It was funny how when the suddenly quotable Mets owner Fred Wilpon chose to criticize Jose Reyes, Wilpon appears to have set up a scenario involving Reyes that has no known basis in fact. The Mets' longtime owner claimed in his now infamous interview in The New Yorker magazine that Reyes, the Mets star shortstop whose contract runs out at season's end, wanted "Carl Crawford money,'' and went on to opine that Reyes "won't get it.''
Maybe it's hard to blame Wilpon for expecting the worst the way these past few years have gone for his beloved team, but there is zero evidence that Reyes ever told the Mets or anyone else he wanted or sought the deal Crawford got last winter from the Red Sox, which was $142 million over seven seasons. Or even that Reyes would ever even dream of asking for that big a deal.
There have been no substantive negotiations between Reyes and the Mets, as the Mets' new baseball regime, led by general manager Sandy Alderson, told Reyes over the winter that they wanted to see him play awhile before making any decisions about him. That seemed like a reasonable decision at the time, and the always-upbeat Reyes didn't complain about it. So now that Reyes is playing superbly -- he's batting .314 and has 17 stolen bases -- Wilpon apparently imagines the worst.
Or just as likely, Wilpon is merely is getting an early start on explaining why their Mets won't be signing their best and most beloved player long-term.
If the Mets somehow outplay their expectations and injuries and remain in the race, they will very likely keep Reyes for the extent of the 2011 season. But if it wasn't clear before Wilpon went on his interview tour -- after criticizing Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran, three trouble-free players in the lengthy New Yorker piece, Wilpon suggested to Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated that he may well cut payroll by 30 percent to about $100 million, which would leave no room for Reyes -- it is now known that Reyes will almost surely play the 2012 season in another uniform.
Reyes, accurately described by one of his handlers as a happy-go-lucky sort, seemed barely affected by Wilpon's uncharacteristically unkind words. That's just how Reyes is (he blithely failed to pick up when Mets COO Jeff Wilpon made a same-day, make-good phone call; Jeff Wilpon reached out to all of the wronged three). And yesterday, Reyes had this to say to Mets writers about Fred Wilpon without a hint of upset, "He's the boss. He can say whatever he wants to.''
But, in a way, the Mets' owner may actually have done Reyes a favor by setting up the false premise that Crawford is the comp. It can't hurt if more folks start believing it, though so far that hasn't happened. Five competing baseball executives interviewed about Reyes' value as a free agent ran the gamut on their guesses for Reyes' eventual take, from $45 million for three years to about $108 million for six. No one knows where finances go when a dynamic player at a premium position hits the free-agent market. But not one person mentioned Crawford's deal. Or even came close to it.
A couple of the execs said they actually favor Reyes over Crawford, but they also apparently considered the injury history that Fred Wilpon stressed in his New Yorker quote ("he's had everything wrong with him,'' he said, unflatteringly). Said one American League executive: "I've always liked Reyes more. Switch-hitter. More important position. Younger. More explosive.''
While a case could be made that Reyes, still only 27, is the more impactful player when healthy, and shortstop is a more important position than left field, the executives all suggested that Reyes' past physical issues will affect his eventual haul. The job of the executives is to look at what could keep the price down, and free agency isn't always so logical. Besides, Reyes' history of injuries (he had hamstring and calf injuries and a thyroid problem) may only add up to a string bad luck as they are hardly chronic issues and may not foretell the future. But all added up, according to these five execs, they still knock Reyes down a peg to several pegs below the 29-year-old Crawford (who, incidentally, hasn't played yet like he deserves his contract, either, batting just .212 with two home runs).
The guesses for Reyes were for three years for $45 million, four years for $60 million, five years for $80-to-90 million, "at least $100 million,'' and six years and about $108 million. The person who suggested $80-to-90 million saw Torii Hunter and Adrian Beltre as the fair comps. That one and the two guesses in the nine-figure range may be the most realistic in that Reyes impacts both sides of the ball, is as exciting and energetic player as there is when healthy and free-agent shortstops like him just don't often hit the market. Still, Crawford's deal seems nothing short of pie-in-the-sky at this point.
