When Should the Mets Trade Jose Reyes?
NOTE: this post was written by Matt Himelfarb
Sandy Alderson caused quite the media frenzy last week, following his statement that “stolen bases are a footnote,” when it comes to winning games. In the wake of the Wilpons’ financial debacle, most people construed this quote to mean that Jose Reyes’ days in Flushing are numbered.
I’m torn on basically every single question surrounding Jose Reyes: Whether or not to retain him, how much do you pay him, when to trade him, etc. For one, there are a lot of questions to consider- how good a player is he, is he healthy, the demand for him should he hit the open market, is dishing out a Carl Crawford-esque contract a good decision, etc.- and either signing him to an extension or trading him right now requires making a whole lot of assumptions regarding those kind of questions. Plus, as a Mets fan, it pains to me to imagine Reyes donning anything other than the orange and blue.
Let’s discuss Reyes’ value first. Whenever anyone brings up Reyes’ impending free agency, they immediately use Crawford’s 7 year, $142 million dollar deal with Boston this off-season as a template. This strikes as me as somewhat intellectually lazy. Crawford has been worth an average of about 6.3 wins the last two seasons. His wOBA has consistently hovered in the .365 range, and his average UZR/150 over the last three years is over 20 runs.
I think a reasonable, slightly optimistic projection for a healthy Reyes next season would be about 4 wins. That means about a .340 wOBA (Bill James has him at .345, Marcel .341), and I’m going to assume he is a neutral defender (0 UZR/150), as his range has declined over the last three years, according to both observers and UZR. Is his ceiling, particularly offensively, higher than that? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t count on it. In dollar value, assuming one win is worth something like $4.5 million- that amounts to about $18 million a year or so (Crawford’s averages $21 million per year). It’s hard to envision Reyes getting that much money, though; by that standard, Crawford has been worth an average of over $28 million.
That being said, I can see Reyes demanding a contract very similar to Crawford’s. There is a dearth of available shortstops next season, with numerous potential big market suitors- Red Sox, Giants, Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, and, perhaps, the Yankees. If he ends up being just a four-win player next season, I’d be wary of giving him too much money. If he is the same player as he was from 2006-2008- .365+wOBA, solid range- I’d be more willing, but then again, that will cost even more money.
The obvious answer, which I’m inclined to agree with, is that in light of all these uncertainties, the Mets should simply take the wait-and-see approach.
But than again, say Alderson is convinced that the Mets will have to curtail payroll in the foreseeable future. The Mets ability to re-sign Reyes is immensely complicated, to say the least, by the Wilpons’ financial uncertainty, but let’s just say Alderson is serious about emphasizing payroll flexibility. Combined with lingering questions about Reyes’ health, and his productivity, it makes sense, in certain respects, to trade him.
And if they’re going to trade him, they might as well trade him before Opening Day. True, they could wait until the deadline, hoping Reyes proves himself healthy and reestablishes his value. For one, though, I think the Mets would get less in return from a team simply looking to rent Reyes for two-three months, than if they traded him if he proves himself healthy during Spring Training. The Mets aren’t competing in 2011, so if they don’t plan on retaining Reyes, they should maximize their return.
Most importantly, though, the Mets risk having their hands tied if they wait until the deadline. We’ve seen this scenario the last two years; the Mets are on the fringes of contention- say 5-8 games out of the division and the wild card, where they are neither buyer nor sellers at the deadline, so they are stuck holding onto Reyes, even though nothing short of a miracle will get to them to the post-season.
True, the compensation picks for letting Reyes walk is nothing to scoff at, but again, if the Mets aren’t likely to contend and don’t think they can retain Reyes, they should not sell themselves short on a potential return. Cincinatti, for one, currently has a surplus of young pitching at the moment- one of Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, or Mike Leake is going to be the odd man out come Opening Day. The Reds have already locked up Jay Bruce on a 6-year contract and will likely look into extending Joey Votto, which probably precludes them from signing Reyes to a long-term deal. Still, it could be awfully tempting for the Reds to deal from a position of strength and have Reyes at the top of their lineup next year. Plus, you cannot underestimate the stupidity of Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker, evident by the Bronson Arroyo contract and Aroldis Chapman getting the Jenrry Mejia treatment.
Trading Reyes right now could represent a golden opportunity for the Mets to acquire a potential ace such as Bailey or Wood, or even top-flight catching prospect Devin Merosco. That might just be the best scenario Mets fans can hope for at this point.