I remember it pretty clearly. June of 2003, a young looking Jose Reyes made his major league debut against the Texas Rangers, the day before his 20th birthday. Reyes went two for four that day and five days later, hit his first home run (a grand slam) and stole his first base. He embodied so much: youth, energy and most importantly, hope. Don’t forget, during that time, the Mets were fully entrenched in the Art Howe era and were trending downward. Reyes was the guy the Mets would build around, the new face of the franchise, the next Met for life. Reyes was the future.
Flash forward to 2011, where Reyes is in his final year of the four year extension he signed in the summer of 2006. He bas battled injuries, position changes while also putting up stellar numbers and making his case for being the game’s best shortstop. To any Met fan, myself included, it seems unimaginable, even impossible, that Reyes could wind up on another team as early as the middle of this season. And yet that is a valid, perhaps even likely possibility. To Sandy Alderson, I say there is no way that can happen.
I am a big fan of Jose: always have been, and probably always will be. Reyes is easy to love because of his intangibles. He’s high energy, he’s fun, he’s exciting-the list goes on. I’m not a big fan of intangible characteristics, maybe with the exception of being a good mentor/teacher for others. Good guys win rings and bad guys win rings, and the Mets are a classic example of that (the 1986 team in particular). I couldn’t care if players are good clubhouse guys or will cause chaos, as long as the team can function well and put a lot of tallies in the win column (this past season’s Jets team is a good example of that). The Mets don’t need Reyes because of his intangibles (although admittedly he is a fun player to watch), they need him because he is an excellent ballplayer.
As I mentioned, Reyes’ career has been hampered by injuries. For that reason, his first two seasons, 2003 and 2004, were cut short and his numbers were just OK (although prior to injury in 2003, Reyes was hitting .307/.334/.424 with five homers in 292 plate appearances). 2005 was his first full season, and in all honesty, it was not that good. That season, Reyes hit just .273/.300/.386 with seven long balls and only 27 walks, although he stole 60 bases and led the majors with 17 triples. In 2006 though, Reyes truly arrived in Queens.
Statistically, ’06 was the best season for Jose. At the age of 23, he posted a .300/.354/.487 line with 19 homers, 81 RBI and 64 steals. Furthermore, he excelled on defense, saving 11 runs. From 2006-08, Reyes put up the kind of numbers illustrative of his potential, hitting .292/.355/.461 while averaging 16 homers and 65 stolen bases per season. His WARs during those seasons were 5.9, 5.4 and 5.3, respectively, according to Baseball-Reference. It’s true, the OBP is on the mediocre side, particularly for a leadoff hitter, and it’s no secret that Sandy Alderson values OBP, but there is no doubt Reyes has been a very positive offensive contributor. In 2006 and 2008, his wRC+ was 122 and 123, respectively (100 is average).
Reyes, like many other Mets, missed nearly all of 2009 with injuries, and struggled in 2010 (.282/.321/.428) with only 31 walks in just over 600 PA, although he also started and stopped a few times due to injuries. For the first time in two years, he is completely healthy. That, in addition to it being his contract year, has Reyes poised for a monster 2011 season. That leaves the Mets in a difficult spot. On the one hand, if Reyes has a great year, the front office might deem him too inexpensive to re-sign, but he might have great trade value at the deadline. If he struggles, his value will be low at the deadline and Alderson might not want to keep him around. He should.
If the Mets trade Reyes, they need to replace him-a simple concept. The question is, with who? Reyes is not your average shortsthop-in fact you could argue (I know I do) that after Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, Jose is the best shortstop in MLB (Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins are declining and Elvis Andrus still has a lot to prove). Looking down the pipeline, the Mets organizational options at short are Ruben Tejada (who despite what I wrote about him, doesn’t seem likely to fill Reyes’ shoes) and Wilmer Flores if he doesn’t move to a different position, which supposedly he will. Losing Reyes would be a lot of production, offensively and defensively (although he struggled last year, Jose has proven that when healthy, his glove work is very good).
So let’s say Reyes performs well this season, and that his OBP increases significantly enough so that Alderson would approve, and that he is not traded before the deadline because the Mets are in the playoff hunt. That leaves Reyes as a free agent after this season, and it becomes somewhat about money, which as Met fans know, is tight at the moment. It is also a foregone conclusion that the team won’t be paying Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and Carlos Beltran past this season, and possibly Francisco Rodriguez. Those contracts alone amount to over $55 million, a portion of which could be used to re-sign Reyes. How much would he cost? Carl Crawford, who some consider comparable to Jose and whose career OBP is .337 (two points higher than Reyes’), just signed a seven year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox. Some might argue that Reyes would receive less in free agency due to his injury history, while others might say he deserves more because he is younger than Crawford and plays a premium position. Figure Reyes will earn somewhere between 16-18 million dollars per year, depending on if he is willing to take a discount. That seems like a lot for one player, but a healthy Jose Reyes is worth it.
And then there are the intangibles. Reyes provides energy, enthusiasm and flare. But most importantly, he is beloved by Met fans, and losing him to any other team, no matter how that occurs, would result in some type of backlash against the organization which is already struggling to sell tickets and win fan support.
Like I said, I am not a fan of intangibles and in the end, Alderson will do what he feels is best for the team in the long run. However, as an economist once said, “In the long run, we are all dead.” Translated to baseball, that means you can’t always look to the future and forget about the present. The Mets need Reyes in the present, and the future, something the front office will realize sooner rather than later.