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May 23, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

Grab Reyes, Grab a Pennant

by Jay Jaffe

In recent weeks, the Dodgers' Frank McCourt had taken a commanding lead in Major League Baseball's ongoing Embattled Owner Derby, dominating headlines with his futile machinations as Bud Selig moved to strip him of his mismanaged franchise. The Mets' Fred Wilpon got his club back in the game on Monday, courtesy of a lengthy Jeffrey Toobin profile in The New Yorker. While the all-access article provides an enlightening perspective on Wilpon's rags-to-riches story and his entanglement in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, most notable on the baseball side is the owner's comments regarding pending free agents Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, comments which leave little doubt that both players' days in Queens are numbered.

Like all too many a Mets fan, Wilpon is still haunted by Beltran's season-ending strikeout against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright in Game Seven of the 2006 National League Championship Series, seeing it not only as evidence of a curse from which the club has yet to emerge, but also a bad baseball decision to sign the center fielder. "We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series," he told Toobin, referring to his own willingness to sign Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million deal on the heels of his outstanding 2004 postseason showing with the Astros. Never mind the fact that the 34-year-old Beltran has hit .279/.367/.500 as a Met, better than his previous .284/.353/.490 career line, this while toiling in a pitcher-friendly environment amid falling scoring levels. "He's sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was," says the owner of a player who has returned from two injury-wracked years to hit .281/.380/530—good for a top ten-ranked .324 True Average while playing in all but two games for a team that's 22-23, right in line with preseason expectations despite a near-Biblical plague of injuries.

To an even greater extent than Beltran, Reyes is back in top form, hitting .318/.371/.467 while leading the league in triples (six) and steals (17) after spending two years in the weeds due to injuries. Less than three weeks shy of his 28th birthday, he's in line for a substantial payday, particularly given the coming winter's weak market for shortstops. Wilpon dismissed the idea that the Mets would be inclined to pay up: "He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money," he told Toobin. "He’s had everything wrong with him... He won't get it."

It's a stretch to envision anyone ponying up $142 million given Reyes' injury history, but clearly the shortstop is worth something to a franchise in dire need of a gate attraction; the Mets are running eighth in the league in attendance for the second straight season, this while carrying the league's third-highest opening-day payroll. Less than two weeks ago, no-nonsense general manager Sandy Alderson, whose job it is to right the Mets' ship amid the roiled sea of red ink and self-pity, sounded as though he would give serious weight to keeping the shortstop. “You do need to take into account the baseball skill that a player possesses, but there’s another element, too — there’s an entertainment component," he told The New York Times's Tyler Kepner. "What I’ve seen here is the connection he makes with the fans. It goes a little bit beyond his performance."

Unless Alderson can talk Wilpon out of starting a fire sale, it does sound as though Reyes will be on the move this summer. With that in mind, here's a look at the contenders—teams with at least a 15 percent shot at making the postseason—who aren't getting much in the way of production at shortstop.

The Favorites

Giants
After letting both World Series MVP Edgar Renteria and fellow postseason hero Juan Uribe depart over the winter, Brian Sabean turned to an even older free agent in Miguel Tejada, who has looked every bit the 37-year-old (his birthday is this week) while hitting a limp .224/.247/.286. With Pablo Sandoval and Mark DeRosa both on the disabled list, Tejada has shifted back to third base lately, with Mike Fontenot (.218/.330/.414) pressed into regular duty at short; in unrelated news, the Giants are 14th in the league in scoring, averaging 3.54 runs per game overall, and 3.30 this month. A trade for Reyes is so blindingly obvious that rumor of a deal surfaced earlier this month. The team's farm system is among the lower third in the majors according to Kevin Goldstein's rankings, though third starter Jonathan Sanchez has been mentioned as a name which could appeal to the Mets, whose rotation has been decimated by injuries.

Reds
Neither starter Paul Janish (.230/.265/.278) nor backup Renteria (.228/.326/.253) are hitting worth a warm bucket of yak spit, though that hasn't exactly hindered the Reds' offense (second in the league in scoring at 5.04 runs per game), or their defense (sixth in Defensive Efficiency at .702). Still, the team has shown that last year's NL Central win wasn't a one-off deal, and the Reds do have pitching depth and a strong farm system, with multiple middle infield and catching prospects.

Makes a Whole Lotta Sense, But...

