The forthcoming Jose Reyes decision

A bunch of people have asked me, via a bunch of different media, what I think the Mets should do about the forthcoming Jose Reyes decision. Reyes, as you know, is slated to be a free agent after this season. Now Jon Heyman has tweeted that the Mets will let him play the full season to prove he’s healthy before they extend him another contract.

This is a tough call. If Reyes stays healthy for the full the season and plays as he is capable of — as he did from 2006-2008 — he’ll have little motivation to rejoin the Mets beyond what he always says (and what most players always say) about loving the organization and the city and everything else. And if all that happens, he can count on a massive payday.

If the Mets work to extend Reyes before he demonstrates he can stay on the field and be productive, they risk paying him big money to stay on the disabled list or put up the underwhelming numbers he did in 2010.

Sandy Alderson has said that “stolen bases are a footnote” to winning baseball, a quote many construed to mean Reyes is a goner after the season. But even if Reyes stole no bases at all from 2006-2008, he would still rank among the premier shortstops in the Majors. In fact, since 2006, Reyes has been third among all shortstops in OPS, behind only Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez. And he does steal bases at a high enough clip to make them worthwhile, so, you know gravy.

Many will — and have — argued that Reyes’ value is in his legs and so signing him to a multi-year extension could be foolish, as he will inevitably slow down over time. I think that undercuts the man a bit. There’s plenty of value in his bat and his glove too. Both of those, of course, require his legs (his slugging percentage is at least partly inflated by his ability to take extra bases) but certainly not the way stolen bases do.

It has long been supposed that Reyes, who is deceptively broad-shouldered, will develop more power in time. Only he’s 27 now, and it hasn’t happened yet. It’s worth noting, too, a tidbit Rob Neyer passed along today: While players hit their offensive peaks in their late 20s, they hit their defensive peaks from 22-25. Reyes may never again be the elite defensive player he was when he came up.

So what to do? We — I — like Reyes; he is a homegrown and enormously talented young player. If he succeeds in 2011 and the Mets re-sign him, the deal may be so expensive as to prove costly down the road. But if they determine he is not worth the massive salary he is likely to command (the Yankees, recall, may be looking for a shortstop soon enough), they will be accused of penny-pinching and small-market Sandying and everything else.

There’s no obvious answer, but to me the best solution seems like exactly the opposite of what Heyman says the Mets are doing. If the team determines early in the season that Reyes is again capable of getting on base at a 35-percent clip, it can work to lock him up long enough before he hits the open market to maintain some part of the discount afforded by his last two underwhelming seasons. There’s more risk that way, of course (he could get injured or revert to being a leadoff hitter with a .321 OBP).

But then that supposes that Alderson and Reyes’ agents are willing to negotiate in the season. So really I’ve got nothing. No easy answer. My bad.

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