What if I were to tell you that the future of David Wright could be determined by Josh Smoker’s success as a Pittsburgh Pirate?
Apologies. That’s a tad apocryphal. But a correlation does exist there. Most important, it helps construct a roadmap for what to expect as Wright and the Mets continue their awkward dance that looks more likely to end with a retirement news conference than with a triumphant return to the playing field.
Even Wright, the longtime optimist, seems to appreciate the gravity of his situation as a myriad of injuries and conditions, most prominently spinal stenosis, has kept him out of action since May 27, 2016 and has limited him to 75 games since the start of 2015. In the last 20-plus months, he has undergone three surgeries (neck, right shoulder and lower back) and played in zero games.
“Everything is a concern for me,” he told MLB.com in an interview last month. “I haven’t progressed to the point where I’ll know how it feels to throw a baseball until we get closer to spring. I certainly don’t know how the back is going to hold up.”
Nevertheless, he wants to keep trying his improbable comeback, and shame on anyone who calls him “selfish” for not just giving the money back to the Mets. He earned every penny of the $138 million the Mets guaranteed him back in 2012, with $47 million remaining through 2020.
Wright plans to report to Port St. Lucie alongside his fellow position players by February 17, at which point the Mets will assess him. As of last week, he had yet to do any baseball activities.
Let’s assume, sadly, that Wright won’t ever play again; the Mets have to operate on that assumption as they work to construct a lineup without their captain. If Wright reaches a point where he agrees with that prognosis, and he certainly appears headed in that direction, then two factors will drive the exit strategy.
The first factor is Wright’s roster spot, the second the Mets’ insurance policy on Wright’s contract.
As early as February 14, the Mets can place Wright on the 60-day disabled list, which doesn’t count against the team’s 40-man roster. That could be especially crucial this year in light of the extremely slow-moving free-agent market — and the industry-wide roster churn once guys finally start signing — off which the Mets want to capitalize. The Mets chose to trade Smoker, the big, hard-throwing lefty with mediocre results, because they had to make room on their 40-man roster for the re-signing of Jose Reyes. Wright has been occupying one of those cherished roster spots.
The roster spot won’t become an issue again until November, when teams must finalize their 40-man rosters in anticipation of the Rule 5 draft. That serves as a de facto deadline for Wright and the Mets to figure out their future.
The Mets won’t simply release Wright at that juncture, because that would cancel their insurance policy on him that has been paying 75 percent of his salary since July 27, 2016 (that’s roughly $20 million of the $27 million he made in that juncture, and it would be another $15 million of the $20 million for 2018). So standard operating procedure in this instance, as occurred with the Rangers and Prince Fielder and the Phillies and Matt Harrison, calls for the team to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company once it has been established that the player is medically unable to return.
After this season, Wright will be due $15 million in 2019 and $12 million in 2020. The insurance carrier, which would be covering $20.25 million of that through the course of the contract, could agree on a lesser, upfront payment — a ballpark guesstimate would be $15 million — that would get the deal off its books and give the Mets a short-term boost in return for the long-term hit.
So don’t expect a teary-eyed news conference this spring. This will take another whole season to sort out. And if Wright defies the odds and plays for the Mets again, then this breakdown will have been moot. But surely the Mets are smart enough that they’re teasing out the same timeline in their collective minds.
Wahoo’s on the Plaque?
Kudos to commissioner Rob Manfred for finally eradicating the world of Chief Wahoo, the ridiculous Native American caricature that served as the Indians’ logo for far too long. While you can say Manfred shouldn’t have granted the Indians a one-year grace period — the deactivation goes into effect for 2019 — the delay just paints Indians owner Paul Dolan in a negative light for trying to appease his base of insensitively nostalgic fans.
This already charged topic becomes even more prominent with the impending Hall of Fame induction of Jim Thome, who will go in as an Indian. Thome, who appears fundamentally incapable of saying or doing the wrong thing, already has gotten ahead of this by saying he wants the Indians’ more recent Block C logo on his cap.
The Hall of Fame typically solicits inductees’ input regarding which team they’d like on their plaque and then independently decides on the design. The Hall also is a stickler for accuracy and authenticity, and Thome wore the Block C only during his brief return to the Indians in 2011. During his Fame-making tenure, from 1991 through 2002, he wore Chief Wahoo.
The Hall already has contemplated a third option: Follow Yogi’s lead. Yogi Berra’s plaque features him in profile, with his cap sporting no logo. At the time of his induction in 1972, Yogi was the Mets’ manager, although he of course got to Cooperstown by virtue of his time with the Yankees.
I’d vote for the Block C. The Indians deserve to be honored as part of Thome’s big moment (although it would be great if they changed their nickname someday), and while it wouldn’t be the Hall’s most accurate plaque, it’s best to move past Chief Wahoo. With the ultra-beloved Thome’s support, they can make this work.
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