- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Rob’s Case for Trading Reyes

The Mets probably wouldn’t have won Thursday [1] without Jose Reyes. They definitely wouldn’t have won Wednesday [2] without Jose Reyes. They likely wouldn’t be as close to .500 as they are in 2011 without Jose Reyes. There’d be little worth watching of the 2011 Mets if not for Jose Reyes.

I sense you’re in general agreement with all of the above. My friend Rob Emproto agrees, too. Rob is as passionate a Mets fan as I know and (along with Mike Steffanos of Mike’s Mets [3]) the most logical. He doesn’t offer any opinion to which he hasn’t given thorough thought and consideration. Rob takes into account statistics, both traditional and advanced, and blends them with accessible, affable, consistently informed common sense. Plus he’s not kneejerk about any of it.

I’m building up Rob here because I want to share some of the conclusions he’s shared with me regarding the prospective future of Jose Reyes and the New York Mets. I’m not sure I fully agree with them, particularly the headline aspect, but because I know from whence they come — and because Rob shows his work (so to speak) — I’m concerned they’re more valid than I care to admit. They make for good, if uncomfortable, reading besides.

This discussion between him and me started with the following inquiry he posed to me and the rest of our long-running, co-dependent Mets e-mail support group.

***

Here’s a hypothetical question for you all: Would you give Reyes $120 million for 6 years if you knew you were going to get six years just like the last six?

Thanks to his Adrian Beltre-like timing, Reyes is probably looking at close to Carl Crawford money, despite what Fred Wilpon said. But the reality is that whoever signs him is probably looking at six similar years. For the sake of argument, let’s carry out his current stats over the whole season and hit’s .340 and wins the MVP. He’s still not showing any new skills. He’s staying healthy, and more than a few more hits are falling in. He wasn’t a bad hitter before; he’s always been pretty good and his numbers consistent. He’s not hitting more home runs or walking more. So you’ve got a very good player who, because of timing, is about to be paid like an elite player.

Let’s throw in a Jimmy Rollins-type aging curve (they are very similar except that Rollins has more power). The next six years gives us one MVP-type season, about one season lost to injuries, and four pretty good seasons like we’ve mostly seen (.290 average, 35-40 steals, something like that).

When you sign him, you’re really counting on your team doing something in the next three years because after that you’ve got a speed player on the wrong side of 30 making a lot of money. So you’re going to have to make up for that in years 4-6 (i.e., being stuck with the contract and possibly needing to make up for lost production).

So my question is, if you’re the Mets, taking into consideration of what they’re likely looking at the next three years, do you give him that money?

***

Compelling question and scenario, I thought. I know the answer I want to know: That I never want Reyes to leave. But I also know I don’t know how to measure what the next six years and all those dollars will bring. Nobody does, but I can’t even fake it. I’ve been in love with Reyes as a player for a very long time, as Rob knows. I also know I’d sure love to see the Mets win what the Giants won last fall. Watching San Francisco put together a title run with whoever and whatever it took in the short-term made me a little less inclined to lean on the eternal attachment one forms to certain players — like Reyes, like Wright — and simply want the moves to be made that would make the Mets champions at least once more in my life, and preferably more often (and soon). Ideally, I want it to happen with Reyes. At this moment, I don’t understand how it could happen without Reyes. He’s our best player, playing the most crucial position.

That’s what I more or less told Rob. That and I have no idea what $20 million a year for six years means in baseball anymore, particularly where this franchise and its ownership flux is concerned.

His reply follows.

***

You have to take a step back and separate emotion and reality (perceived reality, at least).

The Mets are sort of in it on the surface, but not really. CAN they sneak into the Wild Card? If EVERYTHING breaks right, sure. But you can’t compromise the future betting that long shot. And that’s what the Mets ALWAYS do — they compromise the future betting mostly long shots.

