Wilpons should re-think Reyes

BY Bob Klapisch • May 31, 2011

You are Jose Reyes, the major leagues' hottest hitter but, more importantly, the issuer of the most pronounced Take That in recent Mets' history.

You have gone berserk in the wake of your owner’s comments challenging you to find Carl Crawford money as a free agent. You are 14-for-27 (.519) since Fred Wilpon foolishly decided to play chicken via The New Yorker magazine.

Only a personal setback has slowed you — the unfortunate death of your grandmother, which has forced a return to the Dominican Republic. Your mind will understandably be elsewhere during the bereavement leave in the next 3-7 days, but the Mets remain laser-focused on you — a blessing and dilemma both.

What, exactly, are they going to do, now that their bluff has essentially been called? Industry peers believe GM Sandy Alderson is almost certain to trade Reyes, but until recently, it was likely the Mets would wait until July. The calculus has changed rapidly, however, as Reyes' hot streak has forced the club's hand.

Either they move Reyes now, with his trade value is at its highest, or they open negotiations on a long-term contract. Mets fans universally prefer Door No. 2, as Reyes has surpassed even David Wright as the most popular player in Flushing. Signing Reyes — or at least trying — would signal to the public that the Wilpon family has ambitious plans for 2012 and beyond.

That may not be possible, however. It depends on what the Wilpons intend to do with the $200 million they're getting from new minority owner David Einhorn, who now has a 33 percent stake in the team. Further complicating matters is the Madoff bankruptcy; if court trustee Irving Picard prevails in his $1 billion suit, or even comes close to that amount in a settlement, the Wilpons' reign will end promptly.

It's clear Einhorn and the Wilpon family, although technically partners, are betting against each other with Reyes as one of the pawns. The 42-year-old hedge fund mogul is essentially loaning the Mets $200 million over a three-year period, during which time they believe they can turn the franchise around and disentangle themselves of the Madoff scandal. The Wilpons can keep Einhorn as a silent, minority owner by returning his $200 million, although it'll cost them 16 percent of their stake.

Einhorn, on the other hand, has the option to up his stake to 60 percent after three years — or, according to sources, has the right of first refusal if the Wilpons decide to sell the team outright. Einhorn is counting on Picard prevailing; he’s parking his $200 at Citi Field on the belief that Fred and Jeff and brother-in-law Saul Katz are playing a losing hand in the Madoff suit.

What's this all mean for Reyes? He's staying blissfully away from the legal tug of war, although it seems less likely the Wilpons will pay him $100 million than Einhorn.

Why? Because the Wilpons are trying to stretch out their cash as long as possible — $100 million of Einhorn's money is going toward bank debts and repaying the $25 million loan from Major League Baseball. That leaves half for operating costs, including player salaries. By all accounts, the Mets will be reducing payroll in 2012 by some $40 million.

Reyes says he wants to stay in New York, but he'd better hope Einhorn prevails sooner than later. One major league executive says, "given all that's going on (with the Mets), I'd say the best Mets fans can hope for is Sandy holding onto Reyes for the rest of the season and settling for the draft picks (after Reyes signs with another team as a free agent). It would be a goodwill gesture, but that's about it."

If so, the Mets' public should enjoy its last moments with this dynamic player; before leaving New York on Monday, Reyes was leading the National League in hits, doubles, triples and stolen bases. He hadn’t struck out in 11 games, addressing the very flaw opposing scouts swore would be a career-long issue: plate discipline.

Reyes is swinging at only 41.7 percent of the pitches he sees, down three percentage points from a year ago, while increasing his contact ratio to a career-best 88.7 percent. When he goes after pitches in the strike zone, Reyes is connecting more than ever before — 94.9 percent of the time.

What this means is, Reyes isn’t as likely to be fooled, it’s harder to get him to expand the strike zone. He’s more patient now at age 27, more composed, more mature. What Fred Wilpon said about Reyes is partly true — the shortstop has had everything go wrong with him — as health is indeed an issue. But the Mets themselves have contributed to the problem, having misdiagnosed his torn hamstring in 2009.

To his credit, Reyes never directly responded to Wilpon’s comments. Truth is, he’s never asked the Mets for a penny with free agency looming. No discussions about a new contract have ever taken place. But, with his production numbers through the roof, isn’t it about time?

If the Wilpons want anyone to take them seriously, they should be waiting for Reyes at the airport when he returns this week. "Let’s talk," should be the first words out of Fred Wilpon's mouth. It's time.



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