David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Before everyone starts freaking about David Wright playing third base for the Braves in the not-too-distant future, let's get a few things straight:
1. Wright is still under the Mets control at the end of this season.
2. The Mets hold a very team-friendly $16-million option on Wright for 2013.
3. Sandy Alderson has said -- repeatedly -- that the Mets have every intention of keeping Wright long-term, a statement that accurately reflects the feelings of ownership, as well.
In other words, this is not a repeat of the chain of events that led to Jose Reyes signing with the Marlins last December. Neither the Mets nor Wright have any reason to hammer out a deal right this minute, and Alderson hinted as much late Tuesday night in saying he planned to speak with Wright's agents this season -- but not necessarily to complete a contract extension. That can wait.
"There's no gun to anybody's head," chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said before Wednesday's game, "so let it play out."
And when the two sides do sit down for a chat, some parameters already have been set. The Ryan Zimmerman extension -- at six years, $100 million -- will be a good jumping-off point. But with the season Wright is having, and his immense popularity among the Mets' paying customers, it's expected to go north of Zimmerman.
"David's very special," Wilpon said. "He's very special to me personally, to the fan base, to the organization as a whole, to the community."
Describing Wright as the face of the franchise doesn't quite cover it. He is the franchise, and Wright has never been more important to the Mets in their efforts to become respectable again. Surviving the Madoff lawsuit was the start of the journey, and the Mets have sustained that momentum on the field through the first two months of this season.
Keeping Wright, however, is a necessary phase of the rebuilding process. The Mets tried to quiet some of that cash-strapped criticism by signing Jonathon Niese to a $25.5-million extension -- two weeks after their Madoff settlement -- but that's pocket change compared with what's coming to Wright.
Think back to what the Wilpons faced when it was time to talk contract with Reyes. They had a $1-billion lawsuit hanging over their heads and were consumed with selling shares of the franchise -- in part to pay back sizable loans, including $25 million to their good friend, Bud Selig. The Wilpons didn't need Suze Orman to tell them pledging another $100 million to Reyes was not a good idea.
The timing appears to be better for Wright. With the most threatening wave of that financial tsunami now behind them, the Wilpons are better situated financially to make a big investment. When asked Wednesday if these types of decisions are easier to make post-Madoff, Wilpon agreed.
"It's nice to have the cloud lifted and gone and Fred [Wilpon] and Saul [Katz] be exonerated," Jeff Wilpon said, "so I guess the answer is yes."
But Wilpon wasn't about to make any promises. The Mets are lagging in ticket sales, despite the encouraging start, and there's a reason the payroll was slashed to $90 million. Sandy Alderson was hired to do more with less, and his strong aversion to contracts beyond five years will be tested by the Wright negotiations.
"Anything on that would be guessing right now," Wilpon said. "So I think just give it time, let it play out and we'll hopefully have a good conclusion."
Wright is in a different stratosphere, and based on his relationship with the Wilpons, and what he means to the Mets, a contract extension is not a matter of if but when. Ownership doesn't want another divorce with another franchise player -- not this one, anyway -- and money won't be an obstacle this time.
For all the occasional bursts of chatter concerning Wright's future, this extension is likely to get done much like his last one did in 2006. Quietly.