Rangers
While the defending AL champs lead their division, they're off to a sluggish 24-23 start thanks to an offense that's stalled due to the losses of both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. Those two sluggers should be back in the lineup this week, but it's tempting to wonder how much more potent their attack could be if topped by Reyes instead of Elvis Andrus, whose .270/.317/.339 line represents career lows in both on-base and slugging percentages. The Rangers could provide the Mets with a young, cost-controlled, and potentially popular replacement in Andrus, as well as a prospect or two to dream on, and they could afford to retain Reyes on a multiyear deal. Admittedly it's a longshot, but worth mentioning given the in-season creativity Jon Daniels has shown in recent years via his Mark Teixeira and Cliff Lee trades.

Rays
Reid Brignac has been the majors' worst hitter, with a .153 True Average off an appalling .170/.210/.180 line, and while journeyman Elliot Johnson has hit .250/.300/.406 in limited duty, there's a reason he's languished in the minors until age 27. The Rays have an outstanding minor league system that's about to get even richer with the upcoming draft, and they can even think about dealing a cost-controlled big leaguer from their rotation (Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann) or their lineup (B.J. Upton). It's certainly worth imagining how Reyes' speed and on-base skills would help an offense whose .309 OBP ranks 11th in the league. Not that it's anything but a minuscule sample size, but Reyes owns a career .426/.436/.574 line in 12 games on artificial turf.

Braves
It's difficult to imagine the Mets dealing with a division foe; trading Reyes to Atlanta would be such a below-the-belt kick to the fan base that one has to figure Alderson is sensitive enough to steer clear. Nonetheless, with Alex Gonzalez hitting just .254/.286/.387, the need is there, particularly in a lineup where virtually everybody aside from the injured Chipper Jones is underperforming. The Braves have one of the game's top farm systems, and while Julio Tehran certainly isn't going anywhere, other high-end pitching prospects could appeal to the Mets.

Cardinals
Ryan Theriot is hitting well over his head at .300/.352/.338, and the Cardinals lead the league in scoring at 5.06 runs per game, but the team has approximately 37 infielders on the DL at the moment, depleting their depth to the point that Albert Pujols has seen time at third base. Unless the Cards are willing to part with Shelby Miller or Zack Cox—and no one is saying they are—it's difficult to see how such a deal could happen, but such a gutsy move could separate St. Louis from the Central pack.

Longer-Than-Longshots

Red Sox
Marco Scutaro (.235/.316/.309) has been displaced by Jed Lowrie, who won't hit .319/.362/.478 forever. Having just traded a bevy of prospects for Adrian Gonzalez, it's difficult to imagine the Sox going to the well again, particularly for a short-term move, and with a rotation that's now down two starters due to injuries.

Brewers
One condition of trading for Zack Greinke was that the Brewers had to take on the execrable Yuniesky Betancourt, who's doing his best to hinder the team's all-in bid by hitting a cringeworthy .224/.254/.333. Given that Brewers are getting almost no offense beyond Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks—a combined .235/.290/.341, if you must know—Reyes would be a welcome boon, but the team's system is spent, and outside of a trade involving Yovani Gallardo, it's virtually impossible to conceive of a deal which would bring Reyes to Milwaukee.

Yankees
Nothing to see here, folks, move along. Derek Jeter's wheezing along at a .268/.318/.333 clip, but it's tabloid nonsense to suggest that the Yankees could even entertain such a notion as to trade for Reyes given the Captain's expensive new contract. Which isn't to say that Reyes couldn't outplay Jeter at this stage of the game.

 

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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38 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

ScottyB

A few observations about the New Yorker article:

1) It seems like Wilpon was far more lucky than smart in his initial forays into real estate. The article states he made a good first investment, and then bought up low-end properties as a way to lose money and reduce his tax burden. These properties turned into an unexpected gold mine. His lack of actual acumen would catch up with him with Madoff

2) Wilpon exhibits classic "when good things happen, it is because of my actions", "when bad things happen, I was the victim" thinking that many undeservedly successful people evidence.

3) He bought the Mets in 1979 for $21.1 Million, and only put up $650k himself!!! Amazin'

4) The cruelest note in the article comes from Madoff himself, “Fred was not [at] all stock market savvy and Saul was not really either. They were strictly Real Estate people. Although I explained the Strategy to them they were not sophisticated enough to evaluate it properly"

5) They actually placed more $ with Madoff AFTER news of Madoff's arrest. Clueless

6) Everyone goes on and on about how nice and gentlemanly Wilpon is, but gentlemen don't throw employees under the bus.

7) Wilpon calls the Mets cursed and snakebitten. Not true. They just have a bad owner and a history of bad management.

