Spilled Milk Pt 3: The Wright Time for a Facelift
See if you can guess who I am talking about: This is the story of a good player on a bad Mets team. And this team is really, really bad—embarrassingly out-of-touch ownership, ridiculously lopsided trades, a weak farm system, an alienated fan base, second-class citizenship in the hometown (Yankees) and regional (Phillies and Red Sox) markets, and a total aversion to signing a big-ticket free agent — not that one of them would want to come here anyway. In other words, the perfect storm of dreadfulness that buried this once proud team in the second division with little hope, outside of a miracle, for any turnaround soon.
The player, however, is another story: a former first-round draft pick, he lives in the city, is always accessible to the media, plays in a style that is a throwback to an earlier era, has had his share of big hits, including a homerun in an All-Star game. He appeals to everyone: the press likes him, women think he’s cute, and kids wear his jersey. Unlike other former and current teammates, he actually likes playing here. He is coming off of an injury-riddled season that cut his games played and production to all-time lows, but a clean bill of health and some changes to the home stadium promise a return to past glory. The team is expected to be awful again next year, but there is hope: a new front office has been assembled, one with a long track record of success in the American League. Regardless, he’ll be out there, giving it his all, thrilling the fans with both his glove and his bat. After all, he is “The Face of The Franchise.”
That’s too easy, you’re probably thinking right now. He’s talking about David Wright.
Nope. The player in question is one Lee Louis Mazzilli and the team is the 1981-82 Mets. Yep, Maz — or “The Italian Stallion” as the female fans called him — was a first-round pick in the 1973 draft. Hailing from Brooklyn, he made his Mets debut in 1976.
The next year, M.Donald Grant began to gut the Miracle Mets and soon Mazzilli, with his New York ethnicity, his good looks and his Willie Mays-like basket catches in center field, was the only marquee player left on a very bad Mets team. While the period from 1977 thru 1981 had been a blur of washed-up veterans, can’t-miss prospects that missed and seriously flawed one-dimensional players, Maz stood out. He crushed a game-tying homer in the 1979 All-Star Game and later drew a bases-loaded walk that untied it. He stormed out of the dugout in 1980 to take on Al Hrabosky, then the biggest bully in baseball, after a Mets win in Atlanta. He was the thoroughbred among a team of plow horses.
So it came as a complete shock when on April 1, 1982, GM Frank Cashen announced that Maz had been dealt to the Texas Rangers for two minor-league pitchers. This was in the pre-internet and pre-talk radio days, but I can still remember the disbelief among the few remaining Mets fans I knew when we learned that the Golden Boy had been dealt. This, we thought, was as bad as the Seaver trade from 1977 and just like Tom Terrific, we had given Maz away.
When the 1982 trade was announced, Maz was found in a bar in St. Petersburg,obviously “training” for his membership on that team. He expressed disbelief that all the Mets could get for him where two unknown pitchers. Off he went to Texas for half a season, hitting .241 until he was traded to the Yanks in midseason for Bucky Dent. He then spent parts of four seasons in Pittsburgh until the Mets claimed him off waivers in July 1986 — just in time to join the Championship team.
You know the rest: the prospects turned out to be Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. Darling was a fixture in the rotation for seven seasons and Terrell was later shipped to Detroit for Howard Johnson. There is an urban legend that then-Rangers GM Joe Klein was so disgusted by the deal with the Mets that he refused Cashen’s offer of minor leaguers for Buddy Bell in 1984.
So What? Well, the Mets face an eerily similar crossroads this off season.
The pathway to contention starts in the middle of the baseball field; that means pitching (duh) and defense, although the latter is often overlooked. Power at the corners is the third necessary piece and the easiest of the three components to acquire. The Mets are thin on pitching and their cupboard is almost entirely bare when it comes to quality up-the-middle defenders. They do have some power at the corners in Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Wright. And, in Daniel Murphy they have a suitable replacement for Wright, much like the 1982 Mets had Mookie Wilson ready to replace Mazzilli. Murphy’s recent production is better than Wright’s and his defense isn’t that much worse. He is also one of the young faces now on the team who play hard and are liked enough by the fans. This new core can respectably hold the fort until help arrives, both from the farm and from free agency.
It’s time to trade David Wright, just as it was time in 1982 to trade Lee Mazzilli.
This is not “hating” on David; he has been a great Met and is a personal favorite. And he has had seasons that Mazzilli never approached. It’s just that he has had the misfortune to play a prominent role on a team in a down cycle. I am not advocating a dump for some A-ball prospects and a bag of balls, however. Both Colorado and Arizona have expressed interest. Just a guess, but there are likely many more teams that would bid for his services. This is the chance to get healthy again quicker, although the first dose of medicine will taste bitter, just as it did in 1982.
A trade of Wright gives the Mets the financial flexibility they need to pursue Jose Reyes more aggressively. I think that Reyes is the keeper here: despite the changes to Citi Field, the park still screams speed and defense — and Jose (when healthy) provides both. The hardcores (at least this one) would buy into a Wright trade. As I stated elsewhere, the hardcore fans are about all the Mets have left.
What if this era’s version of Frank Cashen, a.k.a Sandy Alderson, could move Wright to “win now” team such as Colorado for Drew Pomeranz and Dexter Fowler? Perhaps/hopefully the Mets include Mike Pelfrey in the deal. Alderson should be open to taking on a veteran bullpen arm like Huston Street and his entire salary from the Rockies. That deal puts Pomeranz right into the rotation, replaces Angel Pagan with a cheaper and probably better version in Fowler, and gives the Mets the closer they need in Street, who can then be dangled to contenders at the trading deadline in July.
Arizona is another possibility. How about Wright for Tyler Skaggs and AJ Pollack? Again, Skaggs joins the rotation and Pollack, who is a much-underrated prospect, plays center. I have been intrigued by the speculated deal of David to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Tyler Chatwood. A caveat: if Bourjos comes to New York, he has to lose the “Fleeter Peter” nickname. He’s a centerfielder, not a porn star! Bourjos could also lead off, which is extra value if Reyes does indeed walk. I would expect the Mets to give Wright and his new team the time to sign an extension before any trade is made and they should be willing to take on some salary (such as Street) in addition to the prospects.
The Mets gambled that Carlos Beltran would stay healthy long enough to deal him for something good. They won that gamble, getting Zach Wheeler. They have also gambled on keeping Jose Reyes, which in retrospect perhaps they shouldn’t have, unless the rumored offer from Tampa was less than they could have gotten from the draft. They can’t afford to lose with Wright. It was only a two-season jump from the cellar to contention for the 1982 Mets. If Alderson plays his cards right (Wright?) it could be a similar short route to contention.