Theoretically, David Wright could have ended up just about anywhere.
The first round of Major League Baseball's 2001 amateur draft is not, in the aggregate, a particularly noteworthy group of talent compared to other first rounds throughout history. It's a good one, yes: players drafted that year have been worth a combined 210 wins above replacement over their career, but that's not quite on the level of the following year's first round (276 combined WAR) or what the 2010 first round class is shaping up to be (40.6 combined WAR already, with players such as Noah Syndergaard, Christian Yelich, and Jameson Taillon either yet to make their MLB debut or yet to factor into it significantly). What's notable about the 2001 class, however, is that the majority of its value -- 137.3 of 210 WAR -- is tied up in three players: Joe Mauer (43.4), Mark Teixeira (47.6), and David Wright (46.3).
Mauer was taken first overall, followed by injury wreck Mark Prior (16.5), bust Dewon Brazelton (-3.0), current White Sox starter Gavin Floyd (14.9), with Teixeira selected fifth overall. From there it's a long, long way down the list to the supplementary part of the first round, when the New York Mets selected a third baseman from Hickory High School in Chesapeake, Virginia with the 38th overall pick. Between Teixeira and Wright, the most accomplished player is Noah Lowry (10.2 WAR).
And there's a lot of valid, process-related reasons why an organization would take, say, an LSU second baseman (Mike Fontenot, Orioles, pick 19) or a fireballing high-school arm (Jeremy Bonderman, Athletics, pick 26) over Wright, but the simple fact is that fate dealt him to the Mets, and like Mauer to the Twins, with the Mets Wright would stay.
None of the three great players from that first round have seemed to reach the heights to which their production might otherwise entitle them; the only player of the trio with likely to retire with a World Series ring, Teixeira, is the least highly regarded of the bunch, an overpaid Yankee slugger who can't stay healthy and whose power has been waning almost since the moment New York won the 2009 World Series. Meanwhile Mauer and Wright, two men who mean essentially the same thing to their respective team's fans, have a combined 72 postseason at-bats between them.
All this is important because Wright, in the middle of arguably the best season of his career at age 30 on a team 16.5 games out of first place, has gone on the disabled list with an injured right hamstring. According to manager Terry Collins, he may miss the rest of the season. This only mathematically affects the Mets' playoff chances. It might move up their formal elimination by a couple days, or allow mortally wounded Philadelphia to gasp back into third more quickly than they would have otherwise.
It won't cost Wright his first National League MVP award, because outside of himself, Marlon Byrd, and the top of the pitching staff, the 2013 New York Mets are held together mostly by prayers and duct tape. Even in a straight stats-head WAR leaderboard calculus, centerfielders Carlos Gomez and Andrew McCutchen have better arguments for the title of best position player in the National League.
What it does do is provide an opportunity to once again examine Wright in a different context than the somewhat out of place "captain" in Flushing: the guy ruthlessly pushed by his organization because before Matt Harvey came along, he was their only marketable franchise player. The guy who more often than not appeared to be the only person in his own organization -- player, management, you name it -- capable of being the adult in the room. Looking at the season cut short by Wright's injury, and its context in the overall arc of his career, it gives us a chance to see him for what he is: a guy who is -- or should be -- on track to make the Hall of Fame.
The Hall is notoriously tough on third basemen. There are only 16 of them in there, and the Veterans Committee only deemed a recent entrant at the position, Ron Santo, worthy of the honor after he died. Wright is the eighth best third baseman by WAR through age 30 in the history of the sport, but above him are two guys -- Buddy Bell and Scott Rolen -- that will most likely have to wait for the Veterans Committee the same way Santo did.
Wright picked up comparisons to Scott Rolen early on in his pro career as he steamrolled through Double A ("Scouts like to compare him to Scott Rolen, and the numbers back this up," John Sickels wrote for ESPN in 2004) and both men are eerily similar through age 30: Rolen with 47.4 WAR to Wright's 46.3; an .890 OPS for Rolen, an .888 OPS for Wright. The raw OPS is misleading because Rolen made his bones in the freewheeling Nineties -- that's a 129 OPS+ for Rolen to Wright's 136 OPS+, with Rolen making up the difference by being a superlative defender even beyond Wright's exceptional skills at the hot corner -- and people tend to remember more about the end of Rolen's career when he hung on too long with the Reds instead of his crazy years for St. Louis. But it turned out to be a pretty good comparison in a sport where those are pretty hard to come by.
Just two years ago, we weren't having this conversation. We were worrying that the stress fracture in Wright's lower back coming at the tail end of a third consecutive year of great-but-not-elite production was a portent of an early decline. We were worrying about the financial situation of the Mets franchise, and whether or not it would be possible -- let alone prudent -- to re-sign him. This was the offseason that Jose Reyes implored the Mets to match his deal with the Marlins and ownership refused. The calculus on not letting Wright walk the same way was more or less an up-or-down vote on whether going forward the team was going to get David Wright from ages 22-25, or David Wright from ages 26-28.
With fan confidence in the toilet, the Mets were more or less forced to keep him either way, and it turned out to be the correct choice. Wright is once again one of the best third basemen in baseball, if not the best outright.
It's an interesting mental exercise to think about what the National League would look like right now if things had gone the other way. The biggest shark circling in the water if the Mets had declined Wright's 2013 option for financial reasons (or traded him and he voided it) and he hit free agency was the Philadelphia Phillies, but almost any team with a conceivable hole at third base would have been in on him, including the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Wright in Boston or St. Louis might have led to far greater postseason opportunities for him over the next couple years, but it wouldn't have felt right. He's one of only three captains in the league for a reason -- it's odd enough that there's a non-zero chance Chicago's Paul Konerko will be wearing someone else's uniform next year as it is.
The good news for Wright, though, is that the Mets finally seem to have something resembling an organization coming together. The pieces from the R.A. Dickey trade remain highly regarded -- catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud should make the majors any day now, and pitcher Noah Syndergaard continues to shoot up prospect lists -- and if the newly-returned starter version of Jenrry Mejia is anything approaching for real and Zack Wheeler can take a step forward next season, the Mets are going to have an extremely formidable young rotation. While the captain might be done for this season, it's not unthinkable that his best in Flushing is yet to come.