Outside of “Jason Bay,” “September Collapse,” and “Wainright’s Curveball”, there aren’t many two-word combinations that evoke more groans and signs from New York Mets fans than, “Wright injury.”
It seems like with every new season the faithful fans of the blue and orange wait with bated breath and fading optimism for Captain America’s clean bill of health before ultimately being let down by the unfortunate news of another Wright injury. This year is no different. It was announced earlier this week that the longtime captain and third baseman suffered yet another setback in what has become a perennial full-body recovery. Last year, it was spinal stenosis; this season, its shoulder impingement. Perhaps, it’s time for the Mets to invest in a little Super Soldier Serum.
However, I’m a firm believer in silver linings and, while I know every Mets fan will miss seeing number 5 man the hot corner, David Wright’s most recent injury may be the best thing the Mets could have asked for this spring training (outside of some sort of Thor-cloning device.)
Nothing is set in stone yet, but signs point towards Wright missing all of Spring Training and potentially part of April — if not much more. General Manager Sandy Anderson said earlier this week that, “[Wright] is not going to be throwing for a couple of weeks, probably not throwing with any real zip for a period after that,” which can be roughly translated as “his shoulder is f***** right now and he can’t throw from third.” A lack of zip on throws is not exactly something I look for in a third baseman, so I think it’s safe to say that unless Wright can magically channel 2007 all over again, he’ll be outplayed for the starting 3B gig — and that’s a good thing.
Losing Wright assists in clearing up a bit of a logjam in the Mets infield. Whereas before the injury, the Mets on the dirt would have looked like this:
3B: Wright/Reyes/Flores platoon
1B: Duda (pending injury)
With Reyes, Flores, and/or potentially TJ Rivera starting on the bench.
Without him, Jose Reyes is free to take over the starting 3B role, giving the Mets both a serviceable and experienced fielder with a great arm and a bona fide leadoff hitter. There were a lot of questions swirling around during the offseason about what Reyes’s role would be and whether or not the Mets could afford to bench someone else in order to get him regular at-bats at the top of the lineup. Losing Wright answers both of those questions.
Reyes can easily start 120+ games — barring injury — and give the Mets a solid slash line of .270/.330/.440/.770 with 20+ steals and dangerous leadoff-homer potential. On days where Reyes starts to show his age, Wilmer Flores can continue to take reps at third, potentially preparing to take over in the near future. Flores was statistically the best hitter in baseball against left-handed pitching last season as he posted a 1.093 OPS and a 192+ wRC (weighted runs created plus), so the possibility of him getting extra PA’s in the wake of Wright’s injury is music to my ears.
Reyes’s inclusion at the top of the lineup also gives Curtis Granderson a chance to move down in the order to a place where he is both more comfortable hitting and more likely to drive in runs. When batting at the top of the order last season, Granderson slashed .218/.317/.433./.750 in 321 plate appearances with 16 home runs, 44 runs scored, and 25 RBIs. When batting in the cleanup spot – for which no current suitor has emerged – Curtis slashed a gorgeous .321/.440/.605/1.045 in 81 plate appearances with 6 homers, 24 runs, and 18 RBIs. That production replicated over the same 321 plate turns he took in the leadoff spot totals out to 24 homers, 95 runs, and 71 RBIs – numbers the Mets would kill to see.
But what about on the defensive side of the ball? The Captain has always been heralded for his gold glove defense at third, but from 2014-2016 he was actually ranked as the team’s worst defensive third baseman, posting a -7.8 UZR (ultimate zone rating) over that period. Flores and Reyes aren’t much better in that area, sporting -3.3 and -2.5 UZRs respectively over the same stretch. They both proved to be adequate enough to handle the position last season, not to mention the fact that they both have working arms. The improvement may be marginal at best, but in addition to getting two solid bats in the lineup on a regular basis, this is still a net-positive.
Reyes should be the first pick to man the hot corner more often than not, with Flores platooning both there and at first if Duda isn’t available. This 1-2 punch should be able to give the team at least league-average production at third over the course of the season along with a top of the order spark plug to set the table for hitters who are objectively better than Wright.
It’s a sad thought to have, David Wright no longer suiting up in blue and orange, but it’s a thought both fans and team brass need to come to terms with. It is increasingly clear that not only will David never be able to escape the injuries that plague him, but also that the team is better off without him on the field. His absence opens the door for the Mets to optimize the lineup and get younger players more experience without feeling the need to justify Wright’s $17.25 million dollar salary with regular playing time. It’s hard to say out loud, but Wright’s most recent injury is the best thing to happen to this team so far this spring.