There's a very real chance it won't work out, you see. Long term contracts are a gamble. The team assumes all of the risk, a risk that is heightened if your team is run by a family of cash-strapped ponces. It could force the Mets to trade David Wright. It could force them to roll out a bunch of greenhorns and fringy guys everywhere else. It could doom them to a series of .500 seasons, unable to improve the team while the Bay and Santana albatrosses all too slowly expire and the payroll wacks repeatedly up against a 100 million dollar ceiling.
There's no guarentee he lives up to the deal. That's a gamble as well. His incredible season this year is BABIP fueled to a certain extent. Don't get me wrong, I see the line drives into the gap on balls at his ankles or his eyes, how he is suddenly squaring up to every pitch, how he's a wrecking ball on the bases. This stopped being an incredible hot streak a few weeks ago and started being something else, one of those all-world seasons that comes around every once in a while, Wright in 07, Olerud in 98. But regression to the mean is too often an unassailable, unavoidable truth. You can hit .360 on balls in play in a season and the improvements looks real. But next year might just bring a .290/.350/.450 season, closer to the player he was in 06-08, than the 10 WAR pace we are seeing today. All it takes is a few line drives to stay up a little longer, a couple of shots into the gap turning into pop-ups. That likelihood doesn't diminish the specialness of this season, but we can't honestly insist he will be this good going forward.
He could get injured. Six or seven years is a long time for a player with no injury history, let alone one with Reyes spotty leg problems. You knees don't get stronger in your thirties.
"That all made some sense, sure. But sense doesn’t have much to do with getting old. Logic doesn’t turn back the years. Willpower doesn’t stop the clock. Ty Cobb burned with a hunger for baseball perhaps unmatched. He stopped hitting. Babe Ruth stopped hitting. Ted Williams stopped hitting. Stan Musial stopped hitting. Willie Mays stopped hitting. Hank Aaron … George Brett … Rod Carew … Frank Thomas …"
Posnanski's column is, of course, about another New York shortstop. One older than Reyes will likely be when his next contract expires. But Jeter was already an anomaly, his 2009 season an abberation among old middle infielders. And middle infielders can get old overnight.
Of course, it could very well work out. A few years of the .800 OPS line above, a normal aging curve after that, and we could look back seven years from now at a player that was worth every penny of 20 million a year. Much like Beltran's deal very quietly worked out, Reyes' might as well. Some surplus value at the front end, a couple years at the end that are a bit of a struggle, maybe a half season lost to injury somewhere, and in the end, 35 or so wins for 140 million. Perfectly reasonable.
And you know what? It's not my money. Maybe it hamstrings the team for the next few years and they can't make the moves they need to improve. So what? I have to live through a few more mediocre seasons? I've been a Mets fan for 24 years. Is that supposed to scare me? I've cheered for teams where the best position player was Dick Schofield, teams where the best pitcher was Mark Clark, Jose Reyes is Honus Wagner compared to those guys.
There is something else at work here. Our franchise has rarely had a star player we could look back at and say, "That man was the New York Mets." Tom Seaver is an icon, obviously (though one before my time). After that it gets a bit dicey. You have long time organizational guys, but players I wouldn't exactly call legends, in Kranepool, Harrelson, Franco and Koosman. You have Hall of Very Good guys that didn't stay Mets quite long enough to really be considered 'franchise players' in Fernandez, Cone, Leiter, Fonzy and Keith. You have Doc and Darryl, who are sadly known as much for what they should have accomplished as what they did. And at the top of the heap you have Mike Piazza.
A word about Piazza. Mike Piazza was my first Mets jersey, and I will be wearing it on the lawn at Cooperstown when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame. (probably several years after he is eligible cause he maybe did steroids or whatever stupid reason writers like Murray Chass will come up with to not vote for him) It will break my heart if he goes in with a Dodgers cap rather than a Mets one. I will probably even write an angry open letter about it. I look forward to the day 31 hangs next to 37 on the fence at Citi. Realistically, though, his best seasons, and most of his career value, came with Los Angeles. I can't ignore this in my head, even if to teenaged me, Mike is orange and blue.
Over the same time it seems like every other franchise has had one of those transcendent guys, a player that has come to be the uniform to a generation of fans. The Twins had Kirby Puckett, the Astros, Bagwell and Biggio, the Cardinals had Mark McGwire and then Albert Pujols, the Padres, Gwynn and Hoffman. And its not just our big market reliance on the free agent flavor of the month. Across town the Yankees have had a legion of 'true Yankees' over the last twenty five years, Mattingly, Williams, Jeter, Rivera and Posada. The Mets have never had that one player that really defined the franchise.
I accept that in the post-reserve clause days, I am essentially rooting for laundry. All those Mets near-legends above ended their days wearing some other jersey. When I was a kid, it broke my heart to see Gary Carter leave for the Giants. But by the time Al Leiter was done with the Mets, I was just happy to see him giving some other fanbase agita with his 5 inning 100 pitch highwire acts. Now, though, it is kind of freeing to once again be stupid in love with a baseball player.
In his excellent piece on Reyes, baseball and life, Ted Berg sums up my change of heart in this matter.
"But it is, on the orderly plane that baseball provides for us to try to sort some of these things out, some distant, more palatable version of that. Here is someone you love. And now, due to circumstances beyond your control, you might lose him too soon."
And, perhaps more to the point:
"Holy hell. Have you ever seen anything like this?"
It's a selfish thing, you know. The Mets already have 50 million dollars of next year's payroll committed to three players, two of whom are hurt, and one of whom can't hit anymore. Another 20 million per for Reyes could doom the team for years. It could force them to trade David Wright, which would be another 1500 word post of its own. There are no guarentees in sports fandom. I became a fan in 1987, and was immediately indoctrinated into late season heartache. I have never seen a World Series champion, and signing Reyes could impede that chase.
But what is the goal here? This year, I have seen something bordering on sporting grace. I want to believe it will continue forever. I want to take my kid to Citi and point out the #7 in between #5 and #31. I want to take him to the Jackie Robinson rotunda and show him the statue of Jose Reyes (sliding headfirst into third, natch) and say "That was the greatest player to ever wear a Mets uniform." I want to sit on the lawn with him in 2025 and watch Jose Reyes, a lifelong Met, enshrined in Cooperstown. Those fleeting of moments of greatness, where being a fan elevates you in some mysterious, unknowable way, that is the goal, in whatever form it takes. And right now, it is Jose Bernabe Reyes going around second and digging for third. And I don't care if they have to roll him out there with 23 guys from Buffalo and Binghamton. I want to see him every day until he can't play anymore. I want to be able to say "screw it, he's 35, give him Jeter money, I don't care." I want to be there at Jose Reyes day. I don't care if he never lives up to the contract, if I have to read hundreds of garbage articles in the Daily News (and I will) about how he is a bum now that he got his big contract.
I'll take my chances.
Resign Jose Reyes.