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Richard Justice

Signing Wright a step in right direction for Mets

Justice: Signing Wright a step in right direction for Mets

Signing Wright a step in right direction for Mets
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sometimes, a franchise gets really lucky and ends up with a player like David Wright. We're lucky, too, because years from now, we'll be able to say we saw one of the best baseball players of his generation. We watched him deliver big hits in the ninth and win games with his Gold Glove. We appreciated that he did it all with grace and humility.

The Mets couldn't have known everything they were getting when they made Wright the 38th pick of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft. That's because his greatness on the field is only part of that story. This is no knock on his play, either.

Wright is a six-time All-Star, a .301 career hitter and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner. He makes difficult plays seem routine and is so smooth and so productive that he alone is a terrific reason to buy tickets to see the Mets play.

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He also gets it. Wright gives of his time in the community and to fans, and he accepts that kids will see him as a role model. He's comfortable with that part of being a Major League Baseball player.

There's a wonderful story the Mets tell about looking up one day and seeing Wright playing catch with a young fan seated near the visitors' dugout at Turner Field in Atlanta. It was a spontaneous thing, a gesture that speaks volumes about the joy with which Wright approaches his job.

As the rebuilding of the Mets continues, one of the things their management team agreed upon was that they would make every effort to sign Wright to a long-term extension.

He represents what the Mets want the franchise to represent. His departure would create much more than a hole in the lineup. When the team announced the eight-year, $138 million contract that runs through the 2020 season on Wednesday, Wright was thankful, humble and gracious.

"It's been a blessing, a pleasure to play for you guys," Wright said, gesturing to Mets executives, including chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, "and there's going to be a lot of good times to come."

Wright said he never wanted to play elsewhere, but he also had some tough-love talks with Mets executives before agreeing to the deal. He wanted to better understand the club's blueprint for contending and to be assured the franchise had the resources to be a contender. There were late-night telephone calls and an array of meetings before Wright became convinced there were better days ahead.

"I think he wanted to be a Met," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "I think he wanted to be convinced."

Alderson called the signing of Wright "symbolic in many ways of where the Mets are going. Today is about the future of the Mets, and this is a cornerstone relationship."

Alderson emphasized the Mets will not spend money recklessly, but they will spend to put building blocks in place. Wright said he was thrilled to be the most important of those building blocks.

"I'm here today to promise you that I'm going to give everything I have out there to bring a championship back to Queens," Wright said. "I take a lot of pride in putting this uniform on every day. I take a lot of pride in going out there and trying to play hard in front of those fans every day. And there's a lot of good times to come."

If the Mets sign R.A. Dickey to an extension, they could have a playoff-caliber rotation in 2013. But there are holes in the outfield and the bullpen that Alderson will have trouble filling in a single offseason.

The Mets appear to be set on spending another year of rebuilding the Minor League system before loosening the purse strings a year from now. In the end, no team -- that includes the Red Sox and Yankees and especially the Mets -- can contend without a productive player development pipeline.

The Mets appeared to be close at times last season. They were 46-40 at the All-Star break, but went 28-48 the rest of the way. Their starting rotation evolved nicely, but the bullpen was the second worst in the National League. Only four teams scored fewer runs.

"I honestly don't think we're that far away," Alderson said. "Our pitching is strong. Our bullpen can get better. We've got some young talent we're going to infuse into the 'pen. If our pitching can be as good as it's been in stints, we can be competitive."

Regardless, the Mets went a long way toward securing the future of the franchise on Wednesday. And with that step, there's hope that the best is yet to come.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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