Friday’s revelation that David Wright will be shut down for the next six to eight weeks while trying to recover from a herniated disc in his neck hardly was surprising. Something clearly was wrong with the Mets’ captain, and it’s another reason for greater concern about Wright.
In covering him since his major-league debut, we’ve been witness to a pain tolerance that has been off the charts, especially during the 2011 season, when he played nearly a full month — 23 games — after suffering a stress fracture in his lower back.
Point is, what Wright is dealing with now, between the spinal stenosis and the herniated disc, can’t be categorized as some routine affliction, a simple disabled-list stint followed by the requisite rehab assignment.
Plenty of 30-something professional athletes have dealt with a herniated disc and returned from it, whether they need surgery or not. But Wright has the additional complication of a degenerative back issue, and no one knows how those two intertwined problems will affect him moving forward, even as he tries to heal up in the time frame presented Friday by the Mets.
Despite the immediate hysteria, we’re not ready to declare Wright finished just yet. As we saw in the promising glimpses so far this season, he’ll work too hard to be written off so easily.
The Mets, however, can’t worry about that. They can’t get caught up in the nostalgia of the homegrown captain and shouldn’t keep third base warm for him based on the glimmer of hope provided by his prognosis.
The Mets won a division title last season with Wright playing only 38 games. He’s played 37 this year, and they need to assume that could be it.
“Right now, with him on the DL as long as he is, my focus has to be on the 25 guys who are in there right now,” manager Terry Collins said before Friday night’s game against the Marlins. “When David starts to get ready, we’ll certainly stay on top of that. But right now, my main concern is getting these 25 guys playing better.”
Looking ahead, Wright is on the Mets’ payroll through 2020, and from this minute forward, he’s still owed $81 million from his eight-year, $138-million contract. Given his current state, that’s a daunting tab for the budget-conscious Mets, and it seems unlikely that Wright will play through to the end of that deal.
As long as Wright is unable to be on the field, the Mets can recoup up to 75 percent of his salary through insurance, after a 60-day DL stint deductible. So his $20-million salary this season, and the rest of all that cash, shouldn’t be an overriding concern.
Wright is 33, and the clock on his career sped up considerably when the spinal stenosis was revealed. As a result, the Mets got to this day — the point at which they have to begin bracing themselves for life without Wright — much quicker than anyone could have anticipated.
The first step involves auditioning Wilmer Flores at third, and ideally he could play well enough at the position — as well as produce at the plate — to give the Mets flexibility should Wright eventually return.
But we’re skeptical. Wright won’t be ready to start baseball-related activity until early August. And with his back maintenance, a rehab stint could push him to September. That’s pretty much the season, and leads us to believe the Mets have to pursue a more established third baseman.
As for Wright’s future, the Mets should get him some work at first base while he’s on rehab. Nothing too intensive — just enough to create some familiarity with the position.
This latest injury won’t finish Wright, but another prolonged absence can only further erode the status of the seven-time All-Star.
As painful as it may be to admit, Wright is a different player now. And the Mets, as much as they dreaded this day, have to change, too.