By Mike Steffanos
Note: This is not new content. This article in its entirety has already been published on the Mets Today web site earlier this week. It is reposted here for archive purposes.
While Sandy Alderson had to know the job he was taking on with the Mets would not be easy, I wonder if he understood completely just how difficult it might be.
He must have had some idea of the money problems. Fred Wilpon falling for a Ponzi scheme made the financial picture extremely murky going in. Still, add in a serious recession, poor team performances (with correspondingly disillusioned fans) and stadium debt contributing to a problematic bottom line, and the current Mets finances look downright disastrous.
Meanwhile, fans have been growing more dissatisfied with the Wilpons over the years as the poorly run Mets have become a joke around baseball. The hostility grows further with the perception of fans that the Wilpons' troubled finances will preclude the team from seriously contending to keep the services of free-agent-to-be Jose Reyes.
Heading into the season the media was constantly promoting the idea that Reyes would be traded away by the deadline. The rationale primarily came down to these points:
- Reyes didn't walk enough to satisfy Alderson's Moneyball sensibilities.
- Injury concerns would preclude the Mets from offering the 6- or 7-year contract that he will be offered by others, and Sandy doesn't like those long-term deals, anyway.
- Even if a and b weren't enough to keep them from resigning Reyes, the Wilpon's finances would.
All spring I kept reading one pundit after another telling me that the Mets needed to accept reality and ship Jose Reyes out for the boatload of prospects with which to rebuild. This ignored the tendency in recent years for clubs to resist dealing prime prospects for players knocking on the door of free agency. Mark Teixeira -- a star player in his prime -- only netted the Braves Steve Marek and Casey Kotchman when they shipped him to the Angels in 2008. If Alderson made that sort of a deal with Reyes he would be run out of town.
The conventional wisdom has come around to the likelihood that Reyes will stay in New York through the end of the season. The bigger question now seems to be whether or not the Mets will make a real effort to keep their shortstop beyond this season.
The Post's Joel Sherman, who spent all spring writing that the Mets must trade Reyes, now writes that losing Reyes without making a serious attempt to re-sign him would be a "disaster" for the Mets. The risks involved in signing Reyes to a long-term deal are real, but so is the likelihood that allowing Reyes to walk would solidify the perception that finances were dictating baseball decisions. I think Sherman is on the money here.
It's one thing for a team that plays in small market -- and charges small market prices -- to decide that they just can't afford to keep a popular player. Large market teams just don't have that luxury, unless they're willing to deal with the perception that they're not really trying. Add into this mix the frustration that the vast majority of Mets fans already feel with Fred Wilpon and you could be looking at a real fan revolt at a time when the Mets are desperately trying to convince fans to come back.
Of course, if the Mets go the route of trying to retain Reyes there's no guarantee they'll be able to keep him, particularly if a club out there offers Jose that magic 7-year deal that the Mets supposedly won't consider.
In a column on FoxSports.com, Ken Rosenthal cites a source that the Mets were initially hoping to get Reyes back by offering 3 years, $45 - 50 million, but realize that there is no chance of that happening. Still, at least according to Rosenthal, they're not willing to go 7 years -- making the question whether there is a compromise somewhere in between that will satisfy everyone.
My personal preference is for the Mets to keep Reyes, but not at any price. I don't think it would be prudent to offer a contract like the 7-year, $142 million deal that Carl Crawford signed with Boston. On the other hand, though, I find it hard to believe that Reyes would have to settle for something considerably less as a 28-year-old star player playing a premium defensive position.
Maybe the Mets could get Reyes to accept option years at the end of the contract based on games played that would offer them some sort of protection if Reyes' legs don't hold up. There's nothing like that in Crawford's contract, but he had a better record of durability than Reyes.
To me, the biggest potential danger for the Mets wouldn't be a failure to keep Reyes if another team offered a contract that was really outlandish, but rather the perception that they weren't really serious in their negotiations.
I think back to the Vlad Guerrero fiasco back in 2004 when it seemed the Mets made a weak attempt to negotiate with Guerrero when it became obvious he wasn't going to get a huge deal from anyone. He wound up signing with the Angels for 5 years, $70 million, and the Mets wound up looking like foolish cheapskates with their token offer.
In that case it would have been better if they just declined to negotiate. Frankly, if they're not willing to be a little creative in their dealings with Reyes they should just let him go. It will be a big PR hit, obviously, but a dragged-out process where it's clear that they're not being serious would only do more harm.
In my opinion, the Wilpons really are at a crossroads. Their financial situation is precarious and their popularity with the fans is quite low. Most fans understand that the Mets have to invest their money more wisely than they have over the last couple of decades, but ownership can't afford to be seen as merely pinching pennies at the expense of trying to win.
Winning back Mets fans will be a tough go got the Wilpons, but if they mishandle the Reyes negotiations they might find whatever good will they have left is gone.
That's my opinion -- what do you feel the Mets need to do with Jose Reyes? Please post your thoughts in the comments.