David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - Everyone loves David Wright. But in figuring out when the captain should return to the Mets, the team's decision-makers need to remove the emotional component from the equation. And make an honest assessment on just how soon Wright can be productive at the plate.
At first, the target was this weekend in Colorado. Now it appears Monday in Philadelphia is more realistic. But saying a precise date at this point seems premature, with Wright scheduled to play at Class A St. Lucie over the next few days.
Also, what's the rush?
No one knows what version of Wright will show up when the Mets determine his rehab stint is complete. He hasn't played in a major-league game since April 15 and spent nearly four months doing nothing but therapy to curtail the debilitating effects of spinal stenosis.
A healthy Wright would be a welcome boost. There's no disputing that. But Terry Collins acknowledged the need to be patient with his transition back to the Mets after so much time lost. And for a team going all out to protect a 41/2-game division lead, with seven weeks left, days can't be sacrificed to shaking the rust off. Loyalty has to take a backseat.
Ask Bobby Parnell. The Mets essentially dumped their one-time closer Monday afternoon because he had become a liability in the bullpen. Officially, the move was described as putting Parnell on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. But when a team has to tell a player he's injured, as Collins suggested, it's performance-related, and the Mets had to find an opening for Logan Verrett.
And that's perfectly fine. We just haven't seen this type of behavior from the Mets in a long while because they haven't been in first place this late since 2008. The pressure that comes with that creates some hard choices. Sticking Parnell on the shelf was one. What to do with Wright, depending on how rehab goes this week, will be another.
Wright went 0-for-1 with a strikeout and three walks Tuesday night for St. Lucie and is now 4-for-15 without an extra-base hit during his rehab stint. The Mets don't have any immediate plans to get Wright any at-bats above Class A, and if that's the case, it's difficult to project what he's capable of in the majors again. When he was placed on the DL -- initially with a hamstring strain -- Wright was hitting .333 (11-for-33) with a home run and four RBIs in eight games. That type of production may take a while.
"It's inevitable," Collins said. "There is going to be a little bit of a learning curve. But he's got quite a good track record of being able to make those adjustments, so we're hoping that happens."
Collins isn't wrong. In 2011, Wright missed nine weeks with a stress fracture in his back -- maybe a precursor to the stenosis -- and returned with a vengeance. He opened with a 10-game hitting streak, batting .455 (20-for-44) with three doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs during that stretch.
In the 43 games from that July 22 return date, the total the Mets have left this season, Wright hit .307 with six homers, 31 RBIs and an .890 OPS.
Something to keep in mind though. Wright was four years younger then -- he's 32 now -- and the stenosis appears to be trickier to remedy than a stress fracture. Collins said both he and Sandy Alderson have discussed a timetable.
"I can't give you dates because it's a headline and then it's etched in stone," Collins said. "And if he isn't here by that date, we have a setback. When he's ready, we'll bring him."
It's a decision with repercussions, as calling up Wright will then bounce Michael Conforto to Vegas until Sept. 1, when rosters expand. And is a still-recovering Wright a better option than Juan Uribe, who has sputtered at the plate but helped defensively? Finding where Wright fits in the September puzzle is still to be determined.