Oct 19

Reyes: Time to move on.

There’s a lot of swirling issues around the Mets’ decision to bring back Jose Reyes, but it really comes down to one burning question: Can the Mets win with him?

Based on Reyes’ tenure with the team, the answer is no. That the Mets with Reyes are a better team is little doubt, but they are not a playoff caliber team as they are presently constructed. Nor are they a serious contender.  Even if the Mets decide to bring back Reyes, there are too many holes to consistently compete with Philadelphia and Atlanta in their division, and San Francisco and St Louis outside it.

We also know Washington and Florida will be more aggressive financially than the Mets.

And, that’s the short list. Nine National League teams and 18 teams overall had a better record this summer than the Mets. Will bringing back a frequently-injured player – who twice went on the DL last season – with a long-term, $100-plus million contract make the Mets substantially better?

No.

Rebuilding is a long, arduous process to which I don’t have all the answers. I do have the keys, however, and that is strong starting pitching and a bullpen, and defense. Those qualities, which the Mets’ don’t possess, will not be readily obtainable if a bulk of their resources are spent on a speed player with leg issues who will undoubtedly break down during his contract.

I like Reyes. He’s always been one of the more personable Mets to deal with, but that doesn’t make him the right answer, the right fit, at this time.

The trade value for Reyes was highest after the 2008 season, but that wasn’t going to happen because the Mets believed they would remain a contender with a few offseason tweaks. They had Johan Santana fall into their laps the previous winter, but after going through a second late-season collapse and a managerial firing, thought minor tinkering would be enough.

They were wrong.

The 2008 season was the last healthy, full-season for Reyes. It was the last winning season for the franchise, which believed its fortunes would turn in a potential gold mine in Citi Field.

However, there would soon be injuries to David Wright, Santana, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado. The pitching collapsed as Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine didn’t develop as antiticpated. Hoped for lightning-in-the-bottle signings such as Pedro Martinez, Jason Bay, Orlando Hernandez and Shawn Green fizzled. There were other miserable signings in Perez, Luis Castillo, Moises Alou, Scott Schoeneweis and Guillermo Mota that made the Mets look foolish and desperate.

The Mets made one GM firing and two managerial firings since Beltran took that called third strike in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, who are playing in their third World Series since 2004.

The window slammed shut on the Mets and Reyes.

What we remember and cherish about Reyes was his unabashed enthusiasm and running as an unbridled colt from 2005-08, but he’s three years removed from being that player because of injuries.

Reyes’ stolen bases have steadily declined, and he wasn’t even a threat to steal after his second stint on the disabled list. Reyes wasn’t the same player, and with the competitive part of the season dwindling away, he didn’t run as to risk injury which could have cost him his precious batting title and money in free agency.

That he removed himself from his last game isn’t enough to cut ties with him, but it is enough to get an accurate glimpse of his priorities. Lots of players turn it on in their walk years, and that’s the lasting impression Reyes left us.

His injuries contributed to the fall, but wasn’t the main reason the team fell to its depths of mediocrity and helplessness the past three years.

The main reason was, and remains, its inadequate starting pitching. There are no assurances of a healthy return from Santana or Pelfrey improving, and all five spots in the rotation have significant questions attached, as do the six or seven spots in the bullpen.

Clearly, what Mets pitcher isn’t without a concern, either physically or performance wise?

Wright has been in decline since the Matt Cain beaning, Bay never produced, and Ike Davis missed more than half the season with an ankle injury. That puts questions at third, in left, and at first. Lucas Duda will be getting a chance to play his first full season in right, Angel Pagan regressed in center, and who will play second if Ruben Tejada takes over shortstop?

Where can you look on the field to find solace and comfort, knowing that position is in good hands?

Reyes is only one player, and not a healthy one at that.

To those who suggest the Mets might be even worse without Reyes, you are probably correct. But, we all know the Mets’ house-of-cards finances will preclude them immediately getting better in the free-agent market. And, don’t forget, with or without Reyes, the payroll is to be slashed by up to $30 million.

We also know what passes for pitching in the free-agent market are mostly mediocre back of the rotation answers and there is little help from the minor league system.

Record-wise, the Mets are roughly in the bottom third with few immediate answers. With or without Reyes, that’s where they are, and their only hope of moving up is to use the money earmarked for Reyes and attempt to plug holes.

Because, if that myriad of holes remains empty, so too will be the seats at Citi Field. At one time, Reyes represented the future of the Mets. Now, there’s no future with him.

 

Oct 18

On the eve of the Series …. Alderson knew what he was getting into.

The drive to Ohio is long and tedious, much like a New York Mets summer the past three years. Went back home to visit my father, who was hospitalized, and apologize for the lapse in posts.

My mind was on other things.

I am anxious for the World Series to start, and I would like to see the Cardinals because that would complete one of the great comebacks in baseball history. The Cardinals have what it takes to complete history.

