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The Reyes Dilemma (Archive Copy)

Mike SteffanosFriday, June 17, 2011
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:

  1. Reyes didn't walk enough to satisfy Alderson's Moneyball sensibilities.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

Comments (2)

Hi Mike-good job on the blog so we real Mets fans can communicate our thoughts and wishes. That said I think Jose Reyes response to negotiating a contract during the season was very telling. He is going after a large contract with as many bidders as possible. That is his right, but he is always saying he wants to stay a Met for his career, then he could show the team and fans that he is willing to take a lower contract to stay with the Mets (5 years 75-85 mil) which is a A LOT for a franchise with funding issues. I would love to keep him BUT if we use some common sense and avoid emotions, we can honestly say he is performing at a very high level this year that he has never maintained. He has had injuries in the past with his legs multiple times-that will happen again. His career OBP is .338 over 7-8 years to go with a lifetime avg of .289-that means he gets on base by walks under 5% of the time. This is his history and legacy. He is very good and at times great. He can be a difference maker...the problem is he does not dominate all the time. He goes through the motions at times (poor at bats not working the count, making throwing errors he should not AND he does not will the team to win or carry it on his back consistently). If the Mets are going to sign him to Crawford money (which was an albatross anyway), they need Reyes to dominate everyday like a superstar would(.300 avg, >.380 OBP, 120 runs,40 doubles, Gold Glove) at a premium position. I question that Reyes can do this consistently; I want to keep him but not at the price that hampers the team in the future. When I think of $20 mil players they are supposed to be superstars (Pujols, ARod, etc). With those guys you can pencil in the production because they can dominate with their offensive ability. I am just doing an ROI analysis here; what player do we get for $20 mil in Reyes? I think for whoever signs him they get a very good player but not a superstar who consistently makes the team win and that team will be disappointed despite the talent Reyes posesses.

Gino -- The Mets made a business decision not to negotiate with Reyes before the season, which I agreed with. I can't fault Reyes for making his own business decision that he will test the free agent waters.

I agree with you that I wouldn't pay him based on his hot first half of the season. He does has plus points and weaknesses like every other player. I don't agree with you that he goes through the motions at times, but I do think he has a tendency to lose concentration occasionally and sometimes gets overeager at the plate. (I actually attribute that to trying to do too much rather than going through the motions.)

I think I have a higher opinion of his worth than you do, based on the fact that he is a top offensive force at a position that in the post steroid era seems to be reverting back to 1980s type production. Even still, I wouldn't give him 7 or 8 years without some of them being options based on staying healthy and playing. Sandy Alderson definitely has a tough decision here.

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

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