This year, they shouldn’t be expected to beat Philadelphia and/or Atlanta (they would have to beat one of them to get into the post-season). They may seem fairly close, but they’re really not that close to either of those teams. Let’s say they find a way to sign Reyes…then what? Now you have Wilpon in the same financial mess minus Reyes’s $100 million, and now he’s got to deal with Wright. Even if he signs Wright after that, is Fernando Martinez going to give us championship-quality play? Is Ruben Tejada or Justin Turner? Will Jason Bay recover? Who will the closer be? What will Johan Santana be? What will ANY of their pitchers be? And they would need ALL that to happen quickly to compete in 2012-13.

Maybe in any other division except the AL East, you can take a chance. But the next three years the Phillies will be OK, and as they decline, the Braves will mature. The Mets are a near-term disaster; the target for us is three years down the road.

It sucks, but they have wasted two of the best players they have ever developed (not to mention Beltran, the best free agent they’ve ever signed, not counting Piazza). Either they never had the money to be ALL IN, or they didn’t have the stomach, but they were never ALL IN. They’ve had bad luck on top of everything.

Not everything they did was the wrong thing. But a LOT was.

Alderson needs to trade Reyes and get two or three good prospects (or at least one blue-chipper). Next year he needs to trade Wright and do the same. He needs to let all the big contracts fall off the table, avoid more big long-term deals, focus on the farm system, and let the young guys they have now (like Ike Davis and Niese and Gee and maybe Tejada and some of the guys that [a friend of ours] gushes over, along with whoever they get in trades) mature. In three years the goal is to have a nucleus you can build around, a strong farm system, and money you can invest to get whatever you need at the time.

If they sign Reyes, you’ve averted a short-term disaster, but they are still going to be behind the proverbial 8-ball the next three years, and then in three years you’ve got a 31-year-old speed guy that you owe $60 million to and we’re back in the same “wait until Reyes’s contract comes off the books” mode. It’s the same hamster wheel we are always on.

I don’t know how much $20 million is to the Mets, and I don’t know how much the Wilpons REALLY have. But we KNOW they lost $550 million, and are getting sued for $700 million more. I just don’t see them throwing around hundreds of millions considering the predicament they’re in. If the Mets were profitable, then maybe, but they are bleeding money by all accounts.

If the Mets were going to go balls-to-the-wall to get the guys they need to surround Reyes & Wright, then definitely sign Reyes. But you know they’re not going to do that. If they sign Reyes, that will be IT. If they sign Wright next year, that will be IT. And that leaves us with the same team we’re treading water with now, minus a few guys who are contributing, with two long-term big money deals added in.

At some point we gotta get off the merry-go-round, and it’s going to be painful.

***

Well, I said, that’s certainly bracing. Then I excused myself to find the nearest onrushing 7 train. No, I didn’t do that, but I told Rob he had just offered a very chilling scenario for any Mets fan.

Instead of easing up, he continued to deliver truths as he saw them.

***

It definitely sucks. It’s years of doing things halfway coming to a head, with Madoff thrown in for good measure.

To think that they have two of the best position players in the game just entering their primes and they’re nowhere close to fielding a championship team — that they may be better off trading these guys — is unthinkable.

A lot of it just bad risks. Nobody saw Madoff coming, but why does almost everything crap out on the Mets? You can’t accuse them of not spending money, but even then they get crapped on. They got one year out of Pedro and two years out of Johan…that equates to MILLIONS of dollars. And there were rumblings about both those guys being injury risks before they got them. Meanwhile the Phillies get Halladay and the Yankees get Sabathia. Throw in a Jason Bay, where the fit between the player and the park was questionable at best, and that’s even more millions combined with an obligation to play the guy through thick and thin. I know there are no sure things, but they need to minimize the risk somehow…maybe pay more for surer things.

Also, their negligence of the farm system has KILLED them. The Phillies traded prospects to get Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and the Giants and Rays built championship teams mostly via the minor leagues. The Mets have developed Reyes and Wright, and then Pelfrey, Niese, and Ike Davis, and yet somehow their minor league system was a disaster (there are a few guys coming up…I’d say it’s middling right now).