Either way, if the Rangers won, that would also be a compelling story, especially for Mets fans who still have a fondness for Nolan Ryan.

The Cardinals have the best pitcher and player in the Series in Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, plus the extra game at home. Both teams are sizzling at the right time.

In looking at the two teams, it is easy to see what separates them from the Mets, and, of course, you have to wonder how far our boys are away.

Both teams have a stud hitter in Pujols and Josh Hamilton, reliable starters in Carpenter and CJ Wilson, good bullpens and support throughout the batter orders.

The Mets have David Wright and Mike Pelfrey, holes in the order and are shambles in the bullpen and rotation. If everybody in the NL East stands pat, and you know they won’t, at best the Mets are fourth in the division.

Bringing back Jose Reyes won’t change that, either. So, it was interesting to read the ESPN report of Chip Hale’s assessment, and that of some NL scouts, on Ruben Tejada’s development.

One scout said Tejada is ready to play and the best decision for the Mets would be to plug him in, let Reyes go and spend the money patching their numerous pitching holes.

I’ve been saying that since the trade deadline.

It’s not that I dislike Reyes. To the contrary, he’s been one of my favorite Mets to deal with, but realistically, he has limitations and the team has other priorities. If Tejada was a lost cause, it might be different, but there is promise there.

The Cardinals and Rangers wouldn’t be here without Pujols and Hamilton, respectively. Reyes, and also Wright, don’t carry the same weight with the Mets.

At one time, Reyes and Wright represented the Mets’ core, but times have changed. The team has lost key complementary pieces while both players have declined and have had health issues.

Sandy Alderson was brought in here to rebuild this franchise, and it is becoming clearer that both Reyes and Wright or no longer cornerstones. Too bad, but that is the reality.

Another reality, is Alderson knew the guidelines when he took the job. Not much got by Alderson, if anything, when he was working in the commissioner’s office. He got the job on the strong recommendation of Bud Selig, so he had a strong sense of the Wilpon’s financial issues.

When he came here he said it would take time, rebuilding wouldn’t come over night and the Mets’ culture had to change. That would include handing out massive contracts.

That is why I would be shocked if Reyes was brought back, wouldn’t be surprised if Wright isn’t dealt, and why the team would love to cut ties with Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

We knew 2011 and 2012 would be written off, and we wouldn’t have a clearer idea of the future until 2013 at the earliest.

Oct 14

Examining the market for Reyes.

In examining the potential market for Jose Reyes, we must first realize there are no concrete numbers. There’s “Carl Crawford Money,” as Fred Wilpon so eloquently called it. The $142 million over seven years given the Boston outfielder is the fuel behind speculation of Reyes’ reported quest of $100-plus million over seven years.

But, it is 0nly speculation, and we won’t have a frame of reference before the first offer is made and Reyes’ camp presents a counter. Until then, every number – including mine – is only an opinion. Reyes’ agent has not publicly stated any contractual demands.

What we do know is few teams can afford a $100 million contract, so the pool is pretty shallow.

So, let’s take a look at some of the teams reportedly in the mix for Reyes, their needs and what might be holding them back.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Boston: The Red Sox are a franchise in turmoil and realize they must do something dramatic to win back their emotional fan base. They have a need for a shortstop, leadoff hitter – Crawford doesn’t prefer that role – and, of course, to keep pace with the Yankees. They have the resources, even though they are burdened with several huge contracts, notably Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett. Plus, they’ll have to pay Jacoby Ellsbury in arbitration.

However, change should take money off the books in the form of David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew.

The Red Sox are not a stagnant organization. They made overtures for Reyes before and will likely do so again.

New York: As a matter of course, you have to list the Yankees because, well, afterall they are the Yankees. We know they have the money and could have even more of it if they don’t retain C.C. Sabathia.

However, pitching is their priority, and if they don’t bring back Sabathia they will throw it at C.J. Wilson or a cast of thousands.

The obstacles in signing Reyes will be in getting Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez – both with huge contracts and egos – to change their positions. That won’t happen. Jeter will not give up shortstop to move to third, even though Rodriguez will get more and more DH at-bats, especially with Jorge Posada not coming back.

A wild thought is would Reyes be willing to come to the Yankees to play the outfield? I don’t think he’ll do it, but what if the money was too good?

Just a thought.

Anaheim: Owner Arte Moreno has the money and shown to be a progressive owner. The team missed the playoffs the last two years and he’s not one to sit tight.

First things first, the Angels need to name a general manager, who’ll decide the team’s identity. One thing for sure, Reyes is better than Erick Aybar.

Chicago: I wouldn’t label the White Sox serious contenders, but with new manager Robin Ventura they are a team in transition. As a large market team needing to compete with the Cubs, they can’t be overlooked as they have g0ne after high profile players before.

Their current shortstop Alexei Ramirez tailed off last season, but has enough of a track record to where there isn’t a compelling need to move him.

