Before you arrange the necktie parties for the parties involved, let’s make one thing absolutely incontrovertible: When all was said, and too much was done or undone, depending upon your point of view, the New York Mets had little enough choice but to think about letting Jose Reyes go. Especially if they weren’t going to quit kidding themselves and swap him at the midsummer nonwaiver trade deadline for something better than a third-round draft pick at best.
Sentimentally it’s going to sting for a good while. Realistically, however, the Miami Marlins may have done the Mets a major league favour by signing him to a six-year, $106 million deal. Who would have thought even three years ago that the Mets would be on something close enough to an austerity budget and the Fish would be as freewheeling with the pelf as you always assumed the Yankees to be?
No, we’re not taking the Mets off the hook just yet. John Harper of the New York Daily News isolates the point well enough:
The Mets get a couple of draft choices, which is no small matter as the Sandy Alderson regime has made strengthening the farm system the priority. But it surely is small consolation for fans who have taken one kick in the teeth after another since September of 2007.
Indeed, for the price they pay at Citi Field, fans have a right to demand the Mets spend at least a healthy portion of the $55 million or so that has come off the payroll with the departures or expired contracts of Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Reyes, and, lest we forget, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.
Only the truth is, from a baseball standpoint it makes more sense to save a lot of the money, at least for the moment, because the Mets are now officially rebuilding, no matter if Alderson refuses to admit such a thing.
That shouldn’t take the Mets off the hook for the bad management, starting with Fred and Jeff Wilpon at the top, which has put them in this position. And you hate to see the Wilpons be justified in dramatically reducing payroll as a means of surviving their own financial crisis.
But what else makes sense right now? The Mets don’t have the pitching to be serious contenders until perhaps 2014, when highly-touted prospects Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Zack Wheeler, and Jenrry Mejia have blossomed enough to form a nucleus for a strong staff.
Lets’ face it: once Johan Santana went down with that shoulder capsule injury that has been a career-killer for the likes of Chien-Ming Wang and Mark Prior, it was clear there would be no easy way out of this mess for the Mets.
There is no arguing that bad luck has played a role in it. But the lack of depth in the farm system, which made the Mets especially vulnerable to all the injuries since 2009, was more about bad planning than bad luck.
It’s not that losing Reyes won’t hurt the Mets in the short term in the lineup. Measure his first three thousand lifetime plate appearances against all the shortstops who’ve played major league baseball. You’re only going to find one with more triples than Reyes (99)—Arky Vaughan. (Reyes in 2011 led the National League in triples for the fourth time.) Only two have had more steals; only twelve have out-hit Reyes’s .292. And don’t think it won’t hurt at the box office or in the clubhouse, either; Reyes was a fan favourite and one of the very few standup men in the Met clubhouse since the roadblock of 2006 and the collapse of 2007.
(Don’t even think about any more carping over how Reyes finished 2011. The Mets had nothing left to play for, not even playing spoilers, since they were finishing against a third-in-the-Central collection of Cincinnati Reds. He dropped that bunt in square competition—the Reds weren’t even thinking of trying to gift it to him—and he’d already done the real lifting toward securing his batting title when he hit a pair of bombs the day before.)
But long-term? Look at these hard realities: Reyes won a National League batting title (the first Met to do it ever) with an arguable amount of luck; he was no different in terms of ground balls, line drives, and fly balls in 2011 than he’d been in several previous seasons, and it seems a powerful enough indication that he’s not likely to hit .337 again the rest of his career.
Reyes hit over his head on balls in play in 2011—his batting average on balls in play was 39 points over his career mark. He also swung at 32 percent of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone, six points above his career figure. He made more contact on those swings, but look a little more closely: Reyes had a blistering May and June before a hamstring tweak helped level him back to his regular abilities, which are formidable enough if he can stay healthy, which is always a big risk when you discuss a player who’s missed 191 games his past three seasons because of them.
He’s a decent if not virtuoso defender who won’t hurt you in the field even if he isn’t getting to quite as many balls as the average league shortstop, but you’re not writing him paychecks totaling $106 million because he’s the next Ozzie Smith, you’re writing them because he’s Jose Reyes and you think he’s going to last six more years without costing you too much down time due to the injuries that seem to come by nature to a man making much of his living on his legs.
The Mets probably wouldn’t really mind letting the Marlins assume that risk—among many, if you’ve been paying attention to the Federal attention now being lavished upon their stadium deal and some of the chicanery alleged to have been involved—if not for the fact that, with Reyes now among the departed, they’ve lost twelve wins. (That’s the total shakeout of losing Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Chris Capuano, and K-Rod.) The plan seems to be for Ruben Tejada to take over the shortstop job, which seems good for a 2-6 win factor, and Tejada is better than replacement level even if he isn’t Reyes. The plan also seems to be for Lucas Duda to take the regular right field gig, which seems even better on the assumption that he’ll stay at his .852 OPS level—that, folks, is a solid right fielder.
The questions now become just how smartly Alderson commences the Mets’ rebuilding, given the team’s financial limits for who knows how long until the Wilpons resolve the Madoff mess. Including but not limited to whether Ike Davis will return and pick up where he left off, whether David Wright will stay healthy, whether Johan Santana can return, period, and especially whether Alderson really can shepherd the near-complete farm replenishment the Mets badly need.
If it’s any consolation, signing Reyes and erstwhile San Diego closer Heath Bell don’t exactly turn the Marlins into the beasts of the National League East. They’ve got a few holes themselves. They’re going to be testing Hanley Ramirez at third base and hoping he rediscovers his batting eye. They’re going to be sitting on pins and cushions wondering if Bell is really going to be an upgrade over Leo Nunez or whether he proves to be only as good as his ballpark used to be for him. They’re going to be wondering whether Logan Morrison can rehorse at the plate (and whether they can resist further temptation to discipline him for no crime worse than speaking his mind) and whether they can get a suitable rotation replacement (C.J. Wilson? Mark Buehrle?) for Javier Vasquez.
And if Reyes reverts to his near-customary injuries soon enough, the Marlins may even end up looking for trading partners down the road apiece. (As it is, Reyes’s deal is pending his passing a physical examination.) As much as losing Reyes will sting in New York—and I was one who thought maybe, maybe, letting K-Rod go to Milwaukee would free up enough dollars to think about keeping him—gaining him could, in theory, sting even worse in Miami.