The Reyes Dilemma

Credit: Zimbio/Getty Images

Sure it’s easy for fans and media to scream and shout about how the Mets must keep Jose Reyes. They don’t have to pay his salary and they’re not burdened with debt like the Wilpons. 

It’s the same mentality as people who buy homes well beyond their means. You want something really bad but you can’t afford it. So you ignore that fact and buy it anyway. Eventually, you get shafted and are left wondering where it all went wrong.  

As much as Mets fans, myself included, would like to see Reyes in Flushing for many years to come — assuming, of course, he keeps playing like he has the past two months —  it’s only wishful thinking, for two glaring reasons that seem lost on everyone in the “Don’t Trade Reyes!” choir:

1) The Mets simply cannot afford him. Why is that so hard to comprehend? Every time I hear someone say, “They have to find  a way to make it work,” I think, how, with a government bailout? Raise tickets priuces 25% (that would go over real well). I don’t have to go into chapter and verse about the Wilpon’s financial quandary. Things are bad enough as is and they still don’t know for certain what they’ll owe to the Madoff trustee fund. $100 million? $300 million? $500 million? When you’re talking about a spread that large, do you think the Wilpons and new partner David Einhorn are looking to lock up Reyes for a guaranteed $100-$120 million over the next 5-7 years? I’m sure all of the Mets lenders would love to see that liability hit the team’s books.

2) Reyes is playing out of his mind. He looks a lot like the Jose Reyes of 2006, except he’s traded the homers for triples — not a bad strategy in cavernous Citi Field. The injury riddled Mets would be nowhere without him. True, fourth place is nothing to brag about, but they would be mired in last and well below .500 without his explosive presence at the top of the lineup. However . . . we all know Reyes will command a long-term deal — at least five years with an option. Maybe even seven years guaranteed.  And money aside, I doubt he will stay healthy, or focused, on a consistent basis over the length of the deal.  He’s too dependent on his deadly but fragile wheels and with a nice, fat long-term contract, I think his intensity will waver, as it has in the past. Best case, you’ll be lucky to get three solid years out of him.  The skeptic in me — born of a long and tortured relationship with the Mets — hopes to get three solid months out of him this season. Of course, many folks will say who cares about the back-end of the contract. We’ll worry about that later. Much later. Right. Same attitude as people who default on their mortgages. Where did it all go wrong?

So what do you do if your Mets ownership? Do you hold onto Reyes for the rest of the season, pray that you squeeze out a winning record, fill a bunch more seats and keep fans hopeful for next year? Then lose him to free agency and pick up a  compensatory draft pick? Sandy Alderson took that approach often with the Oakland A’s. Or do you trade Reyes by the July 31 deadline while his value is at a peak and hopefully land some prized prospects? The fans will flip out, you’ll win fewer games, sell fewer tickets, but you’ll have more talent (and money) in the bank for the future. Which is exactly what the Mets need. Good, cheap young talent.

Or do you start thinking about how to keep Reyes and dump other high-priced talent by the start of 2013 — David Wright, Johan Santana, Jason Bay (good luck with that). Naturally, you’d have to factor in a number of things: how well Reyes performs the rest of the season, how well some of their young talent performs (Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada), how many games they win and tickets they sell between now and September.

So much to think about. And the clock is ticking. The last time the Mets traded such a big star in mid-season was Tom Seaver in 1977 – and we all know how that ended up. But these are different times under very different circumstances — not the least of which is the ominous shadow cast by the pending settlement with the Madoff trustee.  If that nets out as anything close to a worse case scenario, then all bets are off.

And it’ll be no way, Jose.

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