By Mike Steffanos
Remember back a few winters ago when you were constantly reading that a trade that would bring Manny Ramirez to the Mets was inevitable? This year's "inevitable" seems to be a fire sale this summer in Flushing. Particularly with Jose Reyes, the question of a trade doesn't seem to be if, but just when.
While I certainly concede the possibility of a fire sale, I've been arguing against the conventional wisdom of inevitability since I returned to blogging here this spring. Without rehashing everything again, let's take a closer look at trading Reyes.
I start this by acknowledging the argument against signing Reyes long term. If I was the GM of this team I would be very leery of signing Jose to the 7-year, $100 million plus contract that's been speculated about. While he might very well remain healthy and productive into his mid-30s, if he were to suffer a Beltran-like injury it's hard to see where he could provide any value to compensate for a loss of speed and the ability to play shortstop.
Once you acknowledge the fact that keeping Reyes past this year is unlikely, then the balance sheet you must look at as a General Manager is to compare the value of keeping Reyes all year to the value of trading him.
The positives of keeping Reyes all season would be a club that is more interesting to watch in 2011, with higher attendance and television ratings than if you traded him. Also a plus would be the two high draft picks you would receive when he signs with someone else as a free agent.
For me as a GM to even contemplate trading Reyes, then, I need to receive more value in return than I am giving up. I need a return greater than simply the equivalent of the 2 high draft picks, which I should assume will net me a pair of high-ceiling prospects if I do my job correctly.
So I want either three high-ceiling prospects in return or, at the very least, a couple of guys who are close to major league ready plus something else to sweeten the deal and compensate me for giving up Reyes. I don't want a couple of guys who are years away, because I haven't gained anything in return for giving up having Jose Reyes for the rest of the summer. I need to go back to my club's fan base with something to show for this deal.
Now the other team is obviously getting more than just a rental of Jose Reyes in return -- they're also getting those two draft picks if they are unable or unwilling to keep Reyes. So the real question is whether a potential trade partner sees Reyes as the missing piece between them and a strong post-season run. Then they're willing to give up big prospects to roll the dice.
I know there are clubs that are badly in need of a shortstop, with possibilities including the Giants with an aging Miguel Tejada and Milwaukee with the light-hitting Yuniesky Betancourt, among others. Still, for these potential trade partners to agree to hand over the haul of prospects a Reyes deal would demand, they really have to see Jose as THE ANSWER. Do any of these clubs covet Jose badly enough to justify the hit on their farm system -- and if they do, do they match up with prospects the Mets want? It's possible, but it's certainly not inevitable.
If the Mets can't find a trade partner with that particular combination of need, want and the right chips to deal, it might wind up making more sense to keep Reyes around all season and then do your best to make the draft picks pay off.
Of course, it's fair to say that if the Mets continue this extreme suckage there is less reason to hold onto a Jose Reyes or anyone else. They won't be drawing fans in the park and no one will be watching the telecasts, anyway. But you still need to find the right deal.
As an informed fan, I am going to take a close look at any deal the Mets make this summer, and if I see something that smells like just a salary dump I am not going to be a happy camper. On the other hand, though, if Sandy Alderson can make a strong deal I will be all for it, even if the short-term result almost certainly makes the Mets even harder to watch in 2011.