David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
By finally convincing David Wright to stay in Flushing, an arm-twisting ordeal down the stretch that took three days, $138 million and a 1:30 a.m. phone call to complete, the Mets accomplished two very important things.
One, the franchise keeps its face. In Wright, the Mets retain a marketable commodity, a productive No. 3 hitter and the likely soon-to-be-crowned captain of an otherwise rudderless roster.
Two, the Wilpons get to show they are capable of running the Mets like a legitimate major-league team.
Beyond that, the 2013 Mets aren't any better than the 74-win team of this past season. We're not even talking status quo here, which is why the Wright deal must be merely the beginning for Sandy Alderson, who still has plenty of work to do just to get the Mets competitive -- and somewhat financially sound -- by his original 2014 target date.
That didn't stop them from appreciating the moment. Terry Collins was understandably thrilled when he woke up to the news early Friday, describing the Wright signing as a "huge step forward."
Collins wasn't talking about Wright's statistical value, either. He's fully aware that the Mets have been trying to backpedal away from the edge of their own fiscal cliff since the day he took over. Paying Wright gives them some badly needed credibility heading into the winter meetings, which begin Monday in Nashville, Tenn., and a platform upon which to build during the next few years.
"He's a main piece of the puzzle," Collins said.
Fact is, the Mets needed Wright a lot more than he needed them. If he walked away from the negotiating table and Alderson went the trade route, cutting ties with Wright and Jose Reyes in consecutive years would have been embarrassing.
Instead, Wright got to cash in, but the payoff for the Mets won't really come until the team around him improves considerably. The Wilpons have managed to contain any further mutiny by the fans at a significant cost to their bank account. But delivering a playoff contender is going to require digging a little deeper into their pockets.
R.A. Dickey looks to be a part of that, and the Mets remain optimistic that a deal reasonable for both sides can get done. Signing the Cy Young Award winner to an extension should help on and off the field for this franchise in its continuing quest for legitimacy.
If Dickey does sign one, that gives the Mets a chance to work on trading Jon Niese, the starting pitcher who would net the most in return (Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler aren't going anywhere). Alderson repeatedly has mentioned the rotation as the bait for potential deals, and he entertained trade inquiries about Niese last year at this time.
The Mets' biggest holes are in the outfield, and they would have to push for talent that's either major league-ready or a year away. Alderson can't mail it in for 2013, but he's a realist, too. The NL East is stacked and getting better, with the Braves already adding B.J. Upton, the Nationals retooling with Denard Span and the Phillies still possessing the pitching to be a threat.
Looking at that group, it's not as though extending Wright suddenly shifts the balance of power in the division. Hardly. But with Wright turning 30 this month, he should be a reliable hammer for the next five or six years as the Mets assemble the rest of the tools for contention.
Fixing this franchise wasn't going to happen overnight. And the merits of handing a big check to Wright can't be thoroughly evaluated until his contract expires in 2020.
Will the Mets be better off then? Presumably, yes, because it's tough to be much worse than they've been in recent years. But if this team is a puzzle, as Collins suggested, it's still a long way from being solved at this point.