Monday, October 31, 2011

The Mets, Reyes, The Rock & The Hard Place

As my fellow Mets fans arise this morning and head to work, they do so knowing the the St. Louis Cardinals have corralled two championships in just six years.  They do so knowing that the Mets now haven't managed to sniff one in a full decade.  Finally, they do so knowing the the future of the teams franchise player is in question.

At 12:01am Thursday morning Jose Reyes will be able to seek and accept offers from other teams.  His camp has made it clear, and it makes perfect sense, that he wants to see whats out there.  Reyes has been under team control for more than ten years.  Many would contest that the five year, $33.75 million extension he signed in 2007 was a bargain at the time, considering his potential.  Now, that his potential (or glimpses of it) have been realized, his next contract will undoubtedly be the most lucrative of his career.

The 2012 New York Mets will look vastly different, and much more depressing if Jose Reyes doesn't stick around this winter.  With that said, there are no more blank checks in Flushing, NY.  The Mets front office has to maintain a delicate balance between expressing to Jose that they want him back on a fair contract, and flat out negotiating against themselves.  Its for that reason that the news this week that the Mets intend to lead with a modest four year deal doesn't surprise me.  There really is no reason for the Mets to set the market price because Reyes is not going to sign prior to listening to other offers.

The next thirty days or more will bring with them numerous offers and countless rumors.  Philadelphia, Boston, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Miami and maybe even the Yankees will be in the hunt.  Whether or not a bidding war ensues or the market fizzles remains to be seen.  No one thought Sandy Alderson would be able to fleece the Giants of their top prospect, Zack Wheeler, at the trade deadline in exchange for Carlos Beltran, but it happened.  Until that market takes shape, the Mets needn't boost Reyes' free agent value.

Sandy Alderson and the rest of the team's front office will be forced to maintain a delicate balance moving forward.  They must illustrate not only the desire to bring Jose back, but also a certain level of flexibility in order to improve upon their initial offer.  Should contract negotiations get out of hand or Reyes appear to be intent on signing with the absolute highest bidder, I don't foresee major fan backlash.  However, if the Mets appear out of it early or if the process becomes one that insults the average fan's intelligence, it will only exacerbate the problem.

Retaining Reyes at a semi-reasonable contract provides the Mets with both an all-star caliber shortstop and a credible lead off man for the foreseeable future.  Failing to do so, despite putting forth their best effort will leave additional holes to fill.  Failing to do so while pricing themselves out early and/or clearly handling the situation poorly will not only leave those same holes, but will also leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans that the team will need to see in the ballpark next season if it is to right itself moving forward.  These are tricky times in Flushing.  The team can certainly win by retaining their race horse, they could lose by coming up just short, or they could stand to lose more than their premiere lead off man should this turn into the public relations nightmare fans have become so unfortunately accustomed to. 

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