Is David Wright giving the Mets an out?
Throughout the 2012 season, David Wright's play on the field has made questions about his value largely irrelevant, despite the Mets' many needs.
His 148 O.P.S.+ is easily the best mark among regular third basemen in the National League. His defense has been superb in 2012, after several down years.
After having lost Jose Reyes already, with little other big-league talent to speak of among the position players, the Mets are were in no position to let Wright play out his 2013 option and head elsewhere.
But Wright's 2012 numbers are the result of an epic first half, when he was pretty clearly the best player at any position in the National League. The results since the All-Star break have been considerably less good.
At the break, Wright had an O.P.S. of 1.004. Since the break, it is .738. He's dropped about 100 points in batting average, he's walking less, he's striking out far more, and he's not hitting for much power.
There are plenty of reasons the Mets have failed to play nearly as well in the second half as they did in the first. Wright's decline from superhero to merely pedestrian has been a key factor.
Generally, when Wright has been healthy, he's played far better than he has in the second half of 2012. The only comparable extended period of relatively poor play in Wright's entire career came at the start of 2011, when he posted a .741 O.P.S. over the season's first 39 games. It turned out he played most of those with a broken back. If Wright is playing through another injury now, especially after he did so earlier this year with a fractured thumb to great effect, it wouldn't be remotely surprising.
But it is worth remembering: even when Wright returned in 2011, he only posted a .789 O.P.S. over his final 63 games. He did not play at the level of the eight-year, $160 million contract Jon Heyman recently speculated Wright would need to sign an extension to stay with the Mets.
Now, all of this relies on selective endpoints, a poor way to evaluate a player. But will the Mets see a third baseman who, in total, has an O.P.S.+ of 134 over the past two years, good for third in all of baseball at the position over that span? Or will they see a player whose first half of 2012 is out of line with his production over the past two years, and would already be 31 at the start of a massive, long-term extension in 2014?
It all could well be moot; the Mets simply might not have the money to retain Wright anyway, and Wright may prefer to finish out his career in a place where playoff appearances are far likelier.
But this extended regression by Wright has introduced new uncertainty into how the discussions between Wright and the Mets will play out this winter. If the Mets cannot afford him, it provides cover for the Mets executives as they either trades Wright this offseason ahead of 2013 or let him play out his option and leave. And if they can, somehow, then the decline in performance will give general manager Sandy Alderson new reason to pause before making a massive long-term investment in Wright.
As Jose Reyes flourishes, healthy, in Miami, it would be a particularly cruel thing for the Mets if their remaining franchise player broke down before they could build around him.