David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Short of calling it a career, David Wright's medical update Tuesday was about as bad as it could have been for the Mets, who were left with no clear timetable for the captain's return or even what kind of player he might be going forward as he tries to manage his debilitating back condition.
Here's what the Mets do know: Wright intends to return at some point this season, and the doctors have not ruled it out. While that's good for Wright, the sketchy prognosis for his lumbar spinal stenosis complicates the team's efforts to fill the void in his absence. Not only do the Mets need someone to play third base -- or second, or shortstop, depending on whom they move in the shuffle -- they desperately could use some offensive help as well.
Maybe Wright, 32, was no longer capable of being a 20-homer, 90-RBI guy again, as he was in 2012. But he was being counted upon as a run-producer in a Mets lineup with precious few of those.
With that in mind, and knowing those players are very difficult to acquire -- especially while keeping third base warm for Wright -- listed below is a rundown of some potential options as the July 31 non-waiver deadline approaches.
As if general manager Sandy Alderson's task wasn't hard enough, the quadriceps injury Daniel Murphy suffered Thursday upped the feeling of urgency. If Murphy had remained intact, perhaps the Mets could get by for a bit longer with a resurgent Ruben Tejada. Now it likely will get tougher to tread water.
Last season, the Yankees made a flurry of incremental trades to patch a number of holes without sacrificing a major prospect, so it's possible. But they did add nearly $13 million in payroll for the last two months, along with two additional years (at $22 million) for Martin Prado, whom they later flipped to the Marlins in December. Now Prado is on the Mets' radar. With the assumption that Wright could be back, versatility is key.
MARTIN PRADO, Marlins: Has played only third base this season, but Prado is solid at second and the corner outfield spots. Could even sub at shortstop in a pinch. He's hitting a few points below his career average at .287, but that would make him a star in the anemic Mets lineup. Really the ideal candidate, except for two big hurdles: It's a little early for Miami to be dealing him to a division rival -- if at all -- and Prado still is owed $12.1 million through 2016 (that's counting the $6-million total paid by the Yankees for this year and next). That's actually pretty reasonable.
BEN ZOBRIST, A's: A pending free agent, Zobrist shouldn't be in Oakland much longer. And with a slash line of .222/.304/.383 before Saturday's action, he probably could benefit from a change of scenery. Digging into the numbers, Zobrist's .219 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) suggests he's been unlucky for a career .263 hitter (.353 OBP) and might be due for a correction. Another good fit for the Mets. There are sure to be other suitors despite the lagging production. Zobrist is due roughly $4.9 million for the rest of this season.
BRANDON PHILLIPS, Reds: A straight-up second baseman, Phillips is a possible match if the Mets leave Murphy (when healthy) at third and keep Wilmer Flores at shortstop, which is what they seem content to do at the moment. Phillips is off to a great start -- .311 average, .742 OPS -- and the Reds (23-31) already were 131/2 games out after their loss Saturday. Of course, there is a catch. Phillips is owed $34.8 million through 2017, so there is a big financial commitment involved.
JEAN SEGURA, Brewers: The Mets could go the everyday shortstop route and try to engage the sagging Brewers, who are worse off than the Reds at 171/2 games back even after their win Saturday, but they'll have to give up some young talent in return. Segura is hitting .290/.327/.420 and is making only about the league minimum ($534,000). As good as Segura is, the Brewers are loaded with young shortstops, from Luis Sardinas -- now playing second base -- to more top-rated prospects at that position in the minors. This would require giving up on Flores at short despite his recent progress. Making do in Wright's absence might require thinking outside the box.
STARLIN CASTRO, Cubs: And while we're on the subject of shortstops, Castro has been linked to the Mets since last season after the Cubs made the bold move to acquire Addison Russell from the A's in the Jeff Samardzija deal. Two months in, the Cubs already are committing to the youth movement, with Kris Bryant at third and Russell at second. Chicago is a contender, but with Castro owed $42 million through 2019, dangling a proven young arm could entice the Cubs.
MIKE AVILES, Indians: Aviles, 34, provides the sort of low-cost flexibility the Mets like and already has played third, short, second and the outfield this season for Cleveland. Aviles earned a few starts at shortstop this past week with the young Jose Ramirez struggling at the plate. Has a .737 OPS in 112 plate appearances, which is a few ticks below Murphy (.749). Aviles, a pending free agent, has $2.3 million remaining on his 2015 deal.
XANDER BOGAERTS, Red Sox: The weak AL East is allowing the dysfunctional Red Sox to stay in the race, but that could change in the coming weeks, and the rebuild is going to require some major league- ready pitching. It would take a significant arm(s) to tempt Boston, and Bogaerts has plenty of experience at third base, where he could fill that hole and then shift back to short when/if Wright returns. Bogaerts is one of the few Sox highlights this season, hitting .297/.342/.400 with two homers and 19 RBIs.
JORDY MERCER, Pirates: Mercer hasn't lost the shortstop job entirely to Jung Ho Kang, but it's slipping away, with the two now sharing time. That could help explain Mercer's rough start (.212/.266/.288), well below his career marks of .256/.307/.388. Mercer hit 12 homers last season and is a power upgrade over Ruben Tejada but also would necessitate moving Flores to another spot. Mercer is arbitration-eligible next year.
AARON HILL, Diamondbacks: Hill's production this year (.238/.281/.349 before last night) is hardly reflective of the three-year, $35-million contract signed in 2013, and that money alone is enough to make Hill basically radioactive to the Mets. But he's split time between second and third and did have a respectable May (.292/.338/.477) with three home runs. Hill, owed $19.7 million through 2016, is more suitable as a salary dump for the D-backs, who unloaded Brandon McCarthy and Martin Prado to the Yankees last season in July deals. So they're probably not absorbing tons of cash for the budget-conscious Mets.