The New York Mets took care of their biggest offseason question late Thursday night, one that would have dogged them through the winter, spring training and the regular season had it not been addressed.
Third baseman David Wright agreed to a seven-year, $122 million contract extension with the Mets. Including Wright's $16 million option for 2013, the total package works out to an eight-year, $138 million deal that is the richest in team history.
The deal reportedly won't be officially announced until next week, but the Mets no longer face the dilemma they had last year with shortstop Jose Reyes.
But should a team that has been struggling financially, one that had to trim more than $50 million off its payroll before this season, have committed to pay Wright nearly $20 million per year through 2020? Would the best thing for the franchise have been to disperse that kind of money throughout the roster?
I realize that's kind of an unfair question. If you're a Mets fan, maybe you're yelling at the screen right now. What else was this team supposed to do?
If they didn't sign Wright to a contract extension and lost him to free agency after the season, general manager Sandy Alderson and owner Fred Wilpon would have been skewered for that decision as well.
Depending on how you view the situation, this was a no-win scenario for the Mets. Either they overpaid for a player who may have already had his best seasons, or they were cheapskates for letting the team's cornerstone player go because of money.
Wright certainly helped himself by having a strong season one year removed from free agency. With questions about whether or not he could stay healthy over a full season after struggling with a back injury during the 2011 season, the Mets third baseman came back to put up MVP-caliber numbers.
With a .306 average, Wright finished seventh in the National League this past season. He also ranked among the league's top 10 with a .391 on-base percentage and .883 OPS. Had the Mets not finished fourth in the NL East with a 74-88 record, perhaps he would have received more support for the NL MVP award.
But for his own purposes, Wright showed he could still be a star hitter and excellent defensive third baseman. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Wright had the best third base glove in the NL. He saved 15 more runs than the average player at the position and was credited with 16 defensive runs saved, second-most among MLB third basemen.
Coming through with a season like that only increased the pressure on the Mets to sign Wright to a contract extension. The market was also going up with the six-year, $100 million extensions that Ryan Zimmerman received from the Washington Nationals and Evan Longoria got from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Those contracts set a benchmark for Wright to surpass with his deal. It's probably not a coincidence that the Mets initially offered those same terms to Wright. On one hand, it was a demonstration that the team would pay market value. But on the other, the Mets had to know Wright would turn that down and push for more.
Had the Mets risked letting Wright go to free agency to find a richer contract, he likely would have received it.
Both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies could use a star third baseman, and sticking it to a division rival would make the transaction even sweeter. Other teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels could have gotten involved as well.
It would have been an embarrassing loss for the franchise. The Mets are trying to win fans back after falling out of contention, cutting payroll and flirting with bankruptcy, as Wilpon was involved with the Bernie Madoff fraud scandal.
Mets fans showed how much they were willing to support the team as they competed with the Nationals and Braves for the NL East lead during the first half of the season. The appetite for a winning team in Flushing is voracious.
How could the Mets follow that up by letting perhaps the best reason to watch the team play a ballgame go to another team? The backlash and outrage—which would eventually lead to apathy—is something the Mets would have fought against for years to come.
Winning a fanbase back after losing it can be a long process. The Mets had to sign Wright, lest they risk irrelevance both to Mets fans and MLB at large.
The question now is whether or not Alderson can build a winning team around him.
The roster needs one to two outfielders for next season, depending on whether or not Kirk Nieuwenhuis can be a full-time contributor. Shortstop is an uncertainty, though Ruben Tejada showed he could play the position well. The Mets could also use some help at catcher, where Josh Thole doesn't appear to be a long-term solution.
On the pitching side, the Mets should have a strong rotation. NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey is the No. 1 guy and could be for the next three years, if he and the team can agree on a contract extension. Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey fill out the rest of the top four. The fifth starter could be Dillon Gee or perhaps top prospect Zack Wheeler at some point.
Other than with Dickey's extension, Alderson shouldn't have to worry about investing money into his starting rotation. He could even free up some payroll by buying out Santana's $25 million option for 2014 at $5.5 million. He could also trade Dickey before next season, as CBS Sports' Jon Heyman suggests.
But the Mets do have to be concerned with their bullpen. Frank Francisco is signed for next season and will probably be the closer, but finding a backup and/or eventual replacement should be a priority. Even if Alderson re-signs Jon Rauch as the setup man, the relief corps probably needs at least one more arm.
That gives the Mets quite a few holes to fill, a project that could take a couple of years to properly address—especially with the team committing so much money to Wright now.
Wright presumably believes in the Mets' plans, since he signed up with them for seven more years after next season. But since he's getting paid superstar money during that span, perhaps he's not the most objective judge at this point.
Depending on what moves the Mets make in the weeks and months to come, it might not be a better team than this year's 2012 edition. It's possible this team could be worse, losing more than 88 games.
But signing Wright is certainly a strong move for the present and future of this team. Without him, it's difficult to imagine the Mets being competitive, let alone interesting to watch, for the next few seasons. At the very least, this is a big start in the right direction.
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