Jose Reyes’ stock has certainly taken a wild ride over the last three seasons. After spending the 2006-2008 seasons battling Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins for “top shortstop” honors and playoff spots, Reyes missed nearly all of 2009 and failed to recapture the spotlight in 2010. A respectable season for a predictably mediocre Mets team likely would have made him trade bait. However, Reyes has complicated the situation by absolutely dominating this season, posting 5.3 WAR to date, good for third in Major League Baseball. At the heart of the problem lies Reyes’ imminent free agency. Receiving insufficient compensation for Reyes’ departure would constitute a significant setback for the Mets. By one school of thought, the Mets need to keep Reyes as the centerpiece of their rebuilding effort around whom fans can rally. By another, this threat is only greater incentive to trade Reyes and restock the farm system. However, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported on Wednesday that the Mets are certain they will not trade Reyes at the July 31st trade deadline. The announcement that Reyes will definitely not be traded suggests that he will remain a Met for several years to come.
The Mets should definitely have enough money to make a competitive offer. Despite the Mets’ financial woes, their payroll commitments for next year do not include Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, or, of course, Jose Reyes, who amounted to $62 million of the Mets’ Opening Day payroll. Some of that decrease will be washed out by arbitration raises, but the Mets should easily have $50-55 million to spend if they so desire. If the Wilpons’ financial troubles do force the team to cut payroll dramatically—say, by $20 million—they will still have $30-35 million to spend, most likely on middle infielders, a right fielder, and pitching help. The Mets will spend that money somewhere, and few free agents fit as naturally as the incumbent star. With Rickie Weeks and Jose Bautista off the market, the Mets’ other positions of need offer little star power. Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder could make some sense, but it would mean that the Mets are giving up on the promising Ike Davis. Among the top free agents, only CC Sabathia, assuming he opts out of his current contract, fits as naturally. Still, given the choice between a relationship-aided negotiation with Reyes and a bidding war against the Yankees for Sabathia, the Mets would likely prefer the former. The impending slack in the Mets’ budget and the shortage of viable alternatives actually make Reyes the most reasonable target for the Mets this winter.
Furthermore, if the Mets are not willing to pay Reyes top dollar, it is inconceivable that the front office does not recognize the opportunity to sell high. Aside from his value to the Mets’ brand, nearly every aspect of Reyes’ season suggests this is the perfect time to trade him. Needless to say, Reyes is having an MVP-caliber season, the best of his career, on a mediocre team. He plays a premium position at which he figures to remain through his prime, which is only beginning. His offensive numbers rely heavily on an insane .375 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), which his statistically oriented front office must know will regress. He benefits from phenomenal publicity that rarely mentions that inevitable regression. In short, Reyes is outperforming his already impressive true talent—in theory, an easy recipe for attracting top prospects in a trade. Throw in the fact that the expiring collective bargaining agreement could jeopardize the Mets’ draft pick compensation if Reyes leaves, and there are just too many sensible reasons to trade him rather than let him leave via free agency. Of course, declaring these factors obvious could be overestimating the Mets’ front office, but it seems more likely that they just have no intention of letting Reyes leave.
It is difficult, then, to imagine a scenario where the Mets refuse to trade Reyes but lack confidence that he will stay in Queens. This seems ironic after Fred Wilpon’s recent disparaging remarks, but Reyes has always expressed pride to play for the Mets and evidently has a budding positive relationship with the new front office. Still, there is no getting around the fact that a deadline trade would benefit the Mets more than keeping him for just half a season more. One must wonder, then, about the source of the Mets’ optimism toward re-signing their coveted commodity. It is entirely possible—though purely speculative—that the negotiations are already beginning and that Reyes may not bother to test the open market at all.
Lance Gurewitz is currently a sophmore at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. You can read and discuss his baseball analysis and other sports musings in 140 characters or less by following @LanceWG42 on Twitter
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