Back in April, then May, even June, each time I was asked if David Wright would play in a Mets uniform again, the answer was an unequivocal ‘‘No.’’
Too many surgeries. Too much time away from the game. Not to mention the debilitating spinal stenosis, for which there is no cure. The physical toll just seemed too great.
But now, six games into Wright’s rehab assignment at Class A St. Lucie, I’m ready to upgrade to a firm “maybe” — with the answer perhaps coming sooner than you might think.
Circle Sept. 1 as decision day, but make sure to include an asterisk, because the factors involved in a potential Wright return make this more complicated than simply coming off a 27-month stay on the disabled list.
That date is significant because Wright’s 20-day assignment expires on Aug. 31, meaning the club then is obligated to reinstate him. Assistant general manager John Ricco said Monday that the Mets designed it that way, so if Wright indeed is ready to rejoin the team, he can be promoted when the rosters expand for the final month.
Convenient enough, right? But Wright’s painfully slow climb back toward Citi Field never has been a linear process. The rehab has knocked him sideways numerous times, and with this Sept. 1 target, it feels like a race for Wright to convince himself he’s capable of giving this a try.
Also, there are only two weeks left in the minor-league schedule. If Wright thinks he needs more reps at the lower levels and agrees to stay on the DL beyond the 20-day limit, he won’t have that fallback option, other than maybe the instructional league.
Can Wright make that Sept. 1 deadline? Tough to say just yet. He snapped an 0-for-14 skid Sunday with his first two hits, both singles, and sounded upbeat in a postgame interview with SNY.
“I feel a little more, I guess, calm up there and less anxious,” Wright told the network. “I guess your first week or so, you’re really trying to go out there and do a lot. Maybe my swing was getting a little big, my timing was a little off, rhythm was a little off.
“I thought today the results were there: better at-bats, saw a lot of pitches, got some plays at third, so all and all, certainly my best all-around game to date.”
Mark that as a milestone of sorts, and Mets people who speak to Wright regularly say he’s fully committed to getting back to Flushing as soon as physically possible. Ricco emphasized that the results aren’t as important as his body’s ability to withstand the daily grind, and they’ve made sure to parcel out his workload in the easiest possible bites, from five- to seven-inning stints.
“It’s still baby steps at this point,” Ricco said.
The Mets have resisted giving a timeline for Wright since the beginning, but the Sept. 1 date speeds things up a bit, and Wright will have to go from those baby steps to a sprint in the coming weeks. Ricco wouldn’t look that far ahead, saying only that Wright’s evaluation is done on a day-to-day basis after each game.
As much as Wright would like to test himself this September, you’d have to believe he wouldn’t risk embarrassing himself with a premature return.
Wright is a seven-time All-Star and one of the most beloved players in franchise history. If he can’t get up to speed in time to play next month, does he finally bow to his physical constraints by the end of this season? Or would he choose to come back for spring training next year for one last attempt?
Even Wright probably doesn’t know the answer. He’s done everything humanly possible just to get this close, and at 35, either way, he’s approaching the finish line.
The Mets have recouped 75 percent of his salary during the past two years (minus a 60-day deductible) and he’s still due $30.3 million through 2020, including 3.3 million next month.
Once he comes off the DL, the Mets go back on the hook for that money. But if he no longer can play because of medical reasons — notice we didn’t use the word “retire” — the insurance policy will pick up the remainder of the tab.
Wright is the one who will make that call, obviously. And if this is the end, he’s made it clear he’s going down swinging.
The hope is that he takes some of those swings at Citi Field, be it sooner or later.