Can Mets afford not having Reyes, Wright?
The sight of John Franco, Brooklyn native and former team captain, throwing Sunday's ceremonial first pitch to future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza was an iconic moment for the Mets.
But as this season winds down, the franchise is facing difficult choices involving two of its most recognizable stars, and the Mets risk losing a large chunk of their identity.
"Those guys are the faces of this organization," said Franco, who had 276 saves in 14 seasons with the Mets, "so they have some tough decisions they're going to have to make on both of them.
"Me personally, I would love to see both of them finish their careers here. With the young talent coming up, you can build a team around these guys, and it's important to have guys like that around."
Sunday night, Carlos Peña ended Josh Stinson's scoreless-inning streak with a tiebreaking RBI-single in the 11th and the Cubs tacked on five more runs in a 10-6 victory over the Mets. Stinson had not allowed a run in 6 1/3 innings since his Sept. 1 callup. Alfonso Soriano and Darwin Barney each added two-run doubles off Ryota Igarashi.
Jason Pridie, who struck out on a 3-and-2 pitch with the bases loaded to end the ninth, hit a two-run homer in the 11th inning. The Mets missed another chance to win it in the 10th, when after Reyes made a diving stop to save a run, Wright popped up to leftfield with the bases loaded.
The Mets rallied back from a 4-1 deficit to eventually tie the score in the eighth inning on Jeff Samardzija's throwing error.
Reyes and Wright came very close to cementing their Mets legacies in 2006. But the team's failure to get past the Cardinals and into the World Series derailed that process. As a result, the Mets have subsequently endured five years of upheaval, with Wright and Reyes the only survivors to this point.
This winter, Sandy Alderson must decide if the Mets will still rely on them as this team's foundation, depending, of course, on the cost. But can the general manager afford to not have Reyes or Wright as part of the rebuilding plan?
Fred Wilpon's comments to The New Yorker definitely strained the relationship between the two players and the Mets. But there's no question Wilpon needs them more than they need him. When Wright was asked if he could see himself as a figure like Franco or Piazza in Mets history, the third baseman shrugged.
"I never really thought about it," Wright said. "Hopefully, I still have a long way to go. I think when all is said and done, it will be nice to look back and enjoy what I've been able to do. But right now, I don't think I've ever really thought about the way people are going to think about me when I'm done playing."
Reyes repeatedly has said that he wants to finish his career in a Mets uniform, but ultimately only he has the power to make that choice. For the first time, it appears that Reyes may have passed Wright on the popularity scale, but he's never really had to carry the team by himself. The Mets are probably better off if the two are together for the long run.
"I do think it's important that you have some faces that you can really associate an organization with," R.A. Dickey said. "I think if you look around the league, especially on teams that win, there are three or four guys who are prevalent every year there.
"Those guys for us are obviously Jose and David -- guys that have really come up in the organization, know what it's about, know the culture of the city. All those things really are important and those guys have done it."
The Mets last won a World Series with two of their most prominent homegrown stars in Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, then later watched those players win their next one with the Yankees. If Reyes and Wright depart Flushing, who will be the next generation of Francos and Piazzas? There's no one else ready for that role just yet.
"Early on, I saw how important it was, whether it was Johnny [Franco] or Mike [Piazza] or any of these guys what they did around the community here, especially for this week, for Sept. 11," Wright said. "What they did around New York and the passion they had for doing it. It kind of instilled that in me and I wanted to continue to carry on that tradition after those guys were gone."