NEW YORK -- It is easy to understand where the Mets are coming from this week, as they attempt to sign David Wright to an enormous long-term contract. The least painful option, the path of least resistance, is to find a way to make Wright a Met for life -- however many years and dollars that may mean.
But one doesn't become a Major League general manager by taking the path of least resistance. That chair is reserved for people willing to make difficult, even wrenching decisions. For the Mets, the nearly impossible choice would be the correct one: trade their franchise player, now, in order to get on with reconstructing their roster.
Wright's value will never be higher than it is today. He's coming off one of the best seasons of his career, a bounceback from a frustrating and injury-shortened 2011. He is signed for a full season, rather than the two-plus months of work that a club would get in a Trade Deadline deal for Wright.
All of which means two things. One, the Mets will never be able to receive more in a trade for Wright than at this moment. Every game he plays in a New York uniform without a new contract decreases his value to other teams. Two, if the Mets were to sign him, they'd be buying at the highest price possible. It does not take a great deal of economics education to know that, as a general rule, you'd rather sell high than buy high.
That does not mean it would be easy. According to multiple reports, the Mets are working hard to get a deal done with Wright. He is the face of the franchise. He has the chance to be the first real lifetime Met, the team's first great to spend his entire career playing in Queens.
That's an extremely powerful draw, especially for a team in need of all the goodwill it can get. Wright is someone Mets fans can call their own, and after the departure of Jose Reyes via free agency last winter, that status is magnified. It would hurt, a ton, to see him playing in another uniform.
It needs to happen just the same. While the Mets have a quality pitching staff for 2013, as well as the ingredients for a formidable one in future years, there isn't enough talent on hand for a serious chance at contention next season. Meanwhile, there isn't enough in the farm system to be confident of what the next great Mets team will look like.
If they keep Wright, it doesn't change the first problem one bit. But if they deal him, it could go a long way toward alleviating the second. Look at the deal the Mets made 16 months ago, acquiring Zack Wheeler from the Giants for two months of Carlos Beltran's services at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Wright's value this winter, when a team would get him for a full season, is surely higher than Beltran's was at midseason in 2011.
Wright could presumably fetch multiple young hitters, or a lineup piece plus additional pitching. For proof, look at some recent deals. Trading a star player who has one year remaining before free agency has been lucrative for some teams.
When the Rockies decided they couldn't sign Matt Holliday following the 2008 season, they received a package from the A's that included Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street. In the winter of 2003, the Cardinals dealt J.D. Drew (plus catcher/utilityman Eli Marrero) to Atlanta for Jason Marquis, Ray King and Adam Wainwright.
The Mets wouldn't be out of line to ask for that sort of package -- two or more quality young players, be they prospects or pre-arbitration Major Leaguers. And that kind of deal could be transformative for a franchise that needs more infusion of talent.
It's unlikely that those additions will come via free agency. General manager Sandy Alderson has made it clear that the Mets do not expect to make major signings this winter. So the upgrades will have to be made through drafting, development ... and trades. Even painful trades.
Wright is a great player, a mostly durable player and one with a reputation for doing things the right way. All of those things make him popular with fans and difficult to deal. They also make him the most valuable chip the Mets have, the best avenue for the franchise to get to the top of the National League. It would not be fun to trade Wright, but it would be the correct course of action.
Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.