NEW YORK -- Best known for his Queens roots and his franchise-altering catch during Johan Santana's no-hitter, Mike Baxter could be approaching the end of his Mets tenure.
The thought has been weighing on him.
"You definitely think about it," Baxter said. "It's hard to say you don't think about it. I just wish I had a better year. I'm definitely frustrated with the way I played here, and it's out of my hands now."
Penciled into an Opening Day bench role with the promise of significant playing time, Baxter stumbled out to a .212 average and .616 OPS through June 9, earning a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Though the Mets twice recalled him over the course of the summer, Baxter did not begin receiving regular at-bats again until this week.
"I didn't get the playing time because I didn't earn it," Baxter said. "You've got to be realistic about the situation. Looking back, the way this season went is very frustrating. But looking forward, I love playing here. I want to play here, so we've got to see. Obviously the team has to make a decision what they want to do. I'd love to be a part of their plans."
If Baxter had less big league tenure, the Mets would simply invite him to Spring Training and let him compete for a bench job. But Baxter projects to end this season with two years and 128 days of Major League service time, just above the front office's projected Super 2 cutoff. That will make Baxter arbitration-eligible for the first time, meaning if the Mets want to keep him around, they will need to pay him a fair bit more than the $500,318 his contract was worth this season.
Working against Baxter is the fact that the Mets are almost certain to import at least one starting outfielder this winter, knocking everyone else down a rung on the depth chart. But the Mets could still opt to keep Baxter around, given that most of their in-house bench options are right-handed. The exceptions are rookie Matt den Dekker, whom the Mets might prefer to see play every day in the Minors, and switch-hitter Eric Young, who is also arbitration-eligible.
The Mets did start Baxter in right field Thursday, his third straight game in the starting lineup. So if nothing else, the team is taking a hard look at him heading into the winter.
"We're sitting here looking at where these guys are going to fit next year," manager Terry Collins said. "Can they be bench players for us? Can they come off the bench and do what we expect? So we're just trying to get some guys in there and get some at-bats and see what they look like toward the end of the year."
Wright exits game after taking pitch to head
NEW YORK -- When David Wright stated his plan to return to the Mets before the end of the season, despite a seven-week hamstring injury that bothered him as recently as mid-September, the chorus was one of caution. Why risk re-injury with so little time left in a third- or fourth-place season?
Yet fueled by his competitive desire and backed by his team, Wright pressed forward, returning from the disabled list last Friday. Six days later, the Mets' worst nightmare briefly whispered across Citi Field, when an 86-mph pitch struck Wright in the helmet. The third baseman later passed a battery of concussion tests, leaving open the possibility that he will play again before the end of the season.
"I'm feeling fine," Wright said. "It's more precautionary that they didn't want me to stay in the game. I feel pretty good."
With two outs in the third inning Thursday, Brewers pitcher Johnny Hellweg threw a changeup that bore in on Wright, striking him on the left side of his helmet as he tried to duck out of the way. Wright fell to the ground, landing on his right hand. After several moments conferring with trainer Ray Ramirez, Wright walked off the field, with Justin Turner replacing him on the bases.
Coming into the game with six strikeouts, 22 walks and six hit batsmen in 26 2/3 career innings, Hellweg hit Lucas Duda with his next pitch and walked Mike Baxter on four straight before striking out Matt den Dekker to end the inning.
"That's the last guy on that team I want to hit," Hellweg said. "All I hear is good things about him; he's a good guy. You don't ever want to hit somebody in the head. It was a changeup. It was definitely mis-located. I feel awful he had to come out of the game at that point. I think it got to me a little bit just because, David Wright, that's their guy, and it was in the head and he had to come out. I think that stuck with me for the next pitch or two."
Back in the dugout, Mets trainers administered cognitive tests and compared the results with baseline data collected in Spring Training. No major discrepancies arose, indicating a lack of concussion symptoms.
"I felt like my head was all right," Wright said. "I knew all the essential things. My ears weren't ringing. I felt like I got hit in the head with a ball, but other than that, I knew the score and the situation. I didn't have any kind of memory loss or lose consciousness, so that's a good thing."
