Jeff Wilpon Signs Jose Reyes for Mets
After clearing waivers and becoming a free-agent, Jose Reyes immediately returned to his original organization, the New York Mets. He will begin a minor-league assignment with Brooklyn on Sunday, June 26, playing third base.
Was the decision to sign Reyes made by Mets GM Sandy Alderson, or owner / wannabe GM Jeff Wilpon?
Bringing Jose Reyes back to the Mets looks and smells like a Jeff Wilpon move. Let’s look at the move from several perspectives, beginning with the 33-year-old shortstop who must now become a utilityman.
Reyes’ production — offensively and defensively — has fallen off dramatically since winning the NL batting crown in 2011, his last year as a Met. That’s not entirely surprising, considering that he’s now in his early to mid-30s, a time when most men who aren’t idiots (i.e., Marlon Byrd) tend to lose some of their physical prowess. The formerly electric ballplayer is now a battery powered version, as his speed, defense, hitting, and power have all degraded over time. With his lack of production overall combined with an arrest for domestic abuse hanging like a black cloud over him, this is likely Jose Reyes’ last shot at salvaging an MLB career. With everything against him, the very best place Reyes can take that last shot is in Flushing with the Mets. It’s a place where the fans loved him, he had great success and comfort, and it’s very close to his humble $5M home in Old Brookville (just a stone’s throw from where I work … heck, maybe I can hit to him some ground balls!). Playing for the Mets is the very best situation at this point in time for Jose Reyes.
However, is adding Jose Reyes to the w25-man roster the very best situation at this time for the New York Mets?
For fans who remember the 2003-2011 version of Reyes, it’s a no-brainer. THAT Reyes was spectacular, arguably one of the top ten players in baseball in his prime, at the very least, one of the most exciting. Considering the 2016 Mets’ anemic offense and inability to score without hitting a homerun, the Jose Reyes we all remember is a welcome addition — the leadoff hitter and sparkplug speedster the team is so sorely lacking.
But that’s NOT the Jose Reyes the Mets are getting now. No one is quite sure what kind of production he can muster, but we can be sure he’s no long a superstar. He may not even be “replacement level.”
Which brings us to Sandy Alderson’s perspective: Alderson did not want to extend Reyes prior to the 2010 season — when he could have had him at a discount — he did not want him after winning the batting title, and he certainly doesn’t want him on the club now. Reyes doesn’t fit the Alderson mold of homerun bat and on-base percentage (see: Curtis Granderson). Alderson does not value stolen bases, one of Reyes’ few remaining strengths and possibly the only sure thing he can bring to the table. Reyes was not an “Alderson guy” when he was a superstar, so do you think for a minute he’d be coveted now, with diminished skills and questionable character?
But, you have to consider the perspective of Alderson’s boss Jeff Wilpon. Like his dad, Jeff is nostalgic, and believes he can bring magic back from the past. He also believes in giving people second chances. And he likes the turnstiles turning and the cash registers singing. Put that all together, and it makes perfect sense to bring back Jose Reyes. In Jeff Wilpon’s mind, Reyes will be a public relations shot in the arm — particularly now, with so much negativity surrounding the club due to the team’s struggles in the standings and the frightening streak of arm issues suffered by seemingly the entire starting rotation.
After looking at this from the perspectives of Reyes, Alderson, Wilpon, and Mets fans, what about the Mets’ 25-man roster? Can Reyes make a positive impact on the current club?
Over the short term, I think he can — mainly because I believe Reyes will be playing with desperation. If he wants to continue playing MLB, he can’t mess up this opportunity, so I see him playing a rejuvenated brand of ball not seen since he entered his thirties. For a brief period of time — maybe two weeks, maybe a month, maybe a little longer — I see him hitting the ball to all fields, showing discipline and focus to take walks, running the bases wild, hustling like there’s no tomorrow, and making diving plays at the hot corner. And maybe that temporary show will be enough to spark the Mets offense, creating a dynamic they can run with through the end of the season.
Eventually, though, Reyes’ 33-year-old body won’t be able to sustain that level of play. And though he may rack up “web gems” at third base, they may not make up for his inexperience at the position and diminished range. Teams may start bunting to expose a potential flaw, for example. Reyes may not have the reactions to handle the hot shots. He may not be sure what to do with the ball in some situations, or he may screw up relays from the outfield. Little things that similarly made Daniel Murphy a burden on defense, despite the occasional highlight-reel play.
Before that, though, there is the consideration of Reyes fitting the Mets roster — on the field and in the clubhouse. Something that struck me is that there is not one player on the Mets active 25-man roster who played with Reyes as a Met. Lucas Duda and David Wright are the only former Mets teammates of Reyes on the 40-man, and both are on the DL (BTW, remember when we compared the durability of Wright vs. Reyes?). Crazy, right? So the idea that Reyes’ former teammates will be excited to be with him again, and he’ll feel comfort having old friends around, is mostly out the window. It’s a different dynamic from when Reyes left in 2011. Wright won’t be around to answer the tough questions of the press while Reyes hides in the trainer’s room with Carlos Delgado or Carlos Beltran — and there WILL be microphones chasing Reyes before and after every game, particularly in the first week or so.
On the field, it may be easy to say, “hey, a speedster is exactly what this station-to-station team needs!” But is it? Sandy Alderson has carefully constructed the club to operate this way. Clearly, inside the front office there is agreement with the SABR community that stolen bases are not constructive and not worth the risk. Terry Collins will want to bat Reyes leadoff, but Alderson prefers the higher OBP and start-the-game-with-a-solo-homer feature that Curtis Granderson offers. Considering that Reyes’ offensive strength is to be a table-setter, will he have much value batting in the bottom third of the lineup? Sure, he’ll be happy to bat anywhere in the first few weeks, but will Reyes pout if he’s still batting 8th as the “second leadoff guy” a month later? Further, will he be and remain productive as a part-time player — which very well may be his role?
Honestly, I’m not sure how this will play out. On the one hand, with the Mets struggling so mightily offensively, and in need of some potentially positive news, signing him to a minor-league contract was low-risk. However, if he appears healthy and showing energy in Brooklyn, he’s joining the 25-man roster with a week or two. That’s why I doubt Sandy Alderson wanted to sign Reyes — this was a Wilpon-driven move. Whether or not it works out for the Mets benefit is not necessarily the point. Rather, it brings into question who is really running the club.
What do you think? Was it a good move for the Mets to bring back Jose Reyes? Why or why not? And yes, I’m aware that I mostly avoided the elephant in the room — the domestic abuse charge and all that comes with it — so please feel free to sound off on that issue as well.