There Is No Replacement For Jose Reyes

There is an interesting juxtaposition among Mets fans that talk about things like trading Wright or letting Reyes walk.  The same people that justify this with statements about not competing for years and being in rebuilding mode seem offended that some (I’d say many) Mets fans suggest they’ll be much less interested in the Mets if Reyes leaves.


There’s always a lot of comparison, as well as attempts to avoid comparison, to the Yankees with the Mets.  They share a city and compete for the same entertainment dollar.   The common rhetoric among Mets fans is that the Yankees fans are front-running morons that only care about yelling about how many rings they’ve won and that Mets fans are truer fans that love the team, good or bad.   If a vastly diverse group of millions of Mets fans can agree on anything, it’s that Jose Reyes is a talented baseball player that’s fun to watch.   At what point does it stop being about watching your favorite players play your favorite game and start becoming about being a consistent winner?


What is baseball without the season, with the ups and downs of a 162 game scheduled filled with bad breaks and huge hits and the ebbs and flows of stress and emotion?  I don’t follow the Mets for optimal lineup constructions and high-value controlled commodities.  I watch the Mets because I love baseball and I’ve formed an attachment to the players that have worn the uniform year after year.  Jose Reyes is one of those players.  He’s a life-long Met and it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else.  The Mets have other good players, but there is something special about Jose Reyes and his fun-loving attitude.  Perhaps it’s the way he seems to love playing the game as much as we love watching him play it.


Sure it’s possible to make arguments about injury risks and long contracts that suggest perhaps giving Reyes too much money or too many years may be detrimental to the long term success of the franchise, but frankly I’d rather take my chances with Reyes.  Those risks exist with every player in every circumstance, and if you’re not going to take a chance with a fan-favorite and top of the line player at a sparse position, what are you even doing?   Reyes is already bordering on legendary Mets status, and that’s not something that comes along every day.   Mike Piazza came here when he was great, Dwight Gooden left in 1994 and Darryl Strawberry before him.  Ignoring that there is long-term financial value to having legends to invite back to Citi Field in the future, do we really want to let one walk away for what’s some kind of  ‘smart process of value contracts and prospect development’?  A couple more years and the Mets record book will be Jose Reyes’ biography, with a guest appearance by David Wright.


The Mets have struggled for years now with collapses followed by injuries followed by just about everything else.  Now you want to take the most exciting player on the team away too?   While I’ll always be a Mets fan, there comes a point when it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s easy to say that we need things to stabilize, for bad contracts to work their way off the payroll and for prospects to mature and contribute at the fraction of the cost, but in the meantime other teams are playing baseball and competing for the postseason and doing all sorts of wonderful things.  Taking seasons off is not the way to build a perennial contender.  Every year the Mets spend in rebuilding mode, defined by me as letting Reyes go and not replacing him with at least as much talent, is a year that customers find other ways to spend their entertainment dollar.  Some will go to the Yankees, some will switch to other sports.   Some will stop watching with their kids who will spend more time on video games, movies, or something else entirely.   Husbands will take their wives out to a nice dinner instead of to Citi Field, because maybe without Reyes, and winning, they don’t feel it’s worth the traffic and the rushing home from work.


Building a winner will eventually repair the damage, but even if you could guarantee repeated success it takes time to rebuild a fan base.  The Yankees had a healthy amount of fans show up, but even in 2000 they were 8th in total attendance.  The difference was that payrolls hadn’t yet skyrocketed to the levels they are at now.  The Yankees payroll in 2000 would be  the 13th highest payroll in 2011.  It was still possible for teams to maintain a rebuilding payroll and keep some talented stars while keeping revenues at or above payroll.  The way I see it, the Mets can’t easily get their payroll down that low, so they need to work on keeping revenues up.  Reyes can’t do it all by himself, but coupled with the right moves he could be the difference between the Mets raising attendance to 2.6 million or it dropping to 1.7.   Just in ticket prices alone, a swing like that more than pays Reyes salary per year.  Factor in revenue associated with advertising prices based on TV ratings and fans in the seats viewing them on the walls and it’s an even starker difference.   I find it hard to believe that having Jose Reyes playing baseball in New York can’t be profitable, and it’s certainly possible, even likely, that Jose Reyes can be a part of the success even four years from now.