May 23, 2011 13:26 PM
rating: 15
 
sportspopery

Wilpon v. McCourt: The Contest, Part 2

All kidding aside, excellent Ren & Stimpy reference. The Reds make eminent sense because they possess the right combination of prospects, non-division-foe status, and legitimate shot at a deep post-season run that would make such a deal work for both sides. The Rays, though one can question their willingness to sacrifice depth and future talent for a two-month plus rental, also possess similar characteristics. If I ever see Reyes next to Chipper Jones, however, sparks may actually fly off of my skull. I doubt it happens, but I'm disgusted at the very thought.

Thinking of Reyes gives me pause, as I wonder if he very well may be the second-biggest prize of the trading deadline this year. It's a strange notion to consider, and it's too early to tell record-wise at the moment, but would Anthopoulos consider shopping Jose Bautista for a king's ransom if the Blue Jays are mired in (relative to their division) mediocrity come July? It sounds insane, and it probably is insane, but if the right price is paid, why wouldn't Joey Bats become the big catch of the deadline? And why wouldn't AA take a bevy of young, cost-controlled talent back with him?

May 23, 2011 13:27 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

Very highly unlikely. They signed him to a long-term extension to be the face of the franchise and fully expect to begin their cycle of contention next year. AA not that shortsighted to trade in this year at a few lottery tickets.

May 23, 2011 14:27 PM
rating: 0
 
RedsManRick

Reyes would look excellent in Red, as would Carlos Beltran for that matter. The question remains, what sort of return would the Mets be looking for, both in volume and type of talent?

May 23, 2011 13:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's extremely difficult to gauge exactly what kind of package the Mets could get. They're surely not all going to be blue-chippers because of the short time left on Reyes' contract, not to mention the volatility of his recent performance. There's also a tradeoff in terms of prospects who are nearly ready and those who are a long ways off.

My best guess is a four-player return, with two of those players low-level prospects who are little more than lottery tickets and depth fillers, and two who have a substantial chance of helping the Mets in the near term.

May 23, 2011 14:15 PM
 
Lou Doench

One of the catchers (Grandal or Mesaroco), one of the big league ready arms (Leake or Maloney? Maybe even Volquez?) and two scratch off tickets would get it done, but only if we can extend him. I'm not too interested in half year rental for a lot of treasure for a Reds team looking to contend for the forseeable future.

May 23, 2011 14:54 PM
rating: 1
 
PeterBNYC

Jay, you have just succinctly made the argument for the Mets to hang on to Reyes. Look at the numbers, and tell me who could come up with two players who would, playing every day, and at least statistically, make up for Reyes' production? You mentioned some in your piece, but not as candidates to go to the Mets! Regards,

May 25, 2011 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
beerchaser42

The Dodgers also have a SS that will likely be on the market this summer in Rafael Furcal, provided he can stay healthy that long, and you have to believe that he would be a cheaper alternative than Reyes.

May 23, 2011 14:20 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Shhh, the guy could get injured if that comment takes a bad hop around the Internet.

May 23, 2011 14:41 PM
 
beerchaser42

LOL, true.

May 23, 2011 17:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Scott Gilroy

If the Mets received Sanchez from SF, he would have only 1 season before FA. He has toomuch potential for Ollie part deux to sign
As a Met fan, it would be dissapointing not to get a decent young ML ready playerunder control for several years and a good prospect.

May 23, 2011 14:27 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

As far as I'm concerned, as a Mets fan, either give me blue chippers, or I'll take the compensation picks.

May 23, 2011 14:27 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

I want NO PART of Jonathan Sanchez, thanks.

May 23, 2011 14:34 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

And the Reds can keep Mike Leake and Matt Maloney.

May 23, 2011 15:05 PM
rating: 0
 
raygu1

off topic-but where is the Monday Ten Pack today?

May 23, 2011 16:02 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

KG mentioned on twitter that his involvement this weekend at SABR-fest prevented him from getting it done this time.

May 23, 2011 17:34 PM
rating: 0
 
raygu1

Ok thanks.

May 23, 2011 17:50 PM
rating: 0
 
ddrezner

Jay, why do your think Jed Lowrie's offense will taper off? I can see him as an injury risk, but he's always been a quality hitter when he's healthy. I assume Reyes would have better range, but still.....

May 23, 2011 17:17 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

He's a quality hitter but there's nothing in his track record to suggest he can sustain a .319/.362/.478 line outside of a similarly small sample last year. His 90th percent PECOTA projection was .287/.385/.465 So yeah, I'm betting on the taper.

