- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- If the New York Mets get a trade offer for Jose Reyes that they like, they should take it whenever it comes -- now, in June, or if takes waiting until the dog days of July for the right deal.
That's why it almost doesn't matter if there is any truth to a CSNBayArea.com report Wednesday that the San Francisco Giants have had "internal discussions" about approaching the Mets for a trade for Reyes. Or that Giants general manager Brian Sabean went out of his way before the Mets-Giants game at Citi Field to deny anything is imminent, growling, "I haven't talked to anybody from the Mets so I have no idea where the hell it came from." And this gem: "Talk to the clown" from "whatever outlet [expletive] came up with it."
Trade rumors were always bound to shadow Reyes this season because he's going to be a free agent. And nothing that happened Wednesday changes the fact that at some point this season, the Mets are have to trade him, and probably break up an even bigger chunk of their current team. The only real debate now is in the details: How long should they wait before the roster wrecking ball starts swinging, given they're already in last place and drawing mediocre crowds? What kind of talent can they bring back? How far-reaching will the gutting of the current team be? A little paring -- or an all-out salary dump?
If this were Mets outfielders Carlos Beltran or Jason Bay being talked about in a trade Wednesday instead of Reyes, the rumor wouldn't have sparked nearly as much emotional resonance or interest. Bay still feels like a Mets newcomer because he's had so much trouble staying on the field. The 34-year-old Beltran has knee trouble and his contract is up this year too.
If you're casting around for the first authentic sign that the Mets' fire sale is on, that line in the sand wouldn't be trading Reyes right now, either.
You'll know the Mets have truly decided to raise the white flag and irretrievably blow things up when owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon allow general manager Sandy Alderson to trade away David Wright. Why? Because of the psychological hurdle the Wilpons would have to get past to trade away such a personal favorite. And because Wright -- even more than Reyes -- has been the face of the franchise.
Reyes is easily the Mets' most dynamic player. He's a homegrown star, same as Wright, which counts for something too.
So the Mets might as well accept the fact there really is never going to be a good time to say goodbye. Then get a good deal for him and take it.
The combination of Reyes' contract situation, the Mets post-Madoff financial problems, and the $100 million or more Reyes will be able to command on the open market if he stays healthy makes his departure from the Mets inevitable.
If anything, it would be tantamount to corporate malpractice for Alderson not to trade Reyes and at least get something back for him, given all the franchise is up against.
Any Mets fan who's been paying attention already knows the grim reasons why: The Mets' budget woes aren't going to allow them to be a major player in the free-agent market -- not next winter, and perhaps not for years if the Wilpons own the team. Reyes is just 27. He's an offensive force who leads off, hits for average, steals bases, and plays a more important position than outfielders Carl Crawford, who got $142 million from the Red Sox, or Jayson Werth, who got a $126 million contract from the Washington Nationals last winter. Even if the Mets get that $200 million or so cash infusion they're hoping to get by the end of this month by selling a minority stake in the team, there's no way the Mets spend most of that windfall on one player, not even one as riveting or popular as Reyes is.
Reyes knows all that. Perhaps that's why he sat at his locker before going 0-for-4 in the Mets' frustrating 2-0 loss to Tim Lincecum on Wednesday and calmly fielded trade rumor questions from one wave of reporters after another as good-naturedly and patiently as he does when he's just had a 4-for-4 night. To watch Reyes talking on his cell phone or hooting at teammates or belting out a few bars of a song in between interviews, same as he always does, you wouldn't have known just hours earlier there'd been a report he could leave town with the visiting team just down the hall rather than still be playing for the Mets when the even more financially compromised Los Angeles Dodgers hit town this weekend for baseball's first Pass-the-Collection Plate series.
"I love the fans here, the fans love me, but I also understand the business side of baseball," Reyes said. "As long as I'm still here, I'm going to compete and give 100 percent to the Mets."
Sentiment has very little to do with it. The symbolism -- or that supposed hit the Mets might take at the box office if he goes sooner rather than later -- shouldn't have anything to do with it either.
The Mets aren't winning even with Reyes hitting .315. The fans were howling and negative at Citi Field on Wednesday even when the Mets were only trailing Lincecum, the Giants' two-time Cy Young Award winner, 1-0 through six innings. Might as well trade Reyes when he's hot and healthy rather than hurt and/or in a slump. The old question used to be if the Mets should give Reyes a new contract since he's not your classic walk-drawing, OBP-obsessed, thinking-man's leadoff hitter. But now there's no debate. The Mets don't have the money to give him. Case closed. End of story.
That makes the Mets sellers, not buyers, for the foreseeable future. For Reyes, that guarantees bye-bye.