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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Forecast for David Wright's return from injury remains cloudy

After missing most of last season because of surgery to correct a herniated disc in his neck, Mets third baseman David Wright is looking forward to being a part of the winning 2017 season that he believes the Mets can have. (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — David Wright knows that everyone wants answers. So do the Mets. Their captain has played a grand total of 75 games over the past two seasons, at a cost of $40 million, and delivered 12 home runs with 31 RBIs.

It’s been a painful situation for both sides. While Wright wears the surgical scars, and must deal with the regret from losing prime years of his career, the Mets have held vigil in his absence, forever trying to plot a course that may or may not include the face of the franchise.

Truth is, there are no answers yet when it comes to Wright. Only more questions. Which means that any decisions involving his future — whether they involve when he’ll play or at what position — are going to have to wait for a while.

How long, you might ask? Put it this way. Wright hasn’t even thrown a baseball since the June 30 operation to repair a herniated disc in his neck, a procedure so invasive the surgeons had to move aside the contents of his throat to reach the target.

Wright began to describe the surgery during Tuesday’s news conference, but only got as far as using his hand to sort of tug at his neck, as he worried about getting “too graphic.” He probably didn’t feel like reliving the experience, for obvious reasons. He was on a liquid diet for 10 days, then shed so much weight and muscle tone that his rehab felt like building himself “from the ground up.”

This was like nothing Wright has gone through before, and even now, after the surgical fix, he’s still dealing with the spinal stenosis, a chronic condition that requires meticulous daily maintenance. At the moment, the plan is for Wright to play third base for the Mets. But after Terry Collins spoke Tuesday for more than 10 minutes on the subject, and Wright nearly 20, neither could provide a clear, distinct path to that goal.

They weren’t being evasive. It just wasn’t possible. Until Wright shows he is capable of doing the most basic thing — simply throwing without discomfort or disability — all bets are off. There is no point in making any predictions before then. So we’ll wait to watch him try to do so later this week.

“It’s going to feel a little weird,” Wright said, “because it’s probably the longest I’ve been my whole life without playing baseball.”

That gives you an idea of what’s going through Wright’s mind. He’s standing at the base of the mountain, with six weeks to get to the top. Only Wright has to ignore the ticking clock. He’d like to be ready for Opening Day, to hear his name announced in the starting lineup at Citi Field, but there’s a catch.

Go too fast, and this whole process unravels again, with Wright back to square one. For Wright to resurrect his career, for the Mets to recoup their captain, this must be done at a methodical pace. Collins knows Wright needs as much work as possible to get up to speed but is wary of pushing him. As eager as Wright is to be a factor, he has to pump the brakes. Even so, the cloud hanging over Tradition Field is the sickening sense it may not work.

“It’s pretty hard to sit here and say that I know what to expect,” Collins said, “because I don’t.”

Boil it down, and here’s what Wright has to do over the next six weeks: Prove he’s a better option at third base than either his buddy Jose Reyes or cult hero Wilmer Flores. Otherwise, the Mets will have no choice but to relegate him to being a bench player or keep him in Port St. Lucie for extended spring. As far as first base goes, Collins suggested it could be an option if Wright again has trouble making throws from third, but they haven’t introduced the idea with the captain yet.

“I’m open to doing anything that helps this team win,” Wright said. “But I haven’t been approached about it. Until then I’m not sure how much it’s worth diving into.”

And that’s the whole point. There’s a bunch of different David Wright scenarios — some good, some not-so-great — but it’s still too early to predict. The best one, however, still involves Wright just getting back to where he started from.

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