FORT MYERS, Fla.
Despite the blaring sirens set off Tuesday by David Wright’s return to New York because of a shoulder impingement, and the growing speculation about his future, it’s important to remember one thing going forward.
As long as Wright is medically cleared to participate in baseball activities, that’s exactly what he’ll keep trying to do, over and over again, until a doctor says he should call it a career. The Mets won’t make that decision, and we certainly don’t expect to hear anything of the sort yet from Wright, who has been unwavering in his determination to come back from last July’s neck surgery.
For those thinking that Wright, in the middle of this lengthy rehab process, is going to come off the field after a poor round of batting practice one March morning and suddenly walk away from $67 million by retiring, that’s not how this scenario is going to play out. This is a very difficult situation, on a variety of levels, both for who Wright is and what he’s meant to the Mets’ organization. There’s also a great deal of money at stake.
Wright needs to be able to throw a baseball to play for the Mets, and the fact that he purposely hasn’t done that in front of the media was a troubling sign to begin with. But when that’s followed by Sandy Alderson’s Tuesday revelation about the impingement, it makes sense. Neither Wright nor team officials wanted anyone jumping to conclusions based on the poor visuals of his throwing issues, and those sessions must not have gone too well.
While that was enough to send Wright back to New York, and for Alderson to describe him as “questionable” for Opening Day — that sounds overly optimistic, by the way — it’s a bit premature to start tossing around the ‘R’ word. Frankly, we were skeptical from the jump that Wright would break camp with the Mets, with extended spring more likely to help get him up to speed. Still, the impingement complicates his comeback effort, if not a precursor of more serious problems ahead.
“I don’t think we’re at that point where that concern is at a more heightened level,” Alderson said. “This is all part of the process of rehabilitating from the neck surgery. It’s taken longer than I’m sure David would have hoped and we would have hoped. But it’s part of the process.”
Until we witness Wright actually throwing a baseball, there’s no point in debating whether he should move from third base to first. That argument can be shelved for the time being. The focus now, according to Alderson, is for Wright to get strength back in his shoulder, and that’s not happening overnight. He’s been receiving platelet-rich plasma injections to help with the neck recovery. Combine that with his daily regimen to keep the spinal stenosis manageable, and Wright, at age 34, requires more maintenance than a ’66 Corvette.
That’s not the same as being totaled, however. The Mets do have insurance on Wright, and if he is forced to quit because of medical reasons, they would recoup 75 percent of whatever is left on his contract. As of now, Wright is owed $67 million through the 2020 season. No one around the Mets wants to consider that endgame — not yet, anyway. But if you’re wondering what it might look like, Prince Fielder went through a similar decline last year before his medical team recommended that he retire after a second spinal fusion.
“The doctors told me I can’t play anymore,” a tearful Fielder said during his August news conference.
Once that happened, and Fielder was through, the Rangers were cleared to collect the insurance on their share of the remaining $96 million. The Mets went through that process with Mo Vaughn after the 2003 season, and his retirement because of a chronic knee issue helped the Mets get back 75 percent of the final $15 million he was due.
If Wright’s condition worsens, and he develops a more serious orthopedic defect, it’s very possible the Mets’ captain will find himself in the same spot — perhaps sooner rather than later. But it’s going to take a doctor’s orders to get him there, and from what we know about Wright, the drive that made him a seven-time All-Star, he’s not willing to quit otherwise.
The dream scenario was for Wright to return as a productive player, maybe even as the Mets’ regular third baseman again. Now it could be down to a matter of which lesser reality they’ll have to settle for.