David Wright scanned the clubhouse, making sure that all who were able followed him down the corridor that led to the home dugout. Once at the top of the steps, he looked down at the rest of the Mets. He held them up, waiting for the Royals to clear the field.
The Royals had earned their first World Series championship since 1985 with a 7-2 win early Monday morning in a 12-inning Game 5 that again exposed the Mets' flaws. But the Mets, even on their own home field, did not want to intrude. For Wright, this was a matter of respect.
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The players chatted, passing the time by debating who should have been the Series MVP. Soon the coast was clear, Wright waved his hand, and the Mets jogged onto the field. They saluted their brokenhearted fans who had stayed long after Wilmer Flores' strikeout sent the 2015 season into the history books.VoteMets 2017: Keep 'em or dump 'em?
Then, just as quickly, it was over. The Mets waved, smiled, raised their fists, then disappeared into the tunnel. For players who had erased years of misery, chased down the Nationals, won the NL East, won the pennant, won back fans who had tired of the darkness, this salute was their final act as a group.
Wright addressed reporters for more than 40 minutes after the loss. But on the topic of the coming change in the clubhouse, the pain of the season's end proved too fresh for reflection.
"There's just so many things running through my head, I guess there's not enough room for that right now,'' he said.
In 12 years, he said he has seen "plenty of turnover.'' He knows the sting of watching friends who become like family, then leave for other opportunities. Now this game's harsh reality will go to work on a roster that raised a pennant at Citi Field.
Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy took turns carrying the Mets, Cespedes during a transcendent second half and Murphy for most of the postseason. Neither is expected to return.
The Mets will give Murphy a $15.8-million qualifying offer to ensure they get a draft pick if he leaves. They have no plans to match the multiyear deals he will fetch as a free agent, sources said. He could draw a four-year contract above $50 million, a steep price given the Mets' concerns about defensive range that will diminish with age.
"Unfortunately, the ugly business side rears its head, and there is that kind of turnover,'' Wright said, gazing toward Murphy's locker. "But I'm not even going to begin to think about that.''
The same goes for Cespedes, whose final moments as a Met involved hopping into the shower, barely able to put any weight on his left leg. He had fouled a ball off his knee in the sixth inning, popped up with the bases loaded and none out, and left the game.
Cespedes wants a six-year deal that some believe could approach $150 million. The Mets have no appetite for such a commitment. He instead will go down as one of the most important rentals in franchise history.
Yet the Mets retain a core, one that like the Royals could reach the World Series again.
Michael Conforto will play every day next season. The Mets envision him making up for some of the production that will be lost with Cespedes' exit. Prospect Dilson Herrera soon could be manning second base. In free agency, the Mets are expected to explore a versatile bat.
Their stable of young, dynamic pitchers will gain another member next July when Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery to join Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz.
Yes, the group will change. But as 2015 fades into the background and 2016 approaches, the Mets believe they have established a firm foundation.
"It's not just talk anymore,'' Wright said. "We've proven that we're World Series contenders.''