The case for Jose Reyes (back) to the Mets

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Terry Collins and Jose Reyes. (New York Mets)
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It's nearly the off-season, which means it's time for Jose Reyes to move to a new team again. The Blue Jays, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith, will consider dealing him this winter.

I've written here before that he ought to be on the New York Mets. I wrote it when he was still a Met, I wrote it once he stopped being a Met, I wrote it last year after the Marlins dealt him to the Blue Jays, and I still feel that way.

It's easy to look at the basic fact that Reyes has played for three teams in three years, and come to the mistaken conclusion that it has something to do with Jose Reyes or his limitations as a baseball player or some other defect. Actually, Reyes has been part of a perfect coincidence of bad baseball circumstances.

Let's rewind to the 2011 offseason. To that point, Reyes had been with one organization, the Mets, performed exceptionally well, and hit free agency.

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The Mets, mired in a financial crisis, could not afford to keep him. That meant finding another team to pay him, and the Miami Marlins, full of talk about the future, offered him a six-year, $106 million contract. Reyes might have earned more by waiting out the offseason, with players like Carl Crawford, for instance, signing for more later. But Reyes liked Miami, wanted stability, and signed in early December. The Mets, meanwhile, pretended they'd been outbid, and talked up Ruben Tejada, who, well, they don't talk up anymore.

Unfortunately, trusting Marlins ownership turned out to be an epic mistake for Reyes, as it turned out to be for other players, and for the city of Miami, which had been lured into providing Jeff Loria with a new stadium. A year later, the Marlins shipped out every salary they could, with Reyes and others going to the Toronto Blue Jays, even though Reyes played in 160 games and posted the seventh-best O.P.S.+ of any shortstop in the league.

2013 was disastrous for the Blue Jays, however. Reyes missed time with an injured ankle on a freak play sliding into second base. However, he recovered, and once he returned in June, was essentially the player he's been since 2006, with an O.P.S.+ of 113 on the season all but identical to his 114 over the past eight years. The Jays, though, had massive pitching problems, other injuries as well, and finished 74-88, the same record as the Mets.

The Jays want to improve in 2014, and under other circumstances, keeping a shortstop who is still just 30, with the fourth-best O.P.S.+ among shortstops over the past two seasons, would be part of that solution.

But Loria cunningly, and damagingly, backloaded Reyes' contract. He earned $10 million in 2012, $10 million in 2013, but that jumps to $16 million in 2014, followed by three seasons at $22 million apiece, and a team option in 2018 for the same, or more likely, a $4 million buyout.

Jose Reyes, at the moment, is a valuable property. Jose Reyes, at four years and a guarantee of $86 million, is a far riskier proposition.

And this is where the Mets come in.

The Mets have holes at a bunch of positions. Collectively, their shortstops this year posted a batting line of .215/.285/.276, or a .561 O.P.S. For reference, that's 39 points lower than Rey Ordonez's career .600 O.P.S., and these shortstops were not Rey Ordonez defensively, to put it mildly. Moreover, the Mets don't have anyone in the system close to ready who is likely to improve upon that meager output.

Jose Reyes, in 2013, put up a line of .296/.353/.427, or a .780 O.P.S. 

So: massive upgrade. The alternatives on the free agent market are uninspiring options like Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew.

A normal team could approach this two ways: either by offering the Jays very little in talent, and agreeing to take on Reyes' full salary, or by offering a solid prospect return, and having the Jays take on a great deal of the remaining salary.

Whether the Mets can do the former is anything but certain, given their financial constraints and need to resolve their debt situation. But if Jeff Wilpon's words about being ready to invest meant anything, it's hard to think of a better way than putting little more than money into dramatically improving the team's shortstop situation while simultaneously reuniting the team with one of its most popular players, ever. There are fans, and I am among them, who would probably put up with an offseason that did little else to improve the club, simply for the chance to watch Jose Reyes every day again.

But: since Wilpon's words haven't meant anything for nearly five years, there's still another way to potentially do this, and that's be dealing starting pitching to the Jays for Reyes. A deal involving, for instance, Jon Niese, Rafael Montero and another prospect could be enticing enough to the Blue Jays to cover most of Jose Reyes' salary.

There's huge risk in doing this, with pitching inherently fragile. Still, the payoff, one of the best shortstops in baseball for, say, $5 million per season, is big.

The Mets, by staying put, aren't likely to be contending next year. This deal alone probably wouldn't change that. 

But the most exciting position player the Mets have ever had would be leading off and wearing number seven every day.

It's something that could improve the club, sell tickets, and even serve as a fig leaf for the Wilpons, pretending that ownership has returned to a better, more solvent day straight out of the high-flying Bernie Madoff-financed years. (He'd even have a nice place to stay.)

Reyes would go to his fourth team in four years, and probably get blamed for being part of a losing team. It would be better for his career to head to, say, the Yankees, who need a shortstop and actually have the money to take on his contract while giving up little-to-no talent.

But seeing Jose Reyes on another team has been disconcerting. Seeing him on the Yankees would be emotionally destructive.

The Mets ought to bring him home.