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Mets can’t give Jose Reyes a very long leash

The infielder is struggling in a very small sample size, but the Mets have other options.

New York Mets v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Tuesday night, with the Mets down a run to the Nationals in the sixth inning and two runners on base, the pitcher’s spot came up in the lineup. Against a left-handed pitcher, Mickey Callaway decided to send up Jose Reyes, who has hit lefties well the last two years, but has looked lost early in the season. And Reyes again looked completely overmatched in that at bat, promptly going down on strikes, with the final strike coming on a feeble, embarrassing swing.

That strikeout gave the infielder an 0-for-17 line on the year so far. He then grounded out in another pinch-hitting appearance Wednesday night and is now 0-for-18 on the year. As of this writing, only four players who have accumulated 10 plate apperances on the season remain hitless: Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola, recently-released catcher Miguel Montero, infielder Andrew Romine (who has a 63 career wRC+), and Reyes.

Obviously, 18 at-bats is still a critically small sample size. Reyes will obviously get some hits, and he will look better at the plate eventually. Mets fans will remember the similarly-poor start Reyes got off to last season, when he started the year 2-for-37, and as of April 22 he was 6-for-63 with a -10 wRC+ in 70 overall plate appearances. But the Mets remained patient with the former All-Star throughout the summer, and he did turn things around the rest of the year, finishing with a respectable 94 wRC+ on the strength of a gangbusters final two months.

But this year, the Mets can’t afford to be as patient as they were last year. The Mets have plenty of other options this time around, and there’s too much at stake with the great start they’ve gotten off to. Given that he will be turning 35 in June, Reyes turning things around again is not guaranteed, and since he offers very little in the way of defense and hasn’t had an above-average wRC+ against right-handed pitching since 2014, his actual value over other options going forward is questionable.

Just on the major league roster, Wilmer Flores’ skill set makes Reyes somewhat redundant as it is. Not only can Flores probably play shortstop and second base at a similar level to Reyes at this point, but Reyes’s offensive value is mostly derived from at bats against left-handed pitchers—with wRC+’s of 122 and 217 against southpaws in 2017 and 2016, respectively—but destroying lefties is what Flores is known for too.

As far as other options go, Phillip Evans was demoted to Triple-A early in the season, but he at least offers a similar kind of utility value that Reyes does, and held his own in 38 plate appearances at the major league level last year. In addition to him, Luis Guillorme’s elite infield defense is probably more valuable by itself than anything Reyes does, and he showed some encouraging offensive signs in spring training. Other options on the farm include Gavin Cecchini, Ty Kelly, and David Thompson.

However, perhaps the greatest threat to Reyes’ roster spot is T.J. Rivera, who continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery he had in September—and could be back by mid-summer. Rivera has been a valuable reserve infielder for the Mets the last two seasons, and was a better hitter than Reyes was last year with a .290/.330/.430 line and a 103 wRC+ in 231 plate appearances.

Fans are growing impatient with Reyes, but it would be foolish for the team to part ways with the veteran after only 18 at-bats, which is only about three or four games’ worth of action. That said, if he doesn’t turn it around soon, the Mets can’t wait around for Reyes to get going this time. There are too many other options, and his ceiling isn’t high enough to warrant the patience.