I have maintained that in the long run, the Mets will be a better team with Ruben Tejada at short instead of Jose Reyes. But make no mistake about it, tonight and the next couple of days will be Jose’s day to shine and really stick it to the Mets.
When a team is playing as poor as the Mets are right now (losing a doubleheader to the Giants scoring only 3 runs in 18 innings), having fallen back to .500 after getting off to a nice 7-3 start, the fans will be looking for anything to rant about. When Reyes steps into the batters box tonight wearing Miami duds, facing Johan Santana, I am sure there will be much cheering for the former Met. Tonight the villain will be Sandy Alderson and his staff for making no attempt whatsoever to re-sign the popular shortstop.
Reyes became the only Met ever to win a batting title even though he snubbed the fans by taking himself out of the lineup after one at bat in his final game as a Met. Many Mets fans were soured by his actions but rest assured there will be many in attendance who will be cheering “Jose…, Jose, Jose, Jose…” when Reyes steps into the batters box.
For those of you who are new to the pain of being a Mets fan, Jose Reyes is undoubtedly the greatest shortstop in the history of the franchise. He was signed in 1999 and made his major league debut in 2003 at the age of 20. His first couple of seasons were marred by injury, specifically to his hamstring tendons, a problem he would later suffer and very likely played a significant role in the Mets not offering Reyes a new contract. Plus former GM Jim Duquette at the time of Reyes’s arrival, determined the Mets were better served moving the young player to second base and importing Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui. Ah, bad idea!
Once it was clear Reyes was the real deal and Matsui was just another bad idea from a clueless Mets front office, Reyes took off and became a star. From 2005 through 2008, Reyes played in no fewer than 159 games. In those four seasons, he stole 60, 64, 78, and 56 bases respectively and totaled 65 triples. His legs wrecked havoc on the base paths and his offense guided the Mets to many a victory. It was said that as Jose Reyes goes, so goes the Mets, an expression I often despised but was quite true. My reason for disliking the saying was because no offense should be built around just one player but that’s another story.
For four of his nine seasons with the Mets, Reyes was truly a great player. His WAR in 2006 threw 2008 was 5.9, 5.4, and 5.3. Last season his WAR was 5.8, the year he won the batting title and was 11th in MVP voting. These numbers fall into the All Star range and was voted to the All Star team four times by the fans. But he did not play in three of them because of injury.
There is no question of the value of having Jose Reyes at the top of your lineup… when he’s healthy. But there lies the rub and is one of the reasons fans may unfairly judge Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta for making the decision not to re-sign Jose.
From 2009 through 2011, Reyes averaged 98 games per season. Now that number is skewed by the fact that he only played in 36 games in 2009 because of a severe hamstring injury. A thyroid condition and re-occurrences of the hamstring issue caused him to play in just 133 games in 2010 and 126 games last season, far from the 160 he averaged in the four year span from ’05 to ’08. When you consider that Reyes is now in his prime and has suffered injuries curtailing much of his playing time in five of his nine seasons, did it make sense to give him the contract he was given by Miami?
Here’s another thing to consider, a point I have made many times before. With all of Reyes’ natural ability and he has a ton, he never demonstrated the smarts expected of a ball player of his caliber. As great as his stats indicate he is, Reyes was streaky, often going into prolonged slumps. Why did he not attempt to bunt his way on in every game he played? Too often Reyes would swing for the fences with the usual result of popping the ball up.
It also amazes me what short term memory Mets fans have. Do you remember (as if you could forget) when the Mets collapsed at the end of the 2007 season?
In the penultimate game, the Mets were trouncing the Marlins by a score of 10-0 in the fifth inning. Reyes doubled and stood at second pumping his fists and doing his usual exaggerated antics. This infuriated the Marlins, after all they were being pummeled. Shortly after, a brawl took place with Marlins catcher Miguel Oliva attempting to rearrange Reyes’ teeth. The Mets won the game 13-0 on a brilliant performance from John Maine who did not give up a hit until the 8th inning. However the Marlins were so infuriated with the Mets, particularly Reyes, they vowed to defeat the Mets the next day. With the Phillies and Mets tied for first, the Mets having squandered a 7 game lead with 17 to play, a win on the last day of the season would have at least assured a play-in game for the Amazins.
That of course never happened. Tom Glavine gave every Mets fan the opportunity to claim “See, he was always a Brave and should have never been signed in the first place”. Glavine recorded just one out in his last start ever as a Met, giving up 7 runs in the first inning. To look in the Marlins dugout, you would have thought it was the 7th game of the World Series. Here were the Mets, a team with 88 wins poised for the playoffs playing a last place team fighting for nothing. The Marlins had the last word, the Mets went home, and the Phillies started their run of five consecutive division titles and counting. Was it Reyes’ fault?
Of course not. Although Reyes had a miserable month of September in ’07, the blame was entirely on an overused bullpen due to failing starting pitchers in the month of September. That last game when Glavine claimed he was not devastated by the loss should have been a meaningless game with most Mets resting for the playoffs. Ah, what could have been…
But the radio talk shows were abuzz with call after call complaining about how Reyes pissed off the Marlins. Even the talk show hosts themselves were calling for the Mets to do something about Reyes’ behavior. Make him stop dancing and sticking it to the opposing team many screamed. What was so peculiar about this was Reyes had done nothing differently than he had done a season earlier when the Mets ran away with the division.
My point here is that the love affair Mets fans seem to think they had with Reyes definitely had its rocky moments. And even I have to admit to being a bit disgruntled at Reyes’ immaturity at the time. In sports, the saying goes to never wake up a sleeping giant. And as bad as the slide was in the Fall of ’07, you wonder what might have happened if Reyes just politely slid into second on that 5th inning double then quietly stood up and wiped the dirt from his pants. If there is such a thing as good sportsmanship, Reyes definitely did not show it that day.
Then there was the incident in Anaheim the following season, the day after Omar Minaya unfairly fired manager Willie Randolph. Reyes ran to first in his first at bat and showed a bit of a limp. New manager Jerry Manuel went to take out Reyes for precaution. Reyes began to argue with his new boss right there on the field in front of everyone, quite embarrassing to say the least.
David Wright has publicly expressed his desire to stay with the Mets his entire career. Jose Reyes never made such a claim. The closest he would come was to say he played with the Mets his whole career, it’s all he ever knew. That’s not the same as what David said. Reyes was out for the most money and he got it. Good for him, I have no animosity toward him for doing so. Just don’t tell me the Mets should have done everything in their power to sign him. I simply do not agree with that. There was simply too much risk to give him a blank check.
There is no question of Reyes’ ability. He is one exciting dynamic player. But he is not a Hall of Fame type player, not an MVP. He lacks baseball savvy and he is prone to injury. But I still think he will have some outstanding seasons for Miami. But in the grand scheme of where the Mets are trying to go, Ruben Tejada will be a better fit than Reyes was. Since 2003, the year Reyes came up, the Mets won one division title and nothing else. A lot of other teams won much more and did not have Jose Reyes playing shortstop.
This is not to say Jose Reyes is the reason the Mets never won anything but one division title. Certainly the Mets lacked pitching from 2007 forward. Pitching is the key and it appears that Alderson and his staff are doing everything they can to stock the farm with good young pitching. If in the next couple of seasons, the Harveys, Familias, and Wheelers pan out, it won’t matter who is playing short.