Last offseason, I had the privilege of attending the baseball winter meetings in Orlando for a seminar. Later, I hung around the hotel lobby (and bar – a great place to meet journalists) to see who I could talk to. Everyone I met could only talk about one thing: the 7-year $126 million deal the Washington Nationals handed to Jayson Werth. Journalists, bloggers, team employees and executives all lamented the inflated contract that was sure to raise the bar for the other free agents. Later that offseason, the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a 7-year $142 million contract, and Adrian Gonzalez to a 7-year $154 million contract. The bar was certainly raised.
So who will it be this year? Which team will overpay for a free agent, and inflate the price tag of those who remain?
Given their limited budget, it won’t be the Mets, and it won’t be for Jose Reyes. The Daily News reported that Sandy Alderson will not make an offer to the shortstop during the team’s exclusive signing window. Following that period, Reyes will be fair game for the rest of the league. So if the Mets aren’t going to set the market for Reyes, it’s possible a big (and irresponsible) spender will. If Reyes gets an offer more than 4 years/$100 million, the Mets aren’t likely to match it.
In addition, if someone offers a crazy amount of money to Jimmy Rollins, the market price for a shortstop like Reyes will climb as if he’s made of caviar.
Out of the big free agents, Albert Pujols is obviously going to get a massive deal, and perhaps become the highest paid player in the game. One could argue he deserves it. After all, he is the best player in the game today. But what about other notable free agents?
C.J. Wilson? A nice LHP, but he’s 30 years old, has only been starting for two years, and he’s thrown over 400 innings over that time. It wouldn’t make sense to give him a long-term deal. But he might get one, considering he is among the top free agents at his position. Rollins is 32, and has been showing signs of decline, and an inability to stay healthy. These, and other free agents, are good-not-great players. But like Werth, and even Crawford, they are in a position to be overvalued by teams seeking to fill a need or make a splash.
And what about Reyes? Out of all the free agents, Jose is the most obvious candidate to be overvalued. Not to say he isn’t a very good player. Mets fans know how good Reyes is. He can change a game with his bat, glove, and speed. He won the NL batting title and had a 5.8 WAR in 2011. But injuries became an issue for him once again, limiting his playing time and performance in the second half of the season. After collecting 40 extra base hits in the first half, he managed only 14 in the second half.
After struggling with leg injuries early in his career, Reyes had 700 or more plate appearances each year from 2005-2008. He enjoyed his best all-around offensive season in 2006, putting up a .300/.354/.487 slash with 19 HRs and 81 RBIs. However, since 2009, his legs have faltered again. Leg injuries, like Jose’s hamstring issues, usually get worse as an athlete gets better. He will either miss more time, or play a more cautious game. His stolen base totals have already declined since 2008, and he appears less aggressive on the basepaths.
But he is the kind of player a team will be tempted to drop a long-term deal on. They’ll take the chance on his health, if the reward is the impact he can have when he is on the field. And unfortunately for the Mets, if a team does give him “Carl Crawford money” or Carl Crawford years, then Jose Reyes will not be coming back to Queens.