Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Futures of Reyes and Wright

At the beginning of the 2011 season, most beat writers held the notion that Jose Reyes would be traded before the All-Star break. When that didn't happen, "the Mets may not be able to afford both Reyes and Wright" became the new meme. Now, the question has simply become whether or not the Mets should hold onto Reyes, Wright, or both. Not because of dire financial straits, but because some are questioning whether or not the team would be better off without one or both of them.

The screams bellowing from the less astute writers suggest that since the Mets haven't won a World Series with Reyes and/or Wright, how could they possibly be worse off if one or both of them was gone? I find that suggestion to be not only absurd, but insulting to anyone who follows baseball religiously. I'm not going to waste anyone's time by pointing out how many All-Star/Hall of Fame caliber players went their entire careers without ever making the Playoffs. Those men (and there are many), were victims of the players that surrounded them.

There are some who throw out an arbitrary amount of years it will be before the Mets are "competitive" again. In actuality, no one has any idea how long it will be before this team returns to the Playoffs. The 2009 Mets won 70 games, the 2010 Mets won 79 games. In 2011, the Mets won 77 games - a small step back as far as the win total was concerned. However, it's important to note that the 2011 Mets, with an eye on the future, dealt Carlos Beltran (their most productive offensive player), and Francisco Rodriguez. Had Beltran and Rodriguez not been dealt, the team would most likely have finished right around .500 or a bit better. The trades hurt the team on the field, and probably had a bit of a negative effect on morale. It's also important to note that the Mets played most of this past season without Ike Davis, whose return in 2012 should somewhat negate the absence of Carlos Beltran from the lineup.

Everyone (myself included) has gone over the non-baseball reasons for wanting to keep both Jose Reyes and David Wright. The fans love Reyes, and to a lesser extent Wright. They're marketable. They're homegrown Mets. A separate worry is what the departure of one or both of these players would mean revenue-wise for the team in terms of ticket sales. However, let's focus on the on baseball/team construction aspect only. First, David Wright will be addressed. Next, Jose Reyes will be addressed. Lastly, the potential of the team will be addressed.

David Wright

Turning 29 this December, some argue that David Wright is already past his prime. From 2005-2008, Wright was an MVP candidate. In 2009, he had a brutal year. He was adjusting to the new dimensions at Citi Field, had no protection in the lineup, and was drilled in the head with a fastball by Matt Cain. In 2010, though, Wright rebounded to once again eclipse the 100 RBI mark to go along with 29 homers. It wasn't quite vintage Wright, but it was enough to show that 2009 was an aberration. 2011 was injury riddled for Wright. He played through a broken back before it finally forced him to the disabled list.

Dealing Wright now makes virtually no sense baseball wise, for three reasons.

1. Although some say tons of teams would be clamoring for his services, you'd be selling incredibly low. He's coming off a serious injury, and hit only .254 in 2011 - the lowest average of his career by nearly 30 points. If the Mets really do want to trade David Wright, it should be done during the 2012 season if/when he reverts to at least his 2010 level of production.

2. The Mets don't have anyone on the roster (or in the minors) who would be able to replace Wright's bat in the lineup, his glove at third base, or his leadership in the clubhouse. Aside from second baseman Reese Havens, the better hitting prospects in the organization are all in the lower levels of the minors - and are all extremely raw. The only blue-chip prospects in the organization are pitchers: Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Zack Wheeler, and Jenrry Mejia.

3. The dimensions at Citi Field are about to be adjusted. In 2009, the Mets unveiled a ballpark that featured a right center field power alley that became a death valley for Wright. That alley will be shortened significantly, and the left field wall (another favorite target of Wright's) will be lowered and brought in. It would be foolish to deal Wright before seeing what he could do in his adjusted home park.

Jose Reyes

Reyes turned 28 this past June, and despite two brief stints on the disabled list, put up incredible numbers - including winning the National League batting crown. There isn't another player like Reyes in baseball. A dynamic offensive player who plays shortstop at a gold glove level, Reyes is a once in a generation talent.

Letting Jose Reyes go makes zero sense baseball wise, for the following reasons:

1. Regarding the makeup of the team, Sandy Alderson has stated that the 2012 roster will most likely have a payroll around $110 million. The other top offensive players on the market (Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols) both play a position the Mets already have filled, and would both cost a great deal more than Jose Reyes. Like Reyes, there are also question marks surrounding both of them. Pujols has had tons of injury issues over the last few seasons, and Prince Fielder is massively overweight. With nearly $60 million coming off the books with the departures of Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, and others, Jose Reyes easily slides into the team's plan. Re-signing Reyes would not preclude the team from improving in other areas, nor would it hamper them significantly down the line. Realize this: Jose Reyes made $11 million dollars in 2011. His raise if re-signed would likely be only 6 million to 7 million yearly.

2. As is the case with David Wright, the Mets have no one on the roster or in the minors who can replace Jose Reyes in the leadoff spot, or at shortstop. Ruben Tejada may yet prove to be an adequate offensive player and a solid defensive one, but he has yet to prove that over the course of a full season. Baseball-wise, it makes more sense for the Mets to pencil Tejada in as their second baseman, and potential utility infielder if Reese Havens can ever stay healthy.

The Potential of the Team

As was stated above, the 2011 Mets had their won/lost record skewed by a few trades that will likely strengthen the team in the long run. In my opinion, the 2011 Mets were a .500 baseball team. Now, can a .500 baseball team improve by 9 or 10 games in a single offseason? Sure. Is it likely? Perhaps not. I wouldn't be surprised if the 2012 Mets (with Reyes and Wright) contended for the Playoffs. More likely, though, they'll be ready to contend in 2013. The potential of the team contending in 2013, however, will be due in large part to having Reyes and Wright on the roster.

Aside from Jason Bay, the offensive core of the team is young. Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, Josh Thole, and Daniel Murphy are all under 27. Their two offensive prospects who may have an impact next year are Reese Havens and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, both in their mid 20's. The bullpen needs to be revamped, but should contain some promising arms in Manny Acosta, Pedro Beato, and Bobby Parnell.

The main area of concern is the starting rotation. That concern is due to the fact that the Mets lack a true Ace. However, in Jonathon Niese and RA Dickey, they have two middle of the rotation arms who should be able to contribute to an eventual contender. Dillon Gee is a question mark, but may be able to slide into the back of a contender's rotation. Until Johan Santana returns to the Major League mound, he's a non-entity. I'd never count him out, though.

The best hope for the Mets lies with the development of Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, and Zack Wheeler. All four of those pitchers have Ace potential. It's highly unlikely all four reach that potential, but the rise of one or two of them could make the team an instant contender.

If the Mets let David Wright and/or Jose Reyes go, the offense would be weakened to a point where it would be nearly impossible for the Mets to contend. They're not going to sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder (nor should they), and they're most likely not going to gut their rising farm system for a major offensive piece. I believe the best move is to hold onto David Wright, and make a strong effort to re-sign Jose Reyes. A fair offer would be 5 years at 17 million or 18 million per, with a vesting 6th year option based on cumulative at-bats over the last 3 years of the contract. If a team comes out of nowhere to offer Reyes 7 or 8 years guaranteed, I'd understand if the Mets didn't match. I don't think that offer is out there, though.

We'll see how this plays out. What is almost certain, is that the Mets in 2012 and beyond would be substantially weaker without Jose Reyes and/or David Wright. They should be given the opportunity to attempt to finish what they started together, to play behind the pitchers who are rising through the system, and to once and for all prove themselves worthy of being called franchise players.