the Mets are responsible for 100% of his salary. So if Wright comes back this year, the Mets will be responsible for his entire salary for the remainder of this season, and at least the first 60 days of next season. And the Mets don’t appear to have to any interest in paying Wright’s full salary if he’s not earning it with his play, much less if he’s not even on the field next season.
Insuring one of your most expensive assets can actually provide a return on investment before committing to him sounds like good business practice in a vacuum, but in this context, it’s just being cheap and slimy. Wright is set to make approximately $3 million for the rest of the 2018 season, and he will make roughly $2 million over the first 60 days of next season. By the looks of it, the Mets are holding their extremely loyal franchise player back from getting on the field, preventing him from continuing his life’s work, as well as preventing millions of fans the opportunity to see him one last time, because it could potentially wind up costing them around $5 million—or, less than Jason Vargas, who is not giving the Mets a return on their investment.
But perhaps the wildest thing about all of this is that there are a good amount fans who actually side with the team on this. Fans are worried that the Mets having to pay Wright more money would result in less money for the payroll going into next season. That would be valid if the Wilpons reinvested the money saved from Wright’s insurance policy into the team, which Jeff Wilpon is on record saying that they don’t. So in that case, people are literally just worrying about the money lining the Wilpons’ pockets. Plus, if any fan cares more about the team’s budget than seeing the return of one of the best players in franchise history, then that fan should consider what it actually means to be a fan, and why they follow in the first place. I can’t remember seeing a plaque for ‘Payroll Flexibility’ in the Mets Hall of Fame.
Everyone loves to talk about player loyalty. Fans love loyal players who give their everything to the team, who play for the love of the game, and are likable people. But teams are never held to the same unrealistic standards of “loyalty” that players are. Wright has been as loyal and likable as anyone could possibly be for 14 years, but the Mets don’t appear to be holding up their end of the bargain; it really looks like they’re trying to hold off the best comeback story in baseball just to save a few bucks. It may not be literal insurance fraud, but they’re certainly doing their franchise player wrong.