Third base hasn’t exactly been a position of luxury for the Mets over the years. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good third basemen, of course, but there’s been a whole lot of turnover for long stretches of time.
But when David Wright, a highly-touted prospect who had grown up a Mets fan in Virginia, arrived, the Mets wound up not having to think about who would play third base for quite a while. Wright’s rookie year, his age-21 season in 2004, went very well, but he really took off in 2005 and played at such a high level both at the plate an in the field that it was almost hard to believe.
From the beginning of the 2005 season through the end of the 2008 season, Wright hit .311/.394/.534 with a 141 OPS+, 116 home runs, 86 stolen bases, three All-Star Game appearances, and two Gold Glove awards. Despite the fact that the Mets came up just short of making the World Series in 2006 and just short of making the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008, Wright was an integral part of one of the best eras in Mets history, at least judging by the team’s overall regular season record.
Those first four full years were outstanding, but as Wright played through his mid-to-late twenties and hit the age of 30, he remained very, very good. From 2009 through 2013, he hit .293/.375/.479 with a 134 OPS+, 92 home runs, 91 stolen bases, and four more All-Star Game appearances. During that stretch, his worst single season came in 2011, and even then, he finished the year with a 115 OPS+.
Wright’s first truly down year came in 2014, as he hit just .269/.324/.374 with eight home runs and a 101 OPS+. But he got off to a solid start in 2015, posting a .796 OPS in April before going on the shelf with a seemingly innocuous injury.
Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end for Wright’s baseball career, as he was eventually diagnosed with spinal stenosis. That didn’t stop him from returning to the field that year, which he did in late August. Nor did it stop him from playing well, as Wright hit .277/.381/.437 in 139 plate appearances to finish the regular season as the Mets won their second National League East title of his career.
The fact that Wright got to play in the playoffs again that year was fantastic in and of itself. And while his overall production in those games wasn’t quite up to par with the hitter he had always been before the back injury, he hit a home run in Game 3 of the World Series, the only one of the five games the Mets won against the Royals.
The rest of Wright’s career after that World Series consisted mostly of trying to manage his back condition, and when he was able to get on the field, he still played fairly well. Despite hitting just .226 in 2016, Wright managed to put together a .788 OPS and a 113 OPS+. Neither of those marks were anywhere near his best work, but for a player dealing with that level of injury, it was pretty damn impressive.
Wright’s final appearance in a Mets game was more ceremony than competitive baseball, as he missed the entire 2017 season and all but two games at the end of the 2018 season. Those served as his send-off, which he had more than earned.
Among third basemen in Mets history, Wright’s career is unmatched. These things aren’t always as simple as looking at who has the most WAR, but the fWAR leaders at the position in Mets history make it pretty clear, with Wright’s 52.0 fWAR ahead of anyone else by more than twenty. And among all position players in Mets history, Wright ranks first in fWAR. Darryl Strawberry ranks second, trailing Wright substantially with 35.5 fWAR.
Like Johan Santana, who spent several years with the Mets himself, there’s a Hall of Fame case to be made for Wright. In this century, longevity has been a prerequisite to consideration for the hall, but some of the greatest players in baseball history—like Sandy Koufax—saw their careers shortened by injury. If the criteria were still focused on quality over quantity, Wright would have a pretty great case for getting in.
Given the reality, though, it doesn’t seem like Wright will ever get that kind of consideration. But Wright’s number 5 should still be retired by the Mets sometime in the near future. Considering that he spent his entire career with the organization, played as well as he did, worked as hard as he did to keep playing despite his back injury, and decided to sign a team-friendly deal to be with the Mets for his entire career, he more than earned that honor.
For now, David Wright’s status as the best third baseman and position player in Mets history remains unchallenged. It’s possible that someone will get there sometime down the road, but for now, Wright remains the GOAT.