The White Sox have several decisions to make, including pitcher Mark Buehrle, but I can see Reyes’ camp approaching them, if for no other reason to widen the pool.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Mets: We’ll see how serious the Mets are about Reyes when they have their exclusive negotiating window following the World Series. They say they’d like to keep him and have the money, but at the same time GM Sandy Alderson is talking about shaving $30 million off the payroll.

Alderson said the Mets would like to keep Reyes, he didn’t say they want to keep him, and there’s a difference. There seems to be so sense of urgency from the Mets on Reyes. That indifference could push him out the door.

When you big picture things, the Mets haven’t won with Reyes, and with their current financial situation might be better off using that money to fix several other holes.

Philadelphia: Shane Victorino will have to just accept Reyes. The Phillies, if they lose Jimmy Rollins, should come after Reyes hard. Ryan Howard’s injury would make it more compelling to add offense.

Remember when Andy Pettitte said he wouldn’t sign with the Red Sox because they are the Red Sox and he would always be a Yankee at heart? Nope. Reyes doesn’t have those feelings.

Philadelphia has the money and certainly doesn’t want to waste all that pitching with a stagnant offense. The Phillies will be players in this.

Milwaukee: Reyes has a supporter in Ryan Braun, and the Brewers seem resigned to have Prince Fielder leaving. If the Brewers lose in the playoffs, then have Fielder bolt, they’ll have to do something to keep the fan base.

Normally, you don’t think of the Brewers as a spending team, but things have changed with Miller Park and the franchise, while not crazy, is a little more liberal than it had been.

St. Louis: I have seen the Cardinals mentioned several times, but I don’t see the fit. St. Louis is committed in re-signing Albert Pujols, which is one reason they threw a lot of money at Matt Holliday.

Tony La Russa might be just the manager to get Reyes to reach his potential, but the Cardinals aren’t likely to add a third $100-plus million package.

Chicago: We know the Cubs have the money and a new regime, but they also have an excellent shortstop in Starlin Castro and their eyes on Fielder.

It won’t happen here.

San Francisco: Reportedly, the Giants don’t have, or want, to spend the money on what it would take to get Reyes, but I’m not buying it. There’s a sense of urgency for the Giants to return to the playoffs after winning the World Series in 2010.

They definitely have the pitching to take them there, but are lacking offense. Maybe, they’ll re-sign Carlos Beltran, but their need is a shortstop and speed. Reyes will still be a triples machine in that park.

Over the next couple of seasons, the Giants will have several contracts off the books, including Barry Zito’s in two years (no way will he get the innings for his option to be picked up in 2014).

Los Angeles: This is a team in worse financial straits than the Mets. Small wonder Joe Torre left.

 

Oct 13

What will be Mets’ splash?

Let’s not kid ourselves, the Mets won’t be players for any of the big-ticket free agents, perhaps even their own in Jose Reyes. The top pitching free agent is the Rangers’ CJ Wilson, whom the Yankees have their sights on and don’t we already know which New York team he’d choose? It’s always that way, isn’t it?

The Mets say they have the resources, but even after positive news on the legal-financial front, there’s been nothing from GM Sandy Alderson saying they’ll spend. He said they have the money to compete for Reyes, but to add little else, and with a myriad of needs and David Wright’s contract to be an issue soon, there’s not much light ahead.

It’s not comforting when the outfield dimensions and the search for a bench coach is what appears to be what passes for off-season news. On one hand, there’s a sense of comfort Alderson being up-front in pretty much saying “don’t expect much,” but on the other there’s uneasiness in knowing that’s where the Mets stand.

What we do know is the Phillies will be angry and will spend as they always do; Atlanta is always trying to improve; the Marlins will spend to try to make a splash heading into their new stadium; and the Nationals have shown a willingness to write checks.

The Mets? Well, they said they want to cut payroll by as much as $30 million. Kind of makes you want to run out and buy season-tickets now, right?

Oct 12

Interesting how October is shaping up.

The networks must be loving baseball’s final four of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas and Detroit. Their thinking, of course, is any LCS without the Yankees and Red Sox, or a Chicago or Los Angeles team, can’t be worth watching.

Actually, I tend to root for the match-ups the networks least want to see.

FIELDER: Looking out the door.

I don’t care either way that the Yankees and Phillies are done. I realize many Mets’ fans were thrilled to see them lose, and I understand the initial burst of joy, but does it really matter? Is that what you’re going to take from the season?

Who cares what those teams do? Savoring them lose is admitting to an inferiority complex. The Mets have enough on their plate for their fans to worry about what the Yankees did.

After all, it doesn’t change what happened to the Mets. For a while, it looked as if the Mets would overachieve, but they finished as expected. I was thinking .500, which would have represented significant improvement – I never imagined the playoffs – and for a period they were fun to watch.

But, talent seeks its level and the Mets did what most of us thought they would.

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