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30 November, 2012

The Face of the Franchise

1962-1965 - Casey Stengel
1968-Gil Hodges
1969-1971- Gil Hodges and Tom Seaver
1972-1977- Tom Seaver
1978-Jerry Koosman
1979-1980- Lee Mazzilli
1982-1984-Keith Hernandez
1985-1989-Keith Hernandez, Doc Gooden, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry
1990-Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry
1991-1994-Doc Gooden
1995-1997- none
1998-2004-Mike Piazza
2005-2006- Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez
2006-2011-David Wright, Jose Reyes
2012-David Wright

   Those are the faces of the Mets franchise since their inception. Like life itself, no two faces look the same. Some clearly carry more gravitas than others. Stengel was the face of the Yankees that the Mets needed for credibility and humor. Gil Hodges was the the face of the Brooklyn Dodgers the Mets needed for maturity. Mazzilli was box office, Hernandez was business, the '86 group was a core, Piazza and Pedro brought All-World ability and the ability to erase the '90s from our memories, and Wright and Reyes were the future.
  What exactly does signing a "Face of the Franchise" mean? I suppose it means stability. It's a promise of sorts from the team's ownership to it's fan base that it is committed to the future, committed to winning and suggests an understanding from the owners that they know what the fans want, that they appreciate your investment and are investing back.
   A year after losing Jose Reyes without hardly lifting a finger to keep him, the Mets could not let David Wright, the "Face of the Franchise" walk off into free agency after this season. Citi Field would have been a morgue in 2014. Merchandise sales would've provided about as much revenue as a Joe Orsulak bobblehead. So their is "value" in the Mets retaining Wright's services, but at what cost?
   For a franchise that has been under financial wraps for a few years, and is not out of the woods, was retaining Wright worth it? Let's compare Wright to some of his peers.

The Nationals Ryan Zimmeran (their franchise face for quite some time, but now being joined by Strasburg and Harper) signed a $100 million extension through 2019.

The Rays Evan Longoria (their franchise face even when he was in the minors) just tacked 6 years and $100 mil onto his deal at age 27.

  So Wright's money is right on par with some of the best at his position in the game. And since Wright came into the league, he has been among the best there too. He is a career .301 hitter, with a .381 on base, .506 slugging and an .887 ops. In his time in the majors, despite bouts with inconsistency, Wrights name is littered on the lists of the top performers in all the important categories for a 3rd baseman. He's also a Gold Glove caliber defender. On the field, Wright is everything you want a franchise player to be.
   Off the field, Wright has been the Mets Derek Jeter. Never a hint of trouble, does tv commercials, makes all the appearances and rarely rocks the boat. He is popular, handsome, and neutral. The Mets have no problem putting Wright "out there" as their face and Mets fans have no problem embracing him.
   Could the Mets have let Wright walk after next year and use that money, along with the Santana and Bay money that comes off the books, to build a new team around a young, promising pitching staff? Of course they could have, but it wouldn't have gone over well. Replacing Wright is a lot harder than it sounds. According to ESPN's Stats and Info group, only Eddie Matthews, Ron Santo, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen, Wade Boggs and Buddy Bell have higher WARs through their age-29 season than Wright. Five of those seven guys are in the Hall of Fame. So financially, it may actually be a sound investment. Lock up one of the rarer pieces in the league and spend elsewhere.
     The Mets were criticized when they signed Carlos Beltran to a 7 year, $119 million dollar deal when he was 28 and by all accounts a better 5-tool player then, than Wright is now. But Beltran wasn't home-grown. He was brought in to be the face of the franchise, Wright was raised to be one, so for most people, although the contracts are similar, this just feels better.
   By getting the Wright thing done, the Mets have done the right thing. They owed it to their fans to keep Wright, to tell us that the money we invest in them isn't going to waste, that there is a hope the club is improving and that one of our literal cornerstones, will be part of that.
   My 10-year old, baseball loving son has been aware of David Wright since he was 6. He knows Wright is an all-star, he knows he's our best player, he wears #5 in little league because that's Wright number. That stuff matters, not just to a fan but to a franchise. It's called having an identity.
   I look at it like this: I took videotaped golf lessons a few years ago, and I thought the benefit would be seeing all the things I did wrong. The real benefit was seeing all the things I did right because it eliminated things I had to worry about. My take away is good? OK, no more worrying about that.
By signing Wright to this deal, the Mets have crossed one thing off their "have to worry about" list and their fans can do the same.
   It's ironic that Wright, a third baseman has become the franchise player for this generation. Third was long a revolving door of mediocrity to the point of absurdity. Every year the Mets announcers gleefully announced player X was the number X player to play that position for the Mets. Don Zimmer, Jim Fregosi, Lenny Randle, the list went on forever. Now their Face of the the Franchise, the man who owns or will own all the team records, is a third baseman. We will grow old together. For many, that puts a smile on our faces.

   Based on curiosity, I asked folks on Twitter who the Face of their Franchise was.
Here are some of the results:

Mariners-King Felix
Orioles-Cal Ripken/Adam Jones/Weiters
Red Sox-Ortiz/Pedroia