(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
This has been the year of Jose Reyes. From the brutally cold months that began the year up to the heat waves of the summer to the dwindling daylight of the fall, Reyes has been central to the story of the Mets.
Long before the season began, there was an abundance of talk about Reyes' final year under contract with the Mets. To many in the sports media, it was a foregone conclusion that the Mets would have to trade Reyes during the year since they would have no chance of re-signing him when he hit free agency. They were obviously wrong about the inevitability of a trade, but whether or not the Mets are able to reach a new deal with Reyes remains to be seen.
Contract aside, the expectations for Reyes were mixed. He had been slapped with the "injury-prone" label very early in his career but went on to play no fewer than 153 games in each season from 2005 through 2008. In 2009, however, he only appeared in 36 games, and although he racked up nearly a full season last year, his production dipped significantly. After three-plus seasons with a cumulative .355 on-base percentage, Reyes only got on base at a .321 clip. Both his stolen base total (30) and success rate (75%) were down from one of his typically great seasons. The concerns about Reyes prior to the season were not just about the Mets' ability to sign him when he became a free agent.
But the season began, and Reyes played perhaps the best three months of baseball of his career. He hit 15 triples - fifteen! - in his first eighty games played. He stole 30 bases in 36 attempts. He had drawn 27 walks while only striking out 26 times. In a game on May 3, he reached base six times in six plate appearances. And his triple-slash at the end of the day on July 2 was .354/.398/.529.
In a season in which the Mets were clearly not likely to contend for a playoff spot, Reyes' performance seemed a little too goo to be true. As a result of a hamstring injury, Reyes didn't play again until July 19, and he went back to the disabled list on August 7 with the same injury. In the games he played in between the stints on the DL, Reyes showed he was human.
When Reyes returned on August 29, his .336 batting average was still good enough for the lead in the National League, and the focus on the race for the batting title intensified as the season came closer to an end. Reyes' lowest batting average at the end of any day for the rest of the year was .329. His highest average in that span came on the final day of the season, as Reyes bunted for a single in the first inning of the final game to hit .337. He promptly exited the game in order to give himself the best possible shot at winning the batting title, and Ryan Braun, his only competition, could not top him that night.
Reyes brought the Mets their first-ever batting title, and of course, plenty of noise was made about the way he did it. For the Mets fans who were at Citi Field to see Reyes play, possibly for the last time in a Mets uniform, his early exit wasn't pleasant. If the batting title is what people were complaining about - and it was - then Reyes was not the first, nor will he be the last, player to take himself out of a game at an opportune time.
The batting title made for a good ending to Reyes' remarkable season, but the second half of the year did make the "injury-prone" label relevant once again. While Reyes continued to hit for average when he returned from his injuries, most of his extra-base hits were gone. The last time Reyes tripled on the season was July 21.
Perhaps Sandy Alderson will be able to leverage the injuries to his advantage in contract negotations this fall and winter, but no matter what the outcome, Reyes is crucial to the future of the Mets. If he stays, they'll still have an elite shortstop and will have to find ways to get by with limited funds for the rest of the roster. If he leaves, there will be more money at Alderson's disposal, but there may not be any easy ways to make up for the loss of Reyes.
But no matter what lies ahead for Reyes and the Mets, his 2011 season was something to remember.