The time has come for Sandy Alderson's first big test as general manager of the New York Mets. With the team's finances in a state of uncertainty and some large contracts already on the books for the next couple of seasons, whether or not Alderson can or will re-sign Jose Reyes figures to be the main topic of discussion surrounding the team until it does or doesn't happen.
There has been no indication that the Mets will re-sign Reyes before their brief exclusive window for negotiations expires on Thursday. Over the next couple of days, a few of us will give our take on a few questions about Reyes, and we begin with this:
Should the Mets sign Jose Reyes?
Matthew Callan: Making the fans your general manager is almost always a bad idea. In this case, however, I think some attention must be paid to the damage that would be done to the fanbase if Jose Reyes is not re-signed, or if at the very least a good-faith effort to do so is not put forward. He is a special player in every sense of the word. Since the Mets are not yet on the precipice of becoming a perennial contender, losing Reyes to another team would deal a blow we haven't seen since the Midnight Massacre. Last year's Citi Field crowds will look like Ellis Island compared to what you'll see in 2012.
I happen to think that the signing is not quite as risky as many others do. Reyes has dealt with some injuries in the past three seasons. Prior to that, he'd enjoyed four seasons of playing no fewer than 153 games. His play has already progressed beyond one of pure speed; his ability to get on base, in particular, has improved immensely since his earlier days. There are few defensive shortstops of his caliber, either. His top-shelf value as a player remains even if his base stealing abilities have receded into the background of his overall game.
Luckily for the Mets, his market is to be somewhat limited. I think any team would be happy to have him, but the ones who could conceivably entice him are few. Boston just re-upped Marco Scutaro, and Florida's rumored interest seems wafer thin at best, as the team continues to insist that Hanley Ramirez is a shortstop. Washington also continues to be mentioned, but with the Jayson Werth signing debacle, you have to wonder how much they'd be willing to make another free agent splash. I can see either the Giants or the Angels opening up their pocketbooks, but I think it will take dump truck full of cash to get Jose Reyes to relocate from the East Coast. (The guy spends winters on Long Island, for crying out loud.)
In other words, the biggest reason the Mets should re-sign Reyes is because things have broken in such a way to ensure that they can. With other big ticket free agent signings unlikely, they will be able to do this without breaking the bank or going past the imaginary barrier of a $110 million payroll. A five- or six-year deal worth $110 million would, I think, bring him back home and leave enough payroll flexibility to field a competitive team in the seasons to come.
Bill Petti: It's hard for any fan of a team to remain objective, especially when it comes to valuing a player that you have watched and cheered for over time. So when it comes to evaluating Jose Reyes, I have to be careful to not let my emotions get the better of me.
Reyes had a fantastic season when he managed to be in the lineup. He was easily the Mets best offensive weapon and served as the foundation of an offense that was without Ike Davis for most of the season and Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Daniel Murphy for extended periods of time (not to mention a full season of the barely above replacement level Jason Bay). Reyes improved his OBP by 30 points and decreased his K% by roughly 4%. No other lead-off hitter contributed to his team's offense like Reyes did last year, and if he can continue to play this well, that's a heck of a competitive advantage for the Mets to have.
That being said, I am a bit concerned about how much this past season was about watching the evolution of Reyes versus simply a peak year. While Reyes did get on base more, his approach at the plate doesn't appear to have changed all that much. He actually swung at roughly the same number of pitches that came his way. Oddly enough, he swung at just as many pitches out of the strike zone, but made contact over 83% of the time, a big jump from his norm. That was good for ninth-highest in all of baseball. Combine that with his .353 BABIP, and I get a little worried that much of Reyes' OBP increase was fueled by some good fortune.
But he's missing pitches at the lowest rate of his career (4.1%) and my earlier look at his plate approach suggested that he's making the most of his swings in a way he never has before, even during his 2008 campaign.
The fact that he's fallen to an average shortstop also bothers me, but he's far from terrible. If his offense holds, it's still worth it to have him out there.
If the Mets price the risk in properly (i.e. injury, regression in his offensive numbers), both in terms of dollars and years, I would be all for bringing Reyes back. The Mets have many needs in the next few years so a contract much beyond the range of 5 years, $100 million would scare me. But locking up a potentially elite lead-off hitter (well, hitter in general) during his peak years is certainly enticing.
Eno Sarris: The answer to these kinds of questions is actually always the same, essentially: Yes, team x should sign player y, if the numbers are right.
We all know Jose Reyes' history -- the three year peak, followed by the two years he spent in the Willets Point hinterlands, trying to massage his hamstring into a manageable state, followed by his second-best year. But if you zoom out on him, he's averaged over four wins per season since he's become a starter. That four-win average includes a lot of seasons where he was better, and a few seasons where he disappeared. Pay him like a four-win player for the next five years, and he's likely to be awesome for three or four and upsetting for at least one season.
Call it the Barry Larkin question. Will the ups carry the downs going forward? It did once for the Reds shortstop, but he developed better plate discipline than it seems Reyes will. There was that three-year period in which Reyes walked close to 10% of the time, but even in a healthy 2011, he didn't manage to recover that magic. Barry Larkin with fewer walks, a worse glove, and just as many injury questions is not as exciting as Barry Larkin. But Barry Larkin is a nigh-hall-of-hamer, too.
Only two players in baseball history have ever signed a contract over $100 million after spending any time on the disabled list in the previous season -- Troy Tulowitzki and Joe Mauer -- and both were retained by their original team. This means, to me, that the risk will quiet the market for Reyes. And, perhaps, that those teams that are willing to re-sign their injured stars understand the source of the injuries -- and the likelihood of their return -- better than a new team might.
Should the Mets re-sign Reyes? Sure, if the numbers are right. And those numbers probably look like a four-year deal for $80+ million with a couple option years to bring the total value over $100. That's valuing him like a four-win shortstop with some risk. And it's also rewarding the most exciting Met of the past decade for his service.
Rob Castellano: There’s no way around it, I’m not impartial about this. Nor will I pretend to be. I’m the idiot who said I’d rather lose with Jose than win without him. So I won't try to construct an airtight, objective persuasion. But I will explain my reasoning, biased though it may be.
Frankly, we all know the pros and cons at play here. The injuries, the excitement, the hamstrings, the triples, the money. All of it. Frankly, that’s a push for me. What it comes down to is that at some point you have to pick your battles. Take Billy Beane; the guy has never lost more than a couple bucks on a bum product. He’s amazing. He bides his time and finds cheap alternatives that always always return on their price tags. It’s economic brilliance, never a penny wasted. All of the payroll flexibility in the world . Except he’s never won.
I'm not saying overspending is the only solution. Yes, you can ride on the back of the cheap, young superstar(s); but that’s not on our horizon. You can win with the team full of good-not-greats; but that’s a crapshoot, at best. At a certain point, you have to know when it’s time to pay up and get your guy. Is there a chance that dollars get wasted? Yes, there is. You've got to accept that. And obviously you've got to choose that guy choose wisely. And when I look around at what’s realistically out there -- now and going forward – I don’t know who that guy is if it's not Jose.
So if it's me, I hitch my wagon to his star. If we're not going to take our shot now, with him, then when? I'm willing to give him $100M+, 6 years or whatever it takes -- within sensible reason -- and accept the consequences, pretty or not...keeping fingers crossed that they are. And at the very least, regardless of the destination, at least I know it'll be fun getting there.