There is never a guarantee that smart moves focused on the long term will lead to continued success.  There is no formula Sandy Alderson can follow that means the Mets will definitely be a perennial contender in 2014 and beyond.  Prospects, even highly touted ones, hurt themselves or flame out.  Free agent acquisitions that look like can’t misses age badly or under perform in a new environment.   Other teams in the division and/or league do a better job, or get luckier, in scouting and signing players and suddenly no one knows what the solution is for out-performing them.  It’s not hard to get into a cycle of suck like the Pittsburgh Pirates, constantly looking for All-Star prospects that maybe have a good year or two and than take off for greener pastures while the team struggles to even play at .500.  The best you can do is put yourself in a situation every year where the right set of circumstances gets you into the playoffs.  For the Mets that means keeping Jose Reyes.  It probably also means hoping Johan Santana stays on the field and is still pretty good at pitching, and that other players stay healthy as well.   It may be a long shot, but if you don’t keep yourself in the game you often miss opportunities.


I was at the game this year when Jose Reyes felt that first hamstring tightness and left the game.  It was a packed house for a Subway Series game, and Tejada jogging out to shortstop was like a punch in the gut.  I watched the rest of the game in a daze, barely caring about the result.   Reyes had such a great first half that there were road games in May that I was reminding myself to make sure I turned the game on in time, because Reyes would lead off and I might miss something special.  There are reasons to watch bad teams because even bad or average players hit for cycles, throw pitching gems, and smash home runs.  They can stage remarkable comebacks and rock opposing aces and there’s always the looming possibility that someone will throw that no-hitter.  Without Jose Reyes the chances of something magical happening go down.


Faith and Fear in Flushing, in an awards presentation to Jose Reyes, makes similar points and sums up my feelings pretty well in this quote.

except for habit and a lifetime of devotion, I can’t think of a good, rational reason to get squarely behind this team if you’re not on it.

A Week Later: Hopeful for the 2012 Mets

No Met has made an error, hit a home run, or struck out looking in over a week.  With a week of the offseason under my belt to let the highs and lows of emotion mellow out with time, it’s time to take a closer look at what transpired in 2011 and what hope there is for 2012.


The team played harder than was expected.   They didn’t give in, whether because of a tough loss, a rough week, or a poor start to a game.  They’d battle back late in games, and bounce back from a tough loss with a solid win.  There were plenty of times late in the season where they did seem to be going through the motions a little bit, but they seemed to bounce back from that as well.  Hopefully 2012 avoids any long periods of being out of it and prevents the team from getting complacent.


The bullpen, while successful for some stretches of times, was mostly a failure.  Part of this was the trade of Francisco Rodriguez, part of it was the depression of Taylor Buchholz.   Part had to do with the starters rarely giving length, as was the main problem in April.   The Mets are aware of this problem, and with some good scouting and analysis, there are relievers out there that you can get for reasonable prices.   I would expect at least 2-3 new faces in the pen to compliment the ones that stay.  The Mets lost a lot of games late last year, and strengthening the pen will go a long way in 2012.


The starting rotation is what’s going to be the big deal in 2012.  This is what’s going to make or break the team as a contender.   Niese and Dickey are locks.  Mike Pelfrey is also pretty much a lock, although he does become a trade candidate as well.  I wouldn’t be against keeping Capuano, but I suspect he’s priced himself out of what the Mets want to pay him.  Johan Santana is supposed to be ready to go as normal during Spring Training, but I’d put the certainty of that at somewhere around 75%, and that may be optimistic.  Right now he’s penciled in, and it won’t be until February before we know if he’ll be able to progress normally towards an Opening Day start.   Therefore the Mets need a backup plan.  Adding Santana would certainly help, but it’s likely the Mets need to upgrade further.   Finding another quality starter and reassigning Dillon Gee to be depth for Santana could be the way to go.  However, Dillon Gee may have earned a major league job.   If the Mets can get to the regular season with a healthy Santana, and everyone else, having to send Gee to the minors to start the season would be a nice problem to have.  From there they could reexplore trading Mike Pelfrey.  Other teams will deal with injuries, and many teams could make good use of a guy that will throw 200 innings of slightly above league average value pretty consistently.


Then there is the offense.   The offense was very good last year, despite few home runs and a lot of injuries.  2012’s hinges on Reyes staying, but if he does the Mets offense again looks to be very potent.  The biggest concern would be if Pagan can shake off the bad defensive year, and if Duda can take a step forward out in RF.   Thole needs to improve as well, and there’s something to be said for having a veteran right-handed catcher to work with him.  The Mets are discussing moving the walls in a bit in right and left, which will probably help the home run numbers, although they may shrink the gaps a little bit.   It looks like the Mets should still have a top-flight offense next year, capable of dealing damage to opposing pitchers.


The Mets could be competitive next year.  A lot hinges on Reyes re-signing and Johan turning up healthy.  The Mets do need to revamp the bullpen, sign another starter, and address the bench, but those are all reasonable expectations.  It’ll be an interesting offseason, and hopefully it will be a launching pad for a good season to come.