You look at them and what they’ve done, and there is no obvious flaw. It’s a combination of bad timing and bad organizational cohesion; the pieces never seem to fit together for them. We forget that they were two unbelievable collapses away from winning three divisions in a row, and if they did that, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this stuff right now.

They are always thin on depth; they are never able to hold down the fort through their minor league system; except for Beltran, they never pay the star in his prime; their other signings are risky or fallback guys; the last good minor leaguer they had to trade they turned into Victor Zambrano; they get smitten with guys of questionable character/career motives. And they have been a PR embarrassment on top of that.

This is just a bad organization that was lucky enough to have enough money to put nice lipstick on the pig for a while. It’s been mentioned many times, but look at what Atlanta does. They pay guys big money and long-term, but those guys are Hall of Fame quality (Chipper, Gl@v!ne, Maddux, Smoltz). They’ve developed guys like Brian McCann and Martin Prado and Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman and Tommy Hanson (and that bullpen). They always seem to get value out of the guys they sign (Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe and Fred McGriff). They are stable up and down the organization (how long was Bobby Cox there?). AND they have an excellent minor league system. Now they were very lucky to have those three pitchers for as long as they did, and they only won once, but that is a fluid, evolving, regenerating organization. They ALWAYS have a plan. THAT’S what you want.

***

One of the phrases Rob used lingered in my mind and bothered me a bit: “wasted”. Did we really waste the tenures of Reyes, Wright and Beltran? Did we not contend for a while? And even when we didn’t, weren’t we treated to several years of three players we loved to watch? How do you measure that?

***

I would say that it was wasted not because we didn’t win, but because of the WAYS we didn’t win. We lost when we were a heavy favorite, and then we blew two big leads late. If they went down three times in a row like they did in ’99, there wouldn’t be too much complaining — they would have gone down proudly. But this team will long be considered a dog…rightly or wrongly.

I mentioned Atlanta in my last e-mail. That dynasty has to be considered one of the biggest “letdowns” in dynasty history. All those pennants and only one championship? With a Hall of Fame rotation like that? Yet you never hear a discouraging word about those teams (the Marlins won twice during that time). But you can’t get away with that in New York.

There is a stench on this team, and they’re never going to get out from under it as long as the Wilpons are here (they need to bring home a championship, and it’s going to be hard to do without help). It’s not all the players’ fault, and to be fair, it’s not all the Wilpons’ fault. It’s just bad chemistry and bad karma. Not exactly a sabermetric explanation, but it’s true.

Some of the injuries were just bad luck, some of them we saw coming, and some were compounded by questionable medical treatment. As far as chemistry, what kind of team blows TWO leads like that? It shouldn’t happen once, let alone twice in a row to the same team. Something was missing.

We could probably write a book dissecting these last five years. But I really think EVERYONE needs a clean slate here…Beltran, Reyes, Wright, Alderson, the Wilpons, and especially the fans.

***

I still wasn’t quite satisfied with how this paved the way out of Queens for Reyes (or Wright). I got what Rob was saying, but I circled back to an earlier point he made about separating emotion from the equation, for what is baseball without emotion? I thought of a few examples of teams whose fans endured stretches without a championship but presumably derived tangible pleasure from watching certain players’ careers thrive in their uniforms.

What about Carl Yastrzemski and the Red Sox? What about Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and the Astros? What about Hanley Ramirez and the Marlins, even (for however many Marlins fans there are)? I don’t want to be in that category, remembering how great it was to watch Jose Reyes and David Wright craft great achievements with the Mets, too bad they never won a ring, however. But I also don’t want to watch them in other uniforms and I’m not high on settling for other guys wearing their Mets uniforms or taking their Mets spots.

Well? What about it, Rob?

***

I don’t know if the Mets situation is the same as other teams’. During Yaz’s day, the Red Sox were in the middle of “The Curse”. I think there was and is a more of a “we’re in this together” spirit in Boston than there is for the Mets at this time. Also, “wasting” doesn’t mean the same thing pre-free agent, pre-Wild Card era than it does now. Teams were more long-term back then, more connected to the fans, and it wasn’t so easy to just go out and get a Sabathia and a Teixeira and a Cliff Lee to get better. Also, for about a third of his career, only one team from each league made the postseason. Just being in it meant a lot more.

