David Wright arrived here for spring training several weeks ago. Since then, New York Mets manager Terry Collins has reminded Wright frequently that the door to his office is open, and that the communication between them needs to be daily and detailed.
It’s not that Collins and Wright did not talk regularly before, but the Mets want to do whatever they can to make Wright into a productive player again — if that is possible.
Wright is 34, with four years and $67 million remaining on his contract. He is the team’s captain, but he has missed 249 of 324 games over the past two seasons. The discovery of a chronic back condition — spinal stenosis — severely undermined his 2015 season. Even when he returned, in August, and then made it to the postseason, he needed hours of preparation every day just to get into the lineup.
And then in 2016, a herniated disk was so bad that he was shut down in late May and required season-ending surgery in June.
Now that Wright has recovered from his neck surgery but will continue to deal with his spinal stenosis, the Mets have set a spring training schedule for him that will evolve daily based on how his body is responding to drills and game action.
“If we have to change it one day because he doesn’t feel good one day, we will,” said Collins, who acknowledged that it was hard to know what to expect.
Wright has been running, hitting and fielding ground balls. But he has not yet started throwing, the largest hurdle. That will begin later this week.
The reason for the caution? The last time he threw a baseball was last May, just before the herniated disk diagnosis. After neck surgery, Wright had to remain idle to allow the bone fusion to heal. In the meantime, he lost weight and strength. So when Wright was cleared by doctors to resume baseball activities in December, he started essentially from scratch.
“There were things I could do exercise-wise that I could do with my eyes closed before neck surgery that I was struggling to do when I got back in the swing of things,” he said.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Wright looked more like himself than he did after the 2016 surgery. He said he hoped his neck problem was resolved. Now he needs at-bats and innings in the field to make up for the lost time.
Wright hit well when he returned in 2015, and displayed some power. In his limited 2016 season, he did not hit for average and struck out at an alarming rate. In addition, he was making sidearm throws from third base, with not that much velocity on the ball. Although Wright said he does not know how much the neck injury affected his throwing, Collins said there was “no doubt” in his mind that Wright’s neck and nerve discomfort affected his shoulder — and his throwing.
Wright said he was now near the end of a shoulder-exercise program, designed to strengthen small muscles that atrophied after the neck surgery. He said he hoped to begin a throwing schedule this week that will gradually intensify. He knows there will be rust to knock off in all aspects of his game, he said, but he hopes he can be ready for opening day on April 3.
“This is a fun time to be a Met,” he said, “and I want to be a part of this winning season we’re going to have.”
Collins said the Mets might get Wright into spring training games sooner this year than in 2016 so the team can see what he is capable of. Wright said he would be forthright with Collins about his physical condition to avoid potential setbacks.
Wright may have to try his hand at first base, depending on how much throwing ability he eventually demonstrates. For the moment, at least, he still views himself as a third baseman.
“I maybe have to temper expectations in terms of the amount of time that I’m out there,” Wright said. “But I don’t think I temper the expectations for when I’m out there about the type of player I can be.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Mets dealt with another potential question mark about their upcoming season. A day late because of a visa issue, Mets closer Jeurys Familia reported to camp but, citing the advice of his lawyer, declined to address the domestic violence episode that upended his offseason and may lead to a suspension soon by Commissioner Rob Manfred.
What Familia did say was that he was “really happy about the upcoming season,” because the Mets have become an established contender. Still, it is a season that may begin without him in uniform.
Familia was arrested on Oct. 31 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on a disorderly person charge after an altercation with his wife, who, the police said, had a scratch on her chest and a bruise on her cheek.
But Familia’s wife, Bianca Rivas, made it clear she wanted the charge dropped, and it was, with the local prosecutor determining that there was not enough evidence to proceed.
Given precedent and Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, however, it is distinctly possible that Familia will be suspended for the start of the season. The Mets are preparing for that prospect, with Collins even admitting that he told Addison Reed, the Mets’ setup man, to enter spring training with the idea that he will be the team’s closer, at least for a while.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Collins said in reference to Familia. “So for us not to prepare them properly, it’s only going to hurt us in the long run.”
Collins said Familia was remorseful about the episode when the two spoke. “We’re going to support him as best as we can, and hopefully show people that he’s sorry and fix it,” Collins said.
Wright, the Mets’ clubhouse leader, said he did not know a lot about Familia’s case, but called it “a mistake that should not be made.” It was similar to what he said last year about Jose Reyes, whom the Mets signed in June after a 52-game suspension in connection with a domestic violence episode of his own.
“It seems like guys continue to make that mistake,” Wright said.
He added, “Hopefully, everybody in that clubhouse, everybody in baseball, everybody in life in general can see that, and hopefully learn from that.”