David Wright spends his days roughly 3,000 miles away from Citi Field, on a perpetually renewed disabled list, continuing his back rehab under the supervision of his Los Angeles-based medical team. The only proof of his Flushing existence is the nameplate atop his locker by the clubhouse door.
But as far removed as Wright continues to be from the Mets, he remains the captain, and a friend. The last Jose Reyes heard from Wright was earlier this month, after he homered in a 6-5 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was a congratulatory text. On July 7.
“I’m hoping he makes it back,” Reyes said Thursday, still wearing the crown and robe draped on him after his infield single decided the Mets’ 3-2 walk-off victory over St. Louis.
Hope is not a strategy, but that seems to be how the Mets are treating the third-base position in Wright’s absence. A series of open-ended auditions, featuring versatile players mostly used in reserve roles. The Mets have been collecting insurance on Wright since last season, when he first wound up on the DL, so they’re able to recoup about 75 percent of the $11 million he’s earned so far this season.
Beyond this year, Wright is due another $47 million through 2020, but we can’t see this limbo status going past spring training of 2018, if it even stretches for that long. Should Wright be unable to play again for medical reasons, the resolution is likely to be similar to what Prince Fielder went through last season.
We bring this up again now because the Wright conundrum has a direct effect on how the Mets choose to proceed for the immediate future. Can players like Wilmer Flores or T.J. Rivera be part of the long-term solution at third?
In Thursday’s win, Flores entered in the eighth as a pinch hitter and did what he often does against lefties by hammering the tying home run off Cardinals reliever Brett Cecil. Rivera, who made his 24th start at third base, helped fuel the winning rally with a two-out single off Trevor Rosenthal.
Flores can do serious damage when used in a platoon role, or coming off the bench to pummel a lefty late in games. Rivera has shown himself to be more proficient at the plate in an everyday role and is batting .289 with 12 doubles and five homers in 68 games. The downside is their defense, raising the question of whether they can hit enough to outweigh a lackluster glove.
There are a number of teams looking for a third baseman as the July 31 non-waiver trade line approaches, especially with Todd Frazier already off the board. Both Flores and Rivera could fit in some cases, but they also are cost-effective players for the Mets, who are more inclined to hold on to them. Flores has been traded once before, of course, in the Mets’ collapsed deal for Carlos Gomez in 2015, but he doesn’t pay attention to the deadline chatter now.
“Not really,” Flores said. “I’m out of the media stuff.”
The more intriguing candidate is Rivera, but with Neil Walker expected off the DL on Monday, the Mets want to showcase Asdrubal Cabrera at third to maybe drum up some last-minute interest. When Cabrera is likely traded or released and is out of the picture at some point his year, and Amed Rosario is up, the Mets likely would slide Reyes over to third as part of the mentoring program for his prospect buddy.
But Rivera would greatly benefit from the work, and the meaningless two months of a lost season seems to be the perfect time for such a project. After Thursday’s game, Rivera talked about having to improve his footwork, which in turn would help the accuracy of his throws. He also has to slow things down, take some pressure off himself, despite being in what feels like a constant tryout.
“That’s part of it,” Rivera said. “It’s a business. People are watching at all times.”
One of those people is manager Terry Collins, who likes what he sees, as long as everyone does their “due diligence” on the defensive front. “I think his bat is going to play here,” Collins said.
Someone has to play third for the Mets, and it’s not going to be Wright for a while, if ever again.