As for Houston, I’m not saying Astros fans don’t want to win, but Bill James once wrote that “even Astros fans don’t get too excited about the Astros.” Maybe they were just happy to have those home boys as an anchor all those years, and both of those guys took less money to stay there, so there’s something more to that story. Maybe there is something more important than winning to Astros fans and players.

The Marlins have endured so much chaos, and they have won twice, and they still don’t draw, so I don’t know what to make of them. They’re almost not a real franchise as much as a science experiment.

To sort of answer your question, whether you “waste” a guy depends on what you’re in it for. Every team SAYS they want to win it all, but not every team ACTS like it. In fact MANY don’t. The Mets are doubly cursed by living in the same town as the Yankees (cursed because we have to endure them 24/7/365, and cursed again by the constant comparisons). I understand the appeal of Reyes and Wright. I understand that fans love them, identify with them, that they draw fans, and that there’s a certain amount of pride associated with them. Unfortunately the value of that pride gets neutralized by all the Wilpons’ shenanigans

Teams like the Yankees get their Jeters AND their rings. For us the choice is “Reyes & Wright OR a chance at rings”? It’s not a knock on Reyes & Wright. I love them both just like everybody else. They are perfectly good build-around players. But that’s where it stops. The Yankees or Phillies WOULD build around them; the Mets, at this point in time, won’t (and whether they even CAN is a big question mark). And if they had money, whether they KNOW HOW is an even bigger question mark (though I would like to see Alderson & Co. do their thing with some money at their disposal).

As much as I love them, I want to WIN. I’m tired of what we’ve been through. I’m tired of the Yankees and their fans and their bumper stickers and their hats and every celebrity wearing Yankee stuff. I’m tired of the Phillies swatting the Mets like a mosquito, calling them chokers, of Phillies fans infesting our stadium like they own it, and tired of having guys like Mike Schmidt piss on us. I STILL want the Marlins to pay for what they did the last day of Shea. And that will never happen with Reyes & Wright (because of the timing of everything). For that to happen, they’d need to do something NOW. Sign Reyes, sign Wright, sign a key free agents or two, and simultaneously invest in the farm system to build that up.

They won’t/can’t do that. In my mind they can either sign those guys, tread water until the Picard suit and the Wilpon/Einhorn deal get settled, or just bite the bullet and get a head start on better times. To answer the question that started this e-mail chain off, I DON’T want six years like the last six. I love those guys, but man, what was the point? That was demoralizing and painful. And the worst part is that we’re not even heading in the right direction now.

Everyone says the fans will desert them. Wright & Ike have been out most of the year. Is anything different? Are fewer people watching? Is attendance down because of that? People will ALWAYS watch their team. They may be disappointed, but we still watched after Tom Seaver was traded. We watched after Keith and Carter and Dykstra and Backman left. We watched after Dwight & Darryl left. We watched after David Cone left. We watched after Mike Piazza left. That’s what we do. We support our team, we curse them, and we hope that the Justin Turners and Dillon Gees and Matt Harveys will bring us better tomorrows. But we ALWAYS come back.

I know you’re not a car guy, but nobody ever wants to sell the Corvette. But when it comes down to either you keep the Corvette OR send your kid to college, the Corvette goes. And yeah, it hurts to sell, and you curse when you see the 18-year-old son of the doctor around the corner driving the car you’ve had since high school, but there is a greater more important good to be had. And you come to grips with that, and you move on. And eventually you realize that there will be other Corvettes!

***

Rob is a car guy, and has a daughter about to enter college, with two sons not far off. The man knows his analogies.

As for the rest, he lays out a clear-eyed case for doing the unpopular thing. It’s not popular with me right now. Whether it occurs and results in a more favorable future — another Corvette, as Rob might put it— is up for grabs.

Though I have to admit, even if I’m not a car guy, I’m rather attached [4] to the model we have right now.