By Andrew Perna
David Wright will finish his Major League career the same way he started it -- as a member of the New York Mets.
The two sides, which engaged in contract talks for several weeks, agreed on a seven-year extension that will keep Wright locked up through the 2020 season for approximately $138 million. He was under contract for next season at $16 million and the new deal adds seven years and $122 million to that pact.
Earlier this week it was reported that the Mets were nearing a deal with Wright, but things got dicey when Wright and his agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, publicly refuted the accuracy of what was being circulated. Up until that point, Wright had been silent about both his future and negotiations with the Mets. The comments led many to believe the team had pushed the third baseman's buttons either in talks or by leaking information to the media.
Wright's stance in talks was similar to that of Derek Jeter's in his most recent contract negotiations with the Yankees. Jeter was upset that Brian Cashman and the team made public comments about the discussions, but ultimately, in both cases, the two sides simply wanted to extend their relationship. Wright is now ensured of being to Queens what Jeter is to the Bronx.
This is a deal that Sandy Alderson absolutely had to make, even though Wright will be 37 in the final season of his new contract. The Mets have suffered through a lot of poor public relations in recent years, a majority of which was no fault of the baseball team. Ownership was swindled in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, forcing them to cut corners. That led to Jose Reyes, Wright's cornerstone partner, signing with the Marlins as a free agent last offseason.
The Mets are starting to clear the financial rubble centered around the Wilpon family and as Jayson Stark points out they will clear close to $42 million in payroll after next season (Johan Santana and Jason Bay) and have an additional $25 million to spend as part of a new national television deal. Wright didn't agree to sign a long-term extension with the Mets solely out of greed or loyalty; the front office will soon have the tools and creative license to construct a perennial contender.
Alderson entered the offseason with goals of reaching new deals with Wright and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Now that Wright is signed, the far more important of the two, perhaps the Mets will admit that signing Dickey really isn't all that important to their long-term goals.
Dickey is 38 and as a knuckleballer there is no guarantee he'll be as effective going forward as he was during his magical 2012 season. Trading him would provide a much bigger and more enduring benefit. However, that's a topic for another time.
It has been a good offseason for third baseman and the winter meetings haven't even begun. Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a $100 million extension that keeps him under team control through the 2023 season. After long playing under the most team-friendly contract in all of baseball, Longoria is now the owner of essentially a 15-year, $143.5 million deal with a team option for another season.
You might still consider Longoria's deal a bargain when you consider that Wright will reportedly earn $138 million over the next eight seasons. We don't know the exact terms of Wright's deal and outlets have reported that Longoria's steadily increases in price, but Wright has a significant advantage in average annual salary -- $17.25 million to $9.6 million. Those numbers are skewed by Longoria's 2013 and 2014 figures, during which he'll make $2 million and $7.5 million, respectively.
There are reasons why Wright will finish his baseball career with more earnings that have nothing to do with ability. Wright was drafted by the big-market Mets, while Longoria was plucked by the small-market Rays. Both have remained loyal to the team that initially showed confidence in them, but Longoria hedged his bets by signing a six-year, $18.5 million contract with Tampa Bay just a few days after his Major League debut. If he flamed out, he would have been set for life. He obviously didn't and his superstar status and MVP-caliber bat have kept the Rays in contention without having to spend big-time money (until now).
Some will also point to durability when comparing Wright and Longoria, but I don't believe the sample size is big enough. Wright has certainly been a rock for the Mets, playing at least 150 games in six of his eight full seasons. Longoria, meanwhile, has played in 150 or more games just twice since his 2008 debut. I highly doubt the Rays kept a few million from Longoria because they are concerned he won't remain on the field.
Just for fun, before we turn the focus solely to Wright, I've prorated* Longoria's numbers to reflect nine seasons and placed them alongside those of Wright.
Through Nine Major League Seasons
Wright (1,262 games) – .301/.381/506, 204 HRs, 818 RBI, 39.1 WAR
Longoria* (1,146 games) - .276/.361/.516, 234 HRs, 821 RBI, 51.3 WAR
The numbers are rather similar. Wright has the edge in average, but Longoria makes up for that with good discipline and better power. Let's make a point to revisit these numbers in four years and see if Longoria truly can produce more (HRs, RBIs, WAR) in roughly 100 fewer games.
Wright is in the midst of his prime, according to conventional baseball wisdom. He turns 30 this month, meaning he still has his age 30, 31 and 32 seasons ahead of him, largely considered the middle and end of most primes. Wright isn't most players, however, and he could easily continue producing at his current rate deep into his mid-30s.
He hasn't shown any signs of slowing down as he approaches his 30th birthday, compiling one of his best seasons in 2012. He finished sixth in the National League MVP voting -- only his fourth-place finish in 2007 was better -- and earned his sixth All-Star bid.
It was vital for Wright's bargaining power that he produce well this past season. He played in just 106 games in 2011 because of injury and hit just .254/.345/.427, easily the worst line of his career. He dwarfed those numbers in 2012, hitting .306/.391/.492 (numbers right around and even a little better than his career marks). His OPS of .883 was the highest it had been in four seasons.
Grade for Wright: A-
You might wonder whether the motivation of entering free agency spurred Wright’s numbers, but given his makeup that seems unlikely. It’s clear that the Mets don’t feel he was overachieving, especially when you remember that he’s had better offensive seasons in the past. There were also other avenues he could have explored. Wright could have rejected any offer from New York, choosing to hit the open market in 2013 or force the team into a trade. It never seemed like a real option, but if he put up another MVP-caliber season there would have been more money available from teams seemingly closer to a title.
In terms of WAR, Wright’s 6.7 total for 2012 tied for the second-most he has contributed in his career. Baseball-Reference defines a 5+ WAR rating as an All-Star, while an 8+ rating denotes an MVP candidate. Wright has surpassed five WAR three times and peaked at 8.1 in 2007. He finished fourth in the MVP voting that season, but ranked second in WAR behind only Albert Pujols.
While Wright’s averages did take a dip from 2009 to 2011, there is concrete evidence that the shrinking power numbers were not his entirely fault. The Mets moved to Citi Field for the 2009 season and it was built with dominant pitchers like Johan Santana in mind. Since it opened, Citi Field has ranked 12th, 27th, 28th and 12th among all ballparks in home run factor. Shea Stadium ranked ninth in its final season.
He averaged 29 home runs from 2005 to 2008, but has slugged just 18.5 over four seasons at Citi Field. That’s a significant drop even when you consider that he played in just 102 games in 2011.
Grade for the Mets: B+
The Mets badly needed to sign Wright to a long-term contract. He’s been the only mainstay since he arrived in 2004 and the fan base needs something to hold onto. It may not be a good approach to business, but there is an emotional factor that is almost impossible to quantify. Santana didn’t turn out to be the dominant multi-time Cy Young winner we thought he would, while Jose Reyes has already moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays after a lone season with the Marlins. I won’t even bring up Jason Bay for fear of backlash. Wright has been the lone constant and the Mets hope he’ll remain the centerpiece of a resurgence in the coming years.
It would be wonderful if Wright was two years younger, but they’ll settle for crossing their fingers that at 37 he can still be productive enough at the plate to trot out at third base or somewhere in the outfield. He is now the Met and it feels like that’s the way it should be.
New York Mets, Free Agent Rumor, Terms Agreement