Friday, March 4, 2011

The Legs of The Franchise

He first flashed before our eyes as a Met in Texas in June of 2003, at just 19 years old. His arrival was the result of an injury that was sustained by Rey "the barber" Sanchez. In that first game, Reyes had two hits and displayed the promise that would soon mold him into one of the better all around players in baseball.

In the years that followed, Reyes overcame a rash of lower body injuries, and eventually became the main attraction at Shea Stadium. "Come on out to Shea and see Jose Reyes run," was bellowed on a nightly basis by the eternally over-exuberant but harmless Fran Healy. And the fans listened. They came on out to Shea. Jose Reyes stole bases at will. He turned routine groundouts into singles. Singles into doubles. Doubles into triples. He struck fear into the opposing pitcher every time he reached base. He displayed a cannon for an arm at shortstop, eventually harnessing his boundless energy and turning into one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball.

Jose Reyes rose with the Mets (or was it the other way around) from the wreckage that was 2002-2004, and was a key member of the team that averaged 90 wins a season from 2005 to 2008. We all know what has happened since then. The injury riddled campaign (for Reyes and everyone else) in 2009, and last year's 79-83 finish.

2011 is viewed by some as a transition year, and others as a year where the Mets may contend. However, it's being overshadowed by the Bernard Madoff situation and the uncertainty about Jose Reyes' future. Entering the last year of his contract, the debate rages over Reyes. Will he price himself out of the Mets' range? Is he worth what he'll be asking? Is he Sandy Alderson's "type of player?" Should the Mets trade him mid-season? Will he stay healthy?

To me, the only question that matters is the last one - Will Jose Reyes stay healthy. If he does, this is what he averages over a 162 game season:

.286 Average
33 Doubles
15 Triples
13 Home Runs
196 Hits
111 Runs
58 Stolen Bases

...That's Jose Reyes' average season. If he isn't Alderson's "type of player," then Alderson isn't my type of General Manager. Players who put up numbers like that are extraordinarily rare. When you add those numbers to the fact that Jose Reyes plays a premium position at a Gold Glove level, he becomes that much more indispensable. And when you attach all of his on field value to the fact that he's a homegrown Met - a fan favorite whose destiny is to team up with David Wright to shatter every one of the Mets' offensive records and lead this team to a Championship - letting Reyes go (via trade or free agency) becomes reckless. It borders on idiotic. Letting a healthy Jose Reyes go would be an enormous detriment to the Mets on the field, and it would slice through a fan base that is currently hanging by a thread.

A majority of fans are swayed by how the media covers this team. While that's unfortunate, it's reality. And the media has been skewering the Mets for the better part of three years. Their coverage, coupled with the Bernard Madoff situation, has left many Mets fans more pessimistic than they've been in over a decade. Considering the product the Mets are putting on the field - a product I feel can easily contend for the Wild Card - the pessimism seems misguided. However, as was stated above, it's still there. The only thing that will change that perception is winning. And if the Mets intend to win, it's in their best interest to have Jose Reyes at the top of the lineup (both this season and beyond).

This Winter, the front office sold the fanbase on the fact that because of previous contractual obligations, the team wouldn't have much money to spend on new contracts for the 2011 season. That was understood, and they've done a solid job adding pieces to a team that has the potential to surprise. After 2011, the Mets have at least 40 million dollars coming off the books - a number that would reach nearly 60 million if Francisco Rodriguez's option doesn't vest. There is no possible way Sandy Alderson and the Mets will be able to sell the fanbase on trading a healthy Jose Reyes during the season, or letting him walk away after it.

At the moment, the Mets are viewed as a team in disarray (even though I would strongly argue that perception). Ticket sales have dropped considerably. Tickets that were once coveted (Opening Day), leading to raffles for the right to purchase them, will now be available when the rest of the ticket inventory goes on sale on March 14th. On top of that, is the debate over Reyes.

David Wright is widely regarded as the face of the franchise. He grew up a Mets fan in Virginia, runs his own charity, is accessible to the media. Reyes' voice has been quieter than Wright's, mostly because he only recently became comfortable enough with the English language to begin giving full interviews in English. And that's a credit to Reyes' desire to learn the language.

While Wright may be the public face of the franchise, Reyes is its legs. He's the one who makes the lineup go. He's the second piece of the Mets' homegrown All-Star left side of the infield. Like Wright, he lives for the game. The joy drips off him nearly every time we see him on the diamond. Every time he smacks a ball into the gap or down the line, the crowd rises in unison as they wait for Reyes to kick it into high gear before sliding head first into third base. Reyes is the dancer, the hand shake connoisseur, the straw that stirs the drink. And like David Wright, Jose Reyes IS the Mets. He belongs in Orange and Blue. I can't imagine the Mets without Jose Reyes. It's not something I want to fathom, and it's not something I ever want to deal with.

What Sandy Alderson and the rest of the Front Office need to realize (if they haven't already), is that this fanbase has been knocked down repeatedly over the last few years and still gotten up. Losing a healthy Jose Reyes for any reason would not only imperil the team's chances on the field, it would cause a large portion of the fanbase to take that hit and stay down. A healthy Jose Reyes would likely mean a contending Mets team in 2011. And a contending Mets team has no business dealing Jose Reyes or letting him walk away after a successful campaign.

Jose: Stay healthy and do what you always do.

Hopefully, the rest will take care of itself.

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