NEW YORK -- Standing beside his Spring Training locker one morning in late February, David Wright reflected on all he had accomplished during more than a decade spent in the Mets organization. He talked at length about what he still wants to achieve, then spoke about what that might mean for his future.
"I'd rather be somewhere where I want to be, and be happy, than try to drain every single dollar out of whatever organization," was the notion that Wright kept revisiting. His phrasing was not always the same, but his tone and conviction were.
The simple translation is that Wright, who is in the beginning stages of a long-term contract negotiation, wants to win. So beyond dollars and cents -- Wright will earn plenty of those regardless -- the Mets must prove they are set up to win over the lifetime of their third baseman's next contract. Only then will they be able to sign him to a potentially career-ending deal.
In his talks with Wright and his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, general manager Sandy Alderson must sell the viability of a franchise that has suffered through six consecutive disappointing seasons.
His sales pitch is ready.
"What I intend to be, in any conversation that relates to the future of the Mets overall, is as honest as I can possibly be," Alderson said on the final day of the regular season, indicating that he would love to strike a deal with Wright as soon as this month. "My message would be, 'Look, I think we're very definitely headed in the right direction. But at the same time, we will not in the near future have unlimited funds.'"
Most of the funds the Mets do have may go directly to Wright, who is heading into the $16-million option season on the six-year, $55-million contract he signed in 2006. Along with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Wright occupies the top line of Alderson's offseason agenda.
Of course, ripping up that option in favor of a long-term deal will not be cheap. Wright's track record suggests that he should earn more than the six-year, $100-million deal the Nationals gave one of Wright's friends, Ryan Zimmerman, earlier this year. And Zimmerman's new deal does not begin until 2014, effectively making his contract an eight-year pact worth $126 million.
A new deal could make Wright the second-highest-paid third baseman in the game in terms of annual salary, behind only Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. It could also make him the highest-paid position player in Mets history and, like Rodriguez's deal, may have the potential to take him all the way to retirement.
So provided the Mets are amenable to that sort of thing -- and all indications are to the affirmative -- Wright's contract negotiations will focus more on the organization's plans for the future.
To that end, there are several avenues that Alderson might pursue. The Mets can sell Wright on the theory that re-signing in Flushing would move him closer to becoming a generational icon, as Chipper Jones is in Atlanta and Derek Jeter in the Bronx. They can also offer him assurances of a post-retirement role, catering those duties to Wright's ambitions and desires.
"I also think that there are factors that relate to New York that go beyond winning," Alderson said. "That's clearly the most important thing for any of us. But I think there are some other important factors, too, that don't relate to salary or money, that may have an impact. I'll try to be as honest in that regard as well."
But most of all, Alderson and the Mets must sell Wright on their baseball operations plan.
It is a unique crossroads for a franchise that has never -- see: Tom Seaver, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Reyes -- retained its brightest homegrown stars. Unlike last winter, when the Mets were visibly unable to re-sign Reyes, this year the team fiscally believes it can -- and clearly wants to -- re-sign Wright.
For player and general manager, that process began before the season even ended. The sales pitch is under way.
"Whether we are successful or not, time will tell," Alderson said. "But I think we're in a position to make a bona fide effort to do it."