PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Playing third base requires throwing a baseball. But Mets captain David Wright has yet to do so since surgery last June to address a herniated disc in his neck.
The invasive procedure brought on months of inactivity, which he has spent much of the offseason working to overcome. He’s slated to begin throwing later this week. Yet Wright stopped short of declaring he’d be ready for Opening Day, an indication of the uncertainty that looms over the franchise’s longtime star.
“That’s obviously the goal,” Wright said, the closest he came to making a definitive statement about when and how often he will play.
Wright, 34, is signed through 2020. He is owed $67 million. He played 75 games the past two seasons, felled by a double whammy of his neck injury and spinal stenosis, the chronic back condition that he must continue to manage.
Thus far, the Mets have refused to push the idea of a move to first base, where the strength of Wright’s throwing arm has less potential to become an issue. But manager Terry Collins did not rule out re-evaluating that stance as camp progresses.
“He’s one of those kind of guys that if we decide that he needs to move to get some ground balls at first base, that stuff can be done late in spring training,” Collins said. “He’s such a good athlete, he’ll catch on to that easy.”
John Ricco, the Mets’ assistant general manager, said a position change would be too much to ask given the rest of the challenges Wright is facing in camp. But he did not shut the door on a move.
“That’s the organizational commitment from top to bottom, how do we give him every opportunity to succeed,” Ricco said. “A position change, with everything else right now, is probably not the best way to make that happen. Right now, he knows third base, that’s where he’s comfortable. Let’s see as we ramp it up how the body responds. If that doesn’t work, then you open it to other possibilities. Maybe there’s a time that you get there. But right now, that wouldn’t be part of it.”
The roster has been constructed to offer the Mets some cover if Wright can’t perform. Jose Reyes could easily move to third base, as he did last season in Wright’s absence.
Last spring, Wright arrived at camp searching for a way to manage spinal stenosis, which has made his availability to play a day-to-day proposition. But he began experiencing issues with his neck that worsened as the year progressed.
Wright hit .226 with seven homers. He struck out 55 times in 137 at-bats, a staggering rate. By the time he went for surgery, Wright had trouble turning his neck to face the pitcher. “I was just having a hard time getting into a comfortable stance,” he said.
Collins said he believed there was a link with Wright’s neck injury and his troubles with throwing last season. Wright himself brushed off that connection. Whatever the reason, Wright never looked fully comfortable.
After surgery, Wright called getting back into the weight room a “significant challenge.” He had to work to regain the weight he had lost. But Tuesday he insisted he has returned to where he was physically prior to the procedure.
“I maybe have to temper expectations as far as the amount of time that I’m out there,” Wright said. “But I don’t think I temper the expectations for when I’m out there, the type of player that I can be and should be and have been.”
Wright said he’d be open to doing whatever is asked of him, though he has not been approached about a position change. And despite the hurdles he faces, he insisted he was “pleasantly surprised” at his progress and “cautiously optimistic moving forward.”
But first, Wright and Collins must work out a plan. It must allow Wright enough at-bats to prepare for the season while affording enough rest. It is a tricky proposition, one that offers no guarantee of success.
“For me, this spring is about giving him every resource, whether it be people, time, space, to help him be successful if his body allows him to do that,” Ricco said. “Only time will tell. And I think he knows the same thing.”