Vince Coleman is remembered most for being a part of the worst team money could buy, who thought it was funny to scare fans with cherry bombs instead of opponents with his on-base prowess.
While most of us Mets fans cringe when we hear Coleman's name along with Saberhagen and Bonilla's there maybe a useful comparison to be draw between Coleman and Reyes.
I'll admit that for me the idea of losing Reyes is depressing and this post feels more like a justification then a legitimate argument, despite that emotional sentiment there maybe a rational lesson to be learned from past experiences.
Vince Coleman was rookie of the year in 1985 he followed that up with two All-Star appearances in his first five years with the Cardinals. In his first three seasons he played in more then 150 games and stole over 100 bases in every year. In his fourth season while he continued to show durability playing in 153 gms there may have been signs that he was slowing, producing only 81 steals. The next season at the age of 27 y/o for the first time in his career he played in less then 150 games ( 145 gms) and only stole 65 bases. His last season in St. Louis he played in only 123 games but raised his stolen bases back up to 77 and hit for a career best .292 BA.
In two NLCS appearances with the Cards ( 85/ 87) he hit .276 and his one World Series appearance ( 1987) he stole six bases in seven games despite only hitting .143.
Coleman became a free agent at the age of 29 y/o and despite some of the clues that his speed was already beginning to erode and his durability was on the decline, it's easy to understand how a team would sign him. After all, aside from Ricky Henderson he was considered the most electrifying player on the base path in the game.
The Mets signed him to a four year deal at around 3M a season and never saw the player he once was in St. Louis. In his first two seasons he only played in 143 gms ( 71/72) and combined for what was less then his previous worst stolen base total, swiping a total of only 61 ( 37/24 ). In his final season as a Met he appeared in 92 games and stole 38 bases.
In 1994 at the age of 32 y/o a very disappointing Coleman was traded to the Royals in the Kevin McReynolds deal. He would show improvement with the small market Royals appearing in 109 gms and stealing 50 bases, it would be his last season as a full time player, he would struggle to stay on teams for three more seasons.
I focused on stolen bases because my biggest concern with Jose is his legs and speed, just as Coleman's game was predicated on speed so is Jose's and Coleman stands as an example of just how fast and early speed can go. Up until his last three seasons Coleman's BA, OBP, SLG and OPS were essentially consistent but what made him such a dynamic player was his speed and by the time he came to the Mets it was already compromised.
Jose Reyes enters free agency one year younger then Coleman at the age of 28 y/o but with 2 full seasons and two partial seasons more mileage on his gifted legs. Like Coleman he produced four straight seasons of durability ( over 152 games each) and electric speed ( 56 or more SB). But in 2009 he only appeared in 36 gms due to leg injuries and while rebounding the last two seasons like Coleman he has not returned to the 150 game range ( 133/ 126 games). For a player who relies on speed another troubling sign is his stolen base totals remain well below expectations ( 30/39).
For those who point to his batting title as a sign that his bat has improved to make up for his lack of aggressiveness on the base path, rem. the year we signed Coleman he had his best offensive year ( .292 BA).
Now I still want Jose back at five or less years, but for those who say sign him at any cost; Coleman serves as an example of just how quickly a player who relies on speed can see his game erode.
I ask this question rhetorically; What would be worse, watching an MVP caliber Jose on another team after signing a six year deal or seeing it all slowly wash away as a Met in 70 game seasons with 20 stolen bases and rem. what he once was.
Hopefully neither happen as he stays a Met on a reasonable deal and remains relatively consistent with his career so far but right now one of those two seems like a pipe dream...