PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Hand on his heart, David Wright swears he wasn't trying to steal Alex Rodriguez away from the Yankees, or tell the Mets' front office how to build a dynasty to last through the next decade.
All Wright was doing when he offered to surrender third base to A-Rod was make it politically easier for the Yankees slugger to cross enemy lines in 2008, should he decide to opt out of his current contract.
Nice guy, David Wright.
"Maybe too nice," one Mets veteran said. "He's the guy we need to be the leader here, not A-Rod."
That sentiment resounded throughout the organization on Monday, a day after Wright made his surprising, public offer to Rodriguez. Even if the future Hall of Famer were to consider leaving the Bronx, the Mets have no plans, now or ever, to move Wright off third base.
Instead, they're counting on Wright to be the hitting machine who had 20 HRs and 74 RBIs in the first half of the 2006 season. An All-Star at the age of 23, Wright had the can't-miss credentials of someone preparing for a long, uninterrupted run of stardom in New York.
But then came the All-Star break -- and, specifically, the Home Run Derby -- and Wright was evicted from Olympus. He hit just six HRs in his final 243 at-bats, and was uncharacteristically vulnerable in October, too, batting just .160 in the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals.
What exactly went wrong? Scouts say Wright became vulnerable to sliders down and away, chasing pitches out of the strike zone. There's a fine line between an aggressive swing and one that's fueled by panic; Wright crossed the line as October's pressure mounted. One bird dog who watched Wright during the Cardinals series described him as "tight as a drum."
Wright didn't disagree.
"Next time, I'll know how to control my emotions better and relax," Wright said. "Everything is under a microscope in the postseason, and it's easy to get carried away. I definitely got too excited."
That's hardly a sin for a player who debuted at the age of 21 and became a bona fide star in just two summers. Sometimes it's hard to believe Wright is still so young; he looks and acts like a veteran who understands the challenges of being a big city superstar.
In some ways, though, Wright looks like an easy target for the professional parasites: He's open and honest and approachable, which is the first mistake in the celebrity instruction manual. None other than Derek Jeter says Wright has to be careful about choosing his friends as his star quotient grows.
"Not many people can understand what David is going through," Jeter said recently. "I don't know him that well, I've met him only a few times, but he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. But he has to ask himself every time someone wants to get close to him, 'How did this person get here?' and, 'Is this person telling me the truth, or just telling me what he thinks I want to hear?'
"David has to be really careful, if he isn't already."
For his part, Wright says Jeter is "a role model for younger players like myself. He knows how to conduct himself on and off the field. He's the best there is at that kind of stuff."
"[David Wright] seems to have a good head on his shoulders. But he has to ask himself every time someone wants to get close to him, 'How did this person get here?' and, 'Is this person telling me the truth, or just telling me what he thinks I want to hear?'"
-- Yankees SS Derek Jeter
In many respects, Wright has it easier than Jeter, simply because the Yankees shortstop has such a larger footprint in the celebrity culture. While Wright says he mostly hangs out with his high school buddies from Virginia, Jeter told Newsday that he spent his last vacation in Europe with Michael Jordan.
But the professional gap between Wright and Jose Reyes and Jeter and A-Rod is closing. The left side of the Yankees' infield obviously has a longer, more impressive resume, but the Mets have the younger, more athletic profile.
So why would Wright offer to vacate third base? Partly because he's truly a nice guy with an ordinary, you-and-me ego. And partly because Wright knows a superstar when he sees one.
"You're talking about one of the game's greats, and at the end of his career, he could be the greatest of all time," Wright said of Rodriguez. "He does everything in the game exceptionally well. He's a huge addition to any team."
When informed of Wright's comments, A-Rod told the Bergen Record, "Did he really say that? Wow. Tell him I'm flattered."
Where, exactly, would Wright play in this fantasy crossover? He smiled and said "anywhere," but the two most realistic choices would be left field or second base. Then again, it's probably A-Rod who'd have to be willing to switch, assuming he wanted the Mets to take him seriously as a free agent.
After signing Wright to a six-year, $55 million deal last summer, it's clear the Mets are banking their future on him -- at third base. The Mets think they have their money parked in the right place. Who'd dare to disagree?
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.