David Wright has earned right to be face of Mets, and he plans to be
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In the earliest stage of a ballplayer's career, he essentially is the property of his organization, his salary determined by the club in control of his rights. It is the lasting remnant of baseball's infamous reserve clause.
As a player establishes himself, he accumulates various rights, beginning with salary arbitration and ending with free agency. Relatively few reach this end of the spectrum. Even fewer reach it without ever having to change uniforms.
David Wright is one of the chosen ones. He sealed his destiny with an eight-year, $138- million contract that represented much more than an endorsement of his skills as a third baseman. It is the culmination of a relationship that has evolved on that spectrum.
He stands alone now as the public face of the franchise. During the next eight years, fans will learn how Wright will adapt to his unquestioned stature within the organization and whether his presence ultimately will lead to a turnaround. But Wright, 30, already has offered brief glimpses of how he envisions his new role.
"I want to do everything I can to meet the goals that I have and the goals the organization has,'' he said this past week.
Wright took an active role during his contract negotiations with general manager Sandy Alderson and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. He insisted upon a detailed explanation of the organization's revival plan. He studied the team's minor-league prospects and spoke freely about the types of players he thought should be brought in as free agents.
During that process, he was clued in on the fact that trading away reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey remained a distinct possibility. When the deal finally was made official, Wright did not hesitate to offer his endorsement.
The Mets had lost a 20-game winner and the anchor of their starting rotation, but Wright emphasized the acquisition of two elite prospects in the process. He personally called catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard to welcome them to the organization. From finding places to dine in New York to searching for spring training lodging in Port St. Lucie, Wright let both know his line is open.
"I told Sandy and I told Jeff this,'' Wright said. "I'm willing to obviously go all in and give you everything that I have. And in return, they told me that they would do the same.''
Even before the extension, as Wright moved from one end of the player spectrum to the other, the Mets had sensed that kind of loyalty. Without it, there would have been no new contract.
"I thanked his parents, I really did,'' Jeff Wilpon said earlier this month at the winter meetings. "I know Fred [Wilpon] wanted to make sure I thanked his parents, because if they didn't raise him to be the man he is, we wouldn't have committed to him.''
Through the new contract, that loyalty has been codified, and Wright said he's prepared to show it. That means staying on the right side of a blurry line.
"Am I lucky and do I feel privileged that Sandy has shown me and talked about the plan moving forward? Of course,'' Wright said. "But by no means am I going to be -- unless he asks me my input on something -- I'm not going to be in his ear trying to convince him to do this or that. If he asks my opinion, I'll be more than happy to share it. But I think there has to be that kind of separation of powers there.''
Nevertheless, Wright is aware of the areas in which he's uniquely qualified to exert his influence.
The franchise's stability emerged as Wright's primary concern when he began talks on his new contract. He signed only after gaining assurances from Wilpon and Alderson that the Mets eventually will be positioned to spend on talent.
Only one more year separates the Mets from their first taste of payroll freedom. When that time comes, Wright said he's prepared to do his part.
"Of course I'm going to do everything I can, whether it's helping the front office when they're signing and trying to recruit other players or whatever it is,'' he said.
Wright also must convince the fans, and to do that, he must remain an All-Star-caliber player for his voice to hold any sway. He faces a tough sell.
Lingering questions loom over the team's financial outlook, and years of losing have eroded the goodwill between the club and its fans.
But in Wright, the Mets have a player capable of leveraging an uncommonly strong bond with his fans. It is a delicate responsibility bestowed upon the few who reach the end of the spectrum -- when player and franchise are almost one and the same.
"I think that I have a special relationship, a special connection, not only with the organization but with the fans,'' Wright said.
"I've been here for nine years already and I'm going to be here for another eight. I feel like growing up a Mets fan, being raised a Mets fan, I do have a certain perspective as to what this fan base, what this organization, kind of yearns for and the direction that we're heading.''