Wright's appearance Thursday night was just his fifth since spending seven weeks on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, which he injured running the bases in August. He made it clear that he considered his return before the end of the season significant, even if it would only be for a few games.
Though Wright made no guarantees, he indicated he could play again before Sunday. The third baseman was prepared to have more concussion tests Friday after arriving at Citi Field, though his greater obstacle to playing time may be the jammed right thumb he sustained while falling to the ground.
"It's just a scary situation," Mets starter Dillon Gee said. "It was a changeup -- I guess that was the good thing. If it had been a fastball, that would have been a lot scarier."
Wright's initial concern revolved around the fact that this was not his first direct hit to the head -- he sustained a concussion four years ago when Giants pitcher Matt Cain struck him in a similar spot with a 94-mph fastball. But Wright said he knew immediately that this was less serious.
"I felt a lot different this time than last time," Wright said. "I got hit, and I think I jammed my thumb, got to a knee and just wanted to collect my thoughts, make sure I was all right before I got up. By that time, the decision was already made to take me out."
Wright ready for offseason role as recruiter
NEW YORK -- With the Mets expected to make a significant splash in the free agent market this winter, David Wright is once again relishing his role as recruiter.
"How do you know I haven't already started making calls?" Wright quipped Thursday.
The captain laughed, knowing that his most serious recruiting pitches would wait until November and December, when the Hot Stove catches fire. Since joining the Mets, Wright has taken pride in serving as a lobbyist for free agents, as well as a one-man welcome committee for Draft picks and trade acquisitions.
The Mets could use his services this winter, when they figure to target at least one high-profile outfielder, as well as potentially a shortstop and pitcher.
With only $25 million on the books for next season, the Mets will be active in both the free agent and trade markets -- that is part of the promise general manager Sandy Alderson made to Wright when he signed an eight-year, $138-million contract extension last winter.
"It seems like it's all kind of culminating in this offseason to try to make this team better," Wright said. "The rebuilding project is coming to an end. We need to start winning and taking that next step to becoming a playoff-contending team. The last few years have been tough. This year has been tough. But I think that we have an opportunity to go out there and really make this team better this offseason with the money that we have. I'm expecting this team to be much better next year than it is this year."
That means spending for Alderson, and recruiting for Wright.
"Any way I can help, whether it's an opinion, whether it's a phone call, whatever, that's what I'm here for," Wright said. "I'm all in for this organization. And I believe they're the same -- they'll be all in with the money coming off the books."
Niese to finish out season Sunday vs. Crew
NEW YORK -- Jon Niese will start on his regular turn Sunday afternoon for the Mets, who considered scratching him in favor of Daisuke Matsuzaka against the Brewers.
"Tell my fantasy owners they can start me," Niese said.
The Mets considered shutting Niese down for the year in deference to the partially torn left rotator cuff he sustained in June. But Niese made it clear that he wanted to pitch, even if the Mets would be cautious with him Sunday.
"We've got to be smart about this," manager Terry Collins said of his Opening Day starter, who is 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA since returning from the disabled list. "If he starts that game, I know he wants to win it. But I think we've got to be smart enough to say, 'Listen, there's going to be a limit on what you're going to do."
• Josh Satin was awarded a home run in the ninth inning Thursday after umpires overturned their original call of a single. Satin did not run out the hit after seeing the ball easily clear the orange home run line in left field.
• Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon released the following statement regarding MLB commissioner Bud Selig's announced retirement after next season:
"For 33 years, Bud and I have been partners in Baseball, first as fellow owners and then under his outstanding leadership. When the future of our game looked stagnant, Bud's reforms modernized the industry on and off the field -- to the great benefit of the sport and its fans. When Bud became Commissioner, he asked to be judged on the basis of franchise values. I think I speak for all owners when I say that his Commissionership has been a great success as demonstrated by the valuations we enjoy today."
• Juan Lagares was unavailable Thursday after witnessing the birth of his child earlier in the day. The Mets do not expect to place Lagares on paternity leave.
• As part of Fan Appreciation Weekend, Mets players will greet ticketholders in Citi Field's Jackie Robinson Rotunda approximately 90 minutes prior to first pitch Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Mets also plan to offer discounts on selected retail items, including All-Star merchandise.