The Mets now have 1.5 seasons of David Wright remaining. And it is indisputable that Wright has done more than just restore his previous value. He has clearly driven up the price he’ll get in his next contract. So have circumstances around him. It is fair to wonder: just how much will David Wright cost?
Back in the spring, it was all the rage to make the case that if Wright rebounded in 2012, he’d get a contract on par with the six-year, $100 million deal Ryan Zimmerman received this spring from the Washington Nationals. But several factors have conspired to probably leave that in the dust.
For one thing, Wright hasn’t rebounded. He has vastly exceeded what was a career already on a Hall of Fame track. In his best seasons, 2007 and 2008, he put up WAR totals of 8.1 and 6.7. In 2012, he’s on track to exceed 9 WAR.
Zimmerman’s three seasons prior to earning his contract: 7.1 WAR, 6.0 WAR, and an injury-marred 1.6 WAR.
So David Wright isn’t playing at Zimmerman’s level. He is vastly exceeding it. Zimmerman’s best finish in MVP voting was 16th; as of right now, if there were any justice in the world, Wright would be the clear National League MVP.
In fact, Wright is exceeding the production of Joey Votto, who is on track for roughly an 8 WAR season in 2012. He put up 6.7 and 6.2 WAR seasons in 2010 and 2011, then earned a ten-year, $220 million contract. He’d finished first in MVP voting in 2010, sixth in 2011. And he did it at first base, a position with far less scarcity of talent than third base.
Votto was entering his age-28 season when he got that big contract; Wright is playing his age-29 season right now. So that probably will affect the length relative to Votto. Or it might not, since the bidding on a third baseman could make up for the difference in age.
Another useful comparison is Albert Pujols. He posted a 9.4 WAR in his age-29 season, almost identical to what Wright is on pace for, back in 2009. His 2010-11 totals were 7.3 and 5.1. And then he hit the free agent market, receiving a ten-year, $240 million contract one year older than Wright will be when he hits free agency after 2013.
The other thing driving salaries is a gradual realization around baseball that the enormous piles of money from television deals will give even smaller market teams the means to spend a lot more money. The Cincinnati Reds are a great example of this, with Votto and Brandon Phillips. So the usual pool of bidders for players at the salary level Wright could expect will be larger, which is, itself, likely to drive the final price up.
The moral of this story is that with hindsight, the Mets probably should have inked Wright to a new deal this past winter at a reasonable rate, much as they should have done with Jose Reyes prior to the 2011 season. The reasons why they didn’t in either case are obvious.
But though the Mets have claimed to have all the time in the world, those outside factors should really lead them to sign Wright this winter, before they face other bidders for his services.
Waiting for the market to set the price cost them Reyes last year. (Well, that, and an inability to match at virtually any price.) Hopefully, Wright hasn’t gotten too expensive for them as well. A second example of a homegrown star heading elsewhere following a superstar campaign would be impossible for the Mets to live down.