May 23, 2011 20:01 PM
 
BarryR

The most interesting comment was Wilpon's comment about Wright - "a very good player...not a superstar". He said nothing derogatory about Reyes, just said he wasn't getting Crawford money because of his injury history, which may well be true. I wouldn't be shocked if the Mets try and move Wright, who could bring them a bigger haul than Reyes. They might prefer their 3B future in the minors - assuming Flores goes there, as well as others. But mostly, the fact that Wright is both better than Reyes and signed for the next two years makes him a much more valuable trade chip.

May 23, 2011 17:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Jason Wojciechowski

A's fans have been hoping that Oakland might be able to get involved in a Reyes trade, but I don't know how realistic that is, in part because I'm not sure who they offer in return. Oakland's not a terribly good team, so they don't necessarily spring to mind as a rental possibility, but that division is wide open, and once you get to the playoffs ...

May 23, 2011 17:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

If I had included one more team on here it would have been the A's. Cliff Pennington isn't hitting (.236/.291/.326) but then neither is most of their lineup. The A's system is mid-pack but they might have prospects that appeal to the Mets. I do think that the cumulative effect of so many rotation injuries is going to be the death of their contending bid, though - in a month the deal might not make sense.

May 23, 2011 19:51 PM
 
anderson721

There seems to be no scenario in which the Mets can receive equal value- in terms of baseball ability for Reyes. the impetus for the trade is purely financial. That a team in New York is so mismanaged as to have to run a shoestring operation is in no way the players' fault.

May 23, 2011 18:06 PM
rating: 0
 
toanstrom

How about the Tigers as a possible landing place for either Reyes or Wright? Inge's bat appears to have finally died they could either just replace him or slide Peralta over.

May 23, 2011 18:11 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I don't see the Mets trading Wright, but I suppose Reyes isn't out of the question for them along the scenario you outlined. We know the Tigers aren't shy about spending money, but unfortunately their farm system is weak (27th in Kevin Goldstein's rankings), so it's tougher to envision a match.

May 23, 2011 19:58 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

You know - I think toanstrom might be on to something. Just like the Brewers emptied their shelves to get Grienke - while they were already rated by Baseball America to have the worst farm in the game. Just like the Tigers, themselves, did in acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis - they had a weak farm then with only two stud prospects, but nothing else besides, and dealt them for the studs. Now they have only Jacob Turner, and a decent PTBD in Nick Castellanos, but that might be enough for one partial year of Reyes and Dave Dombrowski has not been afraid to make those moves before.

May 23, 2011 20:20 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's doable, but I question the wisdom of it. Is it really worth emptying the farm system when you're seven games back in the division race before Memorial Day, with scant hope of the Wild Card?

May 24, 2011 06:28 AM
 
tommybones

The Reds make the most sense. A need, talent to deal... makes sense.

May 23, 2011 18:50 PM
rating: 0
 
jwschaefer

Wouldn't the return for Reyes have to exceed the 1st and Supplemental round draft pick they would receive for offering him arbitration? Otherwise why bother?

May 23, 2011 19:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

From Wilpon's shortstighted point of view, saving ~$5 million by trading Reyes mid-season has more value than the yield of the picks, who might not provide value until there's a new owner, which isn't going to be his problem. I'm not saying that's a good baseball move at all, but unless Alderson is allowed to operate unimpeded, it's the inevitable one on a team as mismanaged as the Mets.

May 23, 2011 19:53 PM
 
Gashouse Gorillas
(651)

I can't help but think the Phillies will be keenly watching the floating price for Beltran. We could use a right-handed bat.

May 24, 2011 07:03 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

HA!

May 24, 2011 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike W
(830)

What about a trade after the draft? You can't trade picks, but the draft is only two weeks away. Mil, Det, et al will have guys to trade then.

May 24, 2011 08:53 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Players drafted can't be traded for a full year, and if I'm not mistaken, the longest a team has to fulfill a player to be named later deal is six months, so that route won't work.

May 24, 2011 09:07 AM
 
pobothecat

Totally goofy to think ... Royals? Would a package like Alcides, Aviles, Dwyer, Jeffress --- and the price of a Reyes contract --- be unthinkable for them?

May 24, 2011 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

They're two games under .500, 8.5 games back, with a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, so why in the hell would they do that? Why compromise their organization's wealth of prospects for a player they won't be able to keep during a season in which they have almost no chance of winning big?

May 24, 2011 13:25 PM
 
ScottyB

Agreed. But the Indians are NOT for real in that very weak division.

May 24, 2011 18:12 PM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

I didn't mean a Reyes rental. Was just asking if --- at this crucial juncture in their maturity --- a longer-term commitment to a such a singular, centerpiece talent wouldn't be an interesting investment for them. A leader for the new look royals.

May 25, 2011 10:46 AM
rating: 0
 
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