Signing Reyes: Not such a bad idea?

Anyway, Bill James found that players with young player skills tended, as a group, to age slightly better than their old player skills counterparts. The idea is that players with young player skills can adjust: as your speed goes, you can learn to be more selective and wait for pitches, driving them if they’re there or taking a walk if they’re not. On the other hand, if you already have old player skills, you can’t “learn” to be faster, so there are less things to compensate with as one ages and bats slow down.

There’s a lot of generalizations in the above paragraph, and it’s not a guarantee any of that happens with Jose Reyes, or any player with a certain skill set. But it is something to think about. He can learn to be more selective, something the Mets were already hoping he’d do this season.

- Patrick Flood, PatrickFloodBlog.com.

Here’s the other thing: Reyes is 27, turning 28 in June. Mets fans all know that big long-term free-agent contracts often turn into albatrosses, but elite players rarely hit the open market at Reyes’ age.  Because the Mets rushed Reyes to the big leagues, he stands on the verge of free agency at a time in his life when many of his All-Star colleagues are still locked up under team control through arbitration for several more years.

As Flood says, we don’t know the exact details of the Mets’ financial situation. But we know the Mets will have a payroll, and in today’s baseball economy it sure seems like teams must be willing to overpay on the back end of contracts to get elite production on the front end.

Carlos Beltran’s contract is a good example: Since he is a right-fielder now and an injury liability, on the open market he would get nothing like the $18.5 million he’ll make this year. But since Beltran played as more or less the best center fielder in baseball from 2006 to 2008, he earned all the money the Mets will pay him (no matter what anyone says).

If Reyes requires a massive six- or seven-year deal, as seems probable, whatever team that signs him will likely be getting a short return on his chunk of the payroll by the time he’s a 34-year-old in 2017. But Reyes in his prime, healthy and playing every day is worth an absolute ton. If the Mets are confident he can do that for the next three or four years, they should be willing to shoulder the financial obligation for the final years of the contract.

The Mets, like all baseball teams, need to invest money in their club to win games and bring in more money (to then, ideally, pour back into the club). Yes, it’s best if a team can constantly churn out young, cost-controlled players to contribute at the big-league level. But it’s unreasonable to expect any prospect to turn out as good as Reyes, and a big reason you want those cost-controlled guys is to provide the type of financial flexibility to lock up elite players like Reyes when they do come around.

I wrote this in February:

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).

Everything we’ve heard still suggests neither the Mets nor Reyes’ agents seem eager to negotiate a new deal during the season, but often everything we hear is nonsense. The Mets might be smart to put in a call — if they haven’t already — to Reyes’ representatives to talk about the possibility of extending his contract today.

Yes, Reyes stands to make a ton of money if he hits the open market. He’d also, presumably, make a ton of money on a contract extension, and every day he plays without one he risks an injury that could cost him millions. Obviously he and his agents understand all this. So perhaps there’s a deal to be made. Reyes would get a boatload of money and the ability to enjoy baseball like he does without being forced to endure endless speculation about his future. The Mets would demonstrate to fans an ability to invest in winning (assuming they have one) and get several years of an awesome shortstop.

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