May 4, 2011 1 Comment
There aren’t many players in baseball who stay with one team for the length of their careers. With the notable exceptions of Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins, every team eventually loses their big name stars to free agency or trade.
The Seattle Mariners were forced to trade Ken Griffey Jr. to Cincinnati because of his desire to return home. They also lost Alex Rodriguez to free agency because of his high contractual demands. Roy Halladay fled Toronto to catch on with a winner in Philadelphia. C.C. Sabathia wanted more money and years that the Cleveland Indians were willing to offer. The Kansas City Royals were understanding that the price tag on Zack Grienke was going to get higher, so they sold that stock while it was hot to Milwaukee. Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh for San Fransisco, and the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since (its been 19 years, for the record).
However, we’re seeing an increase in typically small market teams locking their young, promising talent to long-term contracts. The Colorado Rockies locked up shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for the next 11 years, while giving star center fielder Carlos Gonzalez a similar seven-year contract. The Brewers recently extended left fielder Ryan Braun through 2020. Teams are showing the desire that hadn’t been there in the past to keep the pieces they do have.
Which brings us to a topic that hits me directly in the heart: New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes.
Reyes broke into the majors in 2003 as a raw 19 year old on what was a really terrible Art Howe Mets team. He was lightning in a bottle from day one, and an instant Mets fan favorite because here was finally a player that the Mets nurtured through their farm system. But, while he was electric and amazing to watch on the field, the original problem was for Reyes to stay on the field. He got hurt with leg issues his first season. Then, his second season in New York, the team foolishly moved him from shortstop to second base to accommodate free agent Kaz Matsui and fiddled with his running style, resulting in lower back problems that limited him to 53 games.
With third baseman David Wright exploding on the scene in 2004, Mets fans began to worry that Reyes would never be able to stay completely healthy to form a young nucleus.
Enter 2005. Reyes played 161 games for the Mets, hit .273 with 17 triples and 60 stolen bases. Jose had arrived. From there, he continued to improve, finishing seventh in the 2006 MVP voting and appearing in his first All-Star game. Wisely, the Mets locked Reyes up to a four-year extension beginning in 2007 that covered his arbitration eligible years and his first year of free agency.
Alas, that brings us to 2011, Reyes’ ninth year with the Mets. This year’s Mets team, as I will cover later this weekend in the State of the Franchise, are not what you would call a contender for any division crowns or league pennants. The team needs to rebuild and retool in certain areas, especially their starting rotation.
Looking at the roster, there are a few obvious players that team management sees as expendable. Right fielder Carlos Beltran, 33, is on the final year of his contract and the Mets have an abundance of outfield prospects stashed away in Triple-A. The likes of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Frenando Martinez and Lucas Duda can fight for playing time this year, while outfielders Cory Vaughn, Matt den Dekker, Cesar Puello and Darren Ceciliani continue to develop at the lower levels. Closer Francisco Rodriguez is also on his final year on a three-year contract, and I’m sure you’d be hard pressed to find many Mets fans that are trumpeting for his return.
But Reyes provides all of us Mets fans a very interesting dilemma. He’s young enough that his best years could still be ahead of him, as he won’t turn 28 until June. The problem is, his youth and excitement is exactly what teams covet about him. He could easily find himself signing a contract similar to the one Carl Crawford received from Boston last off-season. With Sandy Alderson in control – and his stated dislike of dishing out long-term contracts – it is unlikely finds that type of deal in New York.
This, as a die-hard Mets fan, is the hard part to understand. The Mets are going to break up with Jose Reyes. Be it in early June, at the trade deadline or at the end of the season. Jose Reyes entered the scene on the Mets roster the same time I was coming into my own as a Mets fan. At that time, things were very bleak. Art Howe was running the team into the ground with the help of Steve Phillips, Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar made up half the infield, and I was getting excited about Chris Duncan manning center field long-term for the Mets. To me, Reyes was a savior. He and David Wright were supposed to have their numbers retired one day alongside Gil Hodges and Tom Seaver. They were supposed to bring me a World Series title by the time I graduated college.
The thing is, I’m graduating college in 18 days. I have no rings to show. 2006 was as close as I got, and that was five years ago. I’ve been through two last-game-of-the-year collapses, one disgraced called 2009 and the…well, whatever 2010 was. At the start of spring training, I plugged myself into full denial mode. I didn’t want to hear trade rumors, I didn’t want to believe Alderson was talking to other teams and I definitely didn’t want to think about life after Reyes.
Well, the team is off to a 12-17 start, and things aren’t looking as if they’ll turn around any time soon. Watching a team like the San Fransisco Giants live and in person last night, I realized how important starting pitching is to the success of an organization. I mean, light-hitting Mike Fontenot was hitting third for the Giants last night, and these are the defending world champions. So, while talking with my closest Met fan friend, we both came to a conclusion:
Trading Jose Reyes is inevitable. Unless Reyes is willing to sign a contract in the three-to-five year range for roughly $15 million a year, there is no way Jose Reyes re-ups with the Mets. Quite frankly, why would Reyes settle for that kind of money. I can’t blame him for wanting the most for him and his family. He speaks of how much he loves living on Long Island with his family, how much he loves us the fans and how much he loves playing for Terry Collins. The real question is how much is love worth? Because from what I’ve seen in baseball circles, love is a fickle creature.
So, I’m slowly shifting towards the side of the spectrum where I’m analyzing what kind of package can the Mets get for Reyes. In the news, the Giants have been the most likely suitor. Last night was the first time in my life I said, “I’d take Madison Bumgarner in a package for Reyes”. And you know what? I definitely would. He’s a 21-year old lefty starter with stuff dominant enough to beat the Phillies and the Rangers in the playoffs last year. If I had to part with Reyes, plugging Bumgarner into a rotation with the likes of a healthy Johan Santana, John Niese and Mike Pelfrey, things start to turn for the better.
BUT and I mean but. I draw the line at Reyes. If the Mets start talking about shopping team poster child and defacto captain David Wright, I’m out. They need to keep one. They have to keep one in order to keep the fan base. The Mets need to decide who is more valuable to the franchise as a whole.
I’ve begun to accept the fact that Reyes will be breaking up with me very shortly. But more than that, and I think the Mets are asking too much from us the fans.