It’s one of the best things you’ll find at Citi Field. No, I’m not talking about Shake Shack. I’m referring to the moment Jose Reyes rounds first base as an outfielder chases the baseball rolling to the wall. The crowd, just like Reyes, gains momentum as he turns second, where it seems the base propels him forward like a spaceship orbiting the moon. A second later he is diving head first into third, the throw way too late. He gets up on one knee and claps his hands hard and points to the dugout. The crowd sings: Jo-se, Jo-se Jo-se Jo-se, Jooo-seee, Jooo-seee! Long home runs and smooth double plays are fun but this is undoubtedly the most exciting thing that can happen during a Mets game.
The question on a lot of Mets fans’ minds these days is: Will they be able to witness it next season?
It’s a strange thought, and one that would have been laughable just a few years ago. Reyes made his debut in 2003 and showed why he was a highly-regarded prospect, though he was injury prone. In 2005, his first full season in the big leagues, he hit .273, stole 60 bases, and scored 99 runs. The next year he and the Mets blew up. Reyes improved across the board (he hit .300 with 19 homers) and was the catalyst for the best offense in the league. He started the All Star Game and was a legitimate MVP candidate. He signed a contract that kept him in Queens through 2011, and Mets fans figured he and third baseman David Wright would wear blue and orange forever.
The injury concerns that surrounded Reyes at the very start of his career returned the last two years, and the Mets plummeted in the standings. Through 31 games this season (including today’s win over the Giants), Reyes looks like his old self. He is hitting .313 with 11 steals and 19 runs scored. He has thrilled fans with three triples, the most in the league.
But the man who signed Reyes no longer works for the team. Moneyballer Sandy Alderson is the new general manager, a man against the type of long-term contract Reyes will demand. With a history of injuries and a less-than-ideal on-base percentage, will Alderson give the 27-year-old shortstop the $100-million salary he’d likely garner on the free agent market?
I hope so.
For starters, Reyes would be difficult to replace. You could get an average shortstop and a big bat somewhere else to make up the difference in the lineup, but that’s easier said than done. There’s more to it than that, though.
Reyes is a homegrown talent, which means something to fans. They watched him come up, witnessed the highs and lows of his career, and want to see him finish his prime in a Mets uniform. He’s also the most exciting player on the roster and it’s not even close. Wright is a stud, but there’s nothing flashy about his game. Carlos Beltran, who is a near certainty to be with a new team next year (if not this summer), was once a five-tool player, but his bad knee has robbed him of everything but his bat. With Johan Santana on the disabled list indefinitely, no Mets starter is worth the price of admission.
|The dirty jersey, perhaps from a dive into third. (Credit: alpineinc)|
If the Mets (13-18), currently in last in the National League East, continue to falter and deal Reyes this summer, what reason will fans have to show up at Citi Field?
I was at the ballpark on Tuesday, in the same section as Alderson’s luxury box. I saw Reyes go 3-3 with three walks and a stolen base. I saw him drill one to right field and make the turn at first. This time, he had simply hit the ball too hard, and the outfielder, who was playing deep to begin with, got a great jump and played it off the wall. Reyes eased up and coasted into second with a stand-up double, but just the thought of the triple got the crowd excited.
I turned back, as I did after every Reyes at bat that night, to look at Alderson. I hoped he saw what I see.
Update, 5/27/11: Since Mets owner Fred Wilpon has apparently lost 65-70 percent of both his marbles and money in the past year or so, it doesn’t seem very likely the Mets will re-sign Reyes. Simply put, the cash-strapped Mets don’t appear to have the funds necessary to spend big money on a free agent this offseason. Sadly, Reyes will likely be dealt before the trade deadline.