Commentary

To keep Jose Reyes, or not to keep him?

That is the question for the cash-strapped Mets as their shortstop enters his walk year

Updated: March 31, 2011, 9:27 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Jose Reyes debuted with the New York Mets in Arlington, Texas, on his final day as a teenager, during the same series Steve Phillips was fired as general manager.

"When I came out for batting practice, I saw so many people, a big stadium," Reyes says of that day in 2003. "I was nervous. But when the game started, everything was cool. I remember I had a base hit, my first AB, right away. After that, whoooo, I breathed a little bit. That was a good memory."

Reyes since has played for four managers (Art Howe, Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel and Terry Collins) and three GMs (Jim Duquette, Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson).

Now 27 years old, Reyes is actually the longest-tenured Met, followed by David Wright.

But it's very possible that Reyes, too, is heading toward the door. Poised to be a free agent after the season, the dynamic shortstop could be traded at the deadline in July if the team is not in contention. The Mets otherwise figure to lose him next winter, although he says he has no desire to depart.

"Right now I don't think that way," Reyes says. "Right now I think more: try to do my job on the field and stay healthy. That's my main thing right now. I don't think about some other thought -- if I'm going to be here after this year, if I'm not. I don't think about that, because if I'm thinking too much about that, I'm not going to be performing on the field."

Only Ed Kranepool (1,853 games) and Wright (1,004) have played in more games with the Mets while never appearing in another major league uniform. Yet a combination of factors suggest the Mets will not re-sign Reyes, who has played 924 games for them.

Perhaps the biggest factor: Reyes' legs appear healthy. And that means he may be in for a banner season. And that means he will become the second-best free agent on the market next offseason -- or the best, if Albert Pujols re-signs with the St. Louis Cardinals beforehand. And that means Reyes probably is in line for a $100 million-plus contract. And, well, if you've been reading the newspapers, you know the Mets may not have $100 million lying around, unless they can get a cash infusion from a minority investor -- which may be an uphill battle until the $1 billion-plus lawsuit against the team's owners in the Madoff case is resolved.

[+] EnlargeReyes
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJose Reyes' acrobatic pivots could soon be a memory.

While the Mets potentially have a ton of money coming off the payroll -- $62.5 million alone from Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Reyes, as well as from Francisco Rodriguez if the closer's contract does not vest -- the vast majority of it may not be reinvested.

That's only one line of thinking.

Alderson's predecessor, Minaya, doled out multiyear contracts without inhibition, including to Carlos Beltran for seven years, Johan Santana for six years, Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay for four years and Julio Franco for two years (at 47 years old). Alderson, by contrast, acts far more circumspectly, so the six- or seven-year deal Reyes may command elsewhere probably will not be as readily forthcoming from the Mets.

Reacting to Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals during the winter meetings, Alderson said: "That's a long time and a lot of money."

The GM then deadpanned: "I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington."

Werth will be 38 years old as the end of his deal, while Reyes would be 35 at the end of a similar seven-year deal if he lands one. But Reyes is dependent upon his speed and has an injury history, making such a commitment comparably risky, if not more so.

The final major factor is the truest in a baseball sense: The Mets' new front office values on-base percentage, not steals. And the latter has been Reyes' forte. In fact, of the 89 major leaguers to have 600 plate appearances last season, Reyes' .321 on-base percentage tied for 15th-poorest.

[+] EnlargeKranepool
AP Photo/Jack HarrisEd Kranepool, with skipper Gil Hodges, is still the dean of all Mets in terms of tenure.

Reyes suggests that last spring training's thyroid issues, and a nagging summer oblique strain, left him eager to prove himself and overaggressive at the plate. He vows to raise his OBP, at least to the levels of 2006 and '07 (.354 both seasons).

"It is important, because the kind of game that I play, I need to get on base more, no matter how -- no matter if I walk or some other stuff," Reyes says. "I know last year I only took like 20-something walks [actually, 31]. That's not good. Last year I just tried to get a hit every time I went to home plate."

Reyes would have been eligible for free agency after the 2009 season had he not signed a four-year, $23.25 million contract in August '06. The extension ultimately gave away two years of free agency once the team exercised an $11 million option for this year. With the original deal, the Mets arguably got a bargain, because Reyes had been tormented by leg injuries early in his career and passed on some potential earning power for the security of guaranteed money.

Just a month before Reyes signed that extension, Mets instructor Guy Conti recalled that when Reyes was rehabbing in Port St. Lucie early in his major league career, the despondent shortstop nearly walked away because of his persistent leg woes. "He was quitting," Conti said in July 2006. "He was going home -- 'I'm outta here. I'm quitting. I'm going home.' I said, 'You're not going anywhere.'"

Four days after Reyes' deal, Wright signed for six years, $55 million, with a $16 million team option for 2013. The third baseman did give up an extra year of free agency. That means it would be unfair to compare the average salaries of their extensions, since Wright received an extra year at a higher rate.

Still, Reyes says of his deal: "I think it was a very good contract at the time, because you never know what's going to happen. I had some security for my family there."

Reyes used the signing bonus to buy a house on the North Shore of Long Island, as well as an apartment in his native Dominican Republic for himself and a bigger house for his parents.

The shortstop adds that had he been a free agent after the 2009 season, as originally scheduled, he would have been entering the process with his value considerably lower, since he was limited to 36 games that season by a hamstring issue.

As for the Reyes-Wright tandem potentially breaking up, Wright says he hasn't given it much thought yet.

"I think time has kind of flown by," Wright says. "We've experienced some bad and a little bit of good."

Said Reyes: "It's kind of crazy that we are the longest guys here in the clubhouse."

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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