It may not have happened the way everyone wanted but like it or not, Jose Reyes is your 2011 NL batting champion. I’ll admit I’m sick of all the fuss over how it went down but at the end of the day, what’s done is done. I’m not here to tell you it was right or wrong but somehow I’m not surprised that this is how the Mets found their first batting title. The real question is what to take away from the season Reyes just had, as a whole.
By now you’ve read everything. You’ve read that Reyes is selfish, that guys who know him maintain he isn’t, and that Jose pulling himself from that last game was the worst thing to happen in sports since this picture of Terry Francona was taken. At the end of the day though, the Mets need to look at Reyes and decide what kind of value he really is.
The positives seem fairly obvious, but I’ll go over them quickly in case anyone blacked out after the first half of the season. Though it seems eminently unlikely he or anyone else will play another half season, nevermind an entire one, the way Reyes did the first half of this year, it is difficult to put a tangible value on something so sublime. He was the MVP of that first half without any doubt. He single-handedly kept the Mets respectable. There was no pitching – Dickey was still struggling, Gee hadn’t yet arrived, Pelfrey was still allowed on a Major League mound – and there was no offense as Ike and Wright were out while Murphy had yet to morph into his .320 self. And yet there the Mets were, with Jose to thank. Reyes looked to be playing not just for a contract, but for the team that brought him up and the fans that cheered him on all the while.
The negatives all came in the second half. The all-too-familiar injury bug hit Reyes again, forcing him to finish the season with just 126 games played, his second-lowest total since 2005. With the injury came a marked decline in extra-base hits and steals as well as his first slumps of the year. He looked to be pushing a bit more, taking bigger swings, and not real confident in legging everything out. And then the last game happened.
Let me first say that, prior to the game, Reyes mentioned that at this point, with no life left in the season, the batting title became important to him. He wanted it. This seemed refreshingly honest. For all the times we want our players to give the company line and claim that their own accomplishments mean nothing to them lest the team win, I find it hard to believe that the hardest working, most competitive people in a given profession don’t care about personal accomplishments. So credit to Reyes where it’s due. However, that Reyes pulled himself showed me something I had long suspected.
Reyes wasn’t doing it for the Mets or for us, their loyal fans. He wasn’t doing it for Terry Collins or Sandy Alderson any more than you did your job for them. He was doing it because he has one huge payday in him and because he can. I don’t blame him for that, but it tells me something about what kind of effort to expect from him down the line, whether he’s entirely selfless or the anti-Ted Williams.
Many people will point to this season to show Reyes’ true value. I believe this is a good way to look at it, but not the way it is going to be done. Jose Reyes is not the player we saw the first half of this season. That was a Jose Reyes we have never seen before and, because of the perfect storm of influences, will never see again. At least not for that long. He was 100% healthy, 100% motivated, had everything to gain, and nothing to lose. He’s always been that talented but to think he could be so motivated for 5 to 7 years is simple disillusionment.
However, if Reyes lost $10-15 million by missing 36 games this season, he made a lot of it back by winning the batting title. It’s stupid, but it’s true. That he can walk into any contract negotiation as the 2011 batting champ is no small bargaining chip and his price tag could be driven up considerably. Debate the merits of batting average all you want, but it goes a long way for a team’s front office to tell its fans they signed the reigning batting champ. No one remembers who finished second in the batting race any more than anyone remembers who lost the Super Bowl. It’s just one of those things.
That being said, I believe the Mets are damned no matter how this goes. As the player he is in his average season, Reyes is still a top-5 shortstop and likely in the $90-$100 million range given the inflated market and the assumption of a 5-year deal. He is more likely to go in looking for $120 with the expectation that it could go higher.
The Mets should stick to a ceiling of $100 million over 5 years because that’s what he’s worth. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that contract will be enough to get Reyes to sign and that leads to two equally undesirable outcomes. Outcome A is another team signs Reyes to a monster deal because the Mets don’t budge, rightfully so. Nevertheless, this kills the fans, turns them against the front office, and creates a huge hole in the field and at the top of the lineup. Outcome B is the Mets give in and offer somewhere around $120 million over 6 years. This creates an albatross of a contract and locks up a ton of money in a player who can’t be trusted to be worth such an investment. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Either way, Reyes won’t play at a level deserving of anything more than his original, true $100 million value, no matter what team he’s on.
The only comparable player to Reyes is Carl Crawford and, you’ll recall, the early returns on that deal are part of the reason his manager was fired. The Mets have thus far been astute in their decision making but this is an entirely different scenario than any faced by this group yet. I can only hope Sandy Alderson handles it with the same grace Reyes showed all season and doesn’t cave like Reyes, at the last minute, in Game 162.