When Ken Rosenthal first reported on Sunday night that the Marlins had reached a six-year, $106 million deal with Jose Reyes, there were two immediate reactions. Most fans wondered whether it was an apt signing for Miami, while the Citi Field faithful were left dismayed by the loss of their favorite player. Only time will tell if Reyes's upside will make the signing worthwhile for the Marlins; for the Mets, though, this was the right decision.
GM Sandy Alderson said his hands were tied in the efforts to retain Reyes because the Mets lost $70 million last season. But even if the funds were available for New York to match Miami's offer, doing so would have been imprudent.
The current state of the Mets' roster suggests that things must get worse before they can get better. Johan Santana will make an average of $24.75 million over the next two seasons. Jason Bay will rake in another $16 million annually in 2012-2013. And David Wright—perhaps the only member of the trio with a strong chance to produce in line with his salary—will earn $15 million in 2012 and (assuming the Mets pick up his option) $16 million in 2013.
Though there are some promising players in New York's farm system, led by high-ceiling pitchers Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey, most are at least a couple of years away from making a significant impact in the majors. By that time, Santana and Bay will no longer be drains on the payroll, giving Alderson—or his successor—the flexibility to build around the young pitching in a ballpark where Wheeler and Harvey should thrive. The next two seasons may be bleak, but Mets fans can take solace in the fact that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Moreover, the Mets may have an adequate replacement for Reyes in Ruben Tejada. The 22-year-old Tejada is no superstar, but he plays shortstop well, hits line drives, and showed excellent plate discipline last season, logging a .360 OBP in 376 plate appearances. He won't be flashy, but in time, Tejada could be a 2.5-3 win player for the Mets, at a far lower salary than the $17.7 million Reyes will get from the Marlins. And don't forget that because of injuries, Reyes averaged only 3.1 WARP over the past three seasons.
Many teams have fallen into the trap of rebuilding while attempting to contend, and most of them have learned that a wholehearted commitment to the former would have served them better down the road. Financial woes aside, Alderson and his staff have the Mets on the right track. Fighting a bidding war with the Marlins would have been a costly detour.