The guesses may be hurt by the history of free-agent shortstops, as no one comparable besides past-his-prime Derek Jeter has hit the market in recent years. Rafael Furcal got $39 million over three years from the Dodgers after the 2005 season. The very upper echelon shortstops, such as the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki and the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez, have signed long-term deals with their original teams, as did the Yankees' Jeter when in his prime. The other factor playing in Reyes' favor is that several teams could use a shortstop, including the Giants, who have substantial money coming off the books, and perhaps even the rival Phillies if they fail to re-sign their own free-agent shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. Now wouldn't that be something?
The best guesses are probably the three highest estimates, the ones either approaching or at nine figures, considering Reyes' all-around skills. But still, none of those guesses comes close to Wilpon's claim of a Crawford request.
• Wilpon's disparaging remarks in The New Yorker were nonsensical in that those three players -- Reyes, Wright and Beltran -- are three of the team's best assets. Beltran and Reyes are very likely trade fodder this summer should the Mets not be in the race, so there's no sense tearing them down. Jeff Wilpon did the right thing by reaching out to the three players to try to smooth things over (though Mets people were careful not to characterize Jeff's calls as apologies; that was done a day later by Fred). It's hard to guess why Fred Wilpon said what he said, but the best guesses are 1) he is very frustrated by his sudden and steep financial difficulties triggered by the Madoff mess and the team's underperformance the past few years, 2) he was trying to curry favor with the author, Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote a mostly flattering article about the Mets' owner and generally took his side in his dispute with Madoff trustee Irving Picard, or 3) he simply let his guard down around the charming, Harvard-educated Toobin.
• Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez has a well-known $17.5 million option if he finishes 55 games, and while he's on pace to reach that figure, he sounded like he'd understand if he was traded elsewhere, even as a set-up man, which would prevent him from reaching his number. "It's a business,'' said K-Rod who has a limited no-trade clause (he can veto 10 teams). If he continues to pitch like he has, whether he's traded or not, he could earn a multiyear deal if he doesn't get the $17.5 million option the cash-strapped Mets would like to avoid. (If their payroll is $100 million next year, the last thing they want to do is spend 17.5 percent of that on a closer.) To his benefit, he's been successful throwing his fastball in the low 90s after once being able to throw 98 mph.
• The chances of Felix Hernandez being traded have gone to nil from almost nil, thanks to the Mariners' resurgence. Seattle won six in a row before losing to the Twins 4-2 Tuesday night and boasts an excellent one-two punch with Hernandez and Michael Pineda.
• One exec wondered aloud whether the White Sox could trade a starting pitcher, an obvious possibility since they currently have a six-man rotation. Free-agent-to-be Edwin Jackson is perhaps the most logical candidate to go.
• The White Sox' Phil Humber, who has developed a cutter and improved his bread-and-butter breaking pitching under the tutelage of pitching coach Don Cooper, has finally emerged. Humber, a former No. 3 overall pick who is with his fifth team, has a 0.94 WHIP in what may have been his last chance.
• There's been an internet discussion about whether Albert Pujols might have to settle for far less money, maybe even as little as a $154 million, seven-year contract, which is what Adrian Gonzalez signed for, in the wake of Pujols' rare struggles. The likelihood is that Pujols, a career .329 hitter who is batting just .267, heats up. But even if he has his first ever off year, Pujols will surely beat $200 million. The Cardinals aren't going to lower their offer of nine years and more than $200 million.
• Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is threatening to become a legit MVP candidate with all his heroics -- though Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson have to be considered the early AL leaders. Cabrera has nine home runs already, after hitting three all last year. Indians teammate Orlando Cabrera, no relation, is said to have been a positive influence.
• The Nationals' Pudge Rodriguez, 39, said he wants to play three more years. "Absolutely,'' he said. "I love it.'' I-Rod threw out five of the first 12 would-be basestealers. His catching companion Wilson Ramos is one of the few with an even better record there; he had thrown out seven of 14.
• Stephen Strasburg is expected to be back on the mound before the year is up. But Nationals people say they are going to be careful not to throw him a big league game. Next year, with phenom Bryce Harper finally arriving in the bigs, should be an interesting one in Washington.
• Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez was demoted after a brutal start (he has allowed 21 runs in the first innings of his last 10 starts), but one Reds watcher said "10 percent of it was his (dumb) statement,'' in which he said the problem was that the Reds needed to "start swinging the bats.'' The Reds have a Triple-A pitching staff of prominence, with Mike Leake there for now (he may start for the Reds Friday, according to reports), Aroldis Chapman down there on a rehab assignment and Dontrelle Willis trying for his comeback there.
• Daisuke Matsuzaka will be seen next week by noted surgeon Lewis Yocum. If he concurs with the Red Sox doctor that Dice-K, who has a tear in his elbow, can try rest and rehab, he will continue with that approach. Dice-K is resting for two weeks after Red Sox doctors said they believed that could help. But Tommy John surgery remains a possibility for anyone with an elbow tear. Matsuzaka right now is in Japan attending to personal business, according to the Red Sox, as he rests. Among his first words upon hearing he had a tear, Dice-K indicated he wanted to see a Japanese surgeon; however the visit with Yocum indicates he's apparently willing to consider a superb American doctor as well.
• The Rangers did a great job converting Alexi Ogando from an outfielder to a reliever and then to a starter. Scouts still seem split over whether he will ultimately be best suited for the bullpen, but he is using a lively fastball and improved breaking pitch to go to 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 0.87 WHIP following a shutout of the White Sox.
• Indians starter Josh Tomlin's key attribute is "deception,'' according to one scout. His talent eluded most big-league teams as the former 19th-round draft choice has the majors' best WHIP at 0.82. Amazing.
• Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan is working his magic again. Jaime Garcia (5-0, 1.93) is outdoing his impressive rookie performance while also shaking off a dreadful spring, Kyle Lohse has pitched at least seven innings in eight of 10 starts and Kyle McClellan (Adam Wainwright's replacement) was the first NL pitcher to six wins.
• Daniel Descalso, who's filling in for David Freese in the St. Louis lineup, already leads the league with nine "close and late" RBIs after the latest a go-ahead hit in the Cardinals' 3-2 win over the Padres. The Braves' Martin Prado has eight.
• Brian Fuentes always was known for having guts on the mound. But he showed a lot of courage criticizing A's manager Bob Geren over what Fuentes saw as a lack of communication. Fuentes said, in fact, that it was "unbelievable.'' Fuentes, now 1-7, was coming into tie games when it was his understanding he was the closer until Andrew Bailey returns. Geren is the best friend of GM Billy Beane, so everyone knows he isn't going anywhere. A year ago Beane told one baseball coach, "Bob is the best manager in baseball.'' It's possible Beane may have been showing his support for Geren more than providing a precise assessment, but the coach was taken aback by the glowing praise.
Fuentes, by all accounts a great guy, said he regretted saying what he said publicly and not directly to Geren. Geren accepted Fuentes' apology, though he demoted him from temporary closer due to his poor recent performance. Things seem to have calmed down between them.
But the shrapnel has started to hit Geren, however. Former A's players generally do not give Geren grades as high as Beane does. And former A's closer Huston Street, who once had an on-mound altercation with Geren, said, in a text to San Francisco Chronicle A's reporter Susan Slusser: "Bob was never good at communication, and I don't want to speak for anybody else, but it was a sentiment reflected in many conversations during the two years I spent in Oakland, and even recently when talking to guys after I left. For me personally, he was my least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports from age 6 to 27. I am very thankful to be in a place where I can trust my manager.''
• The Mets owe gratitude to their executive Wayne Krivsky, who urged the team to sign Jason Pridie and Justin Turner. Krivsky had Pridie when he was with the Twins and Turner when he was with the Orioles. "Wayne wouldn't shut up about Turner,'' one colleague said, leading former GM Omar Minaya to sign him. Krivsky and other Minaya front-office imports seem to have a less prominent role in the Mets' new set-up.
• Condolences to the family of longtime Royals pitcher and broadcaster Paul Splittorff, who lost his battle with melanoma. By all accounts, Splittorff was a great guy. He was also far too young to go, at 64.
• First baseman Mike Carp is as hot as any minor leaguer, and perhaps should be given a shot by the Mariners. After a three-homer game, he has 12 homers, 37 RBIs and is batting .300 for Triple-A Tacoma.
• The Indians and a couple other teams have shown interest in Omar Minaya, who is not being used by the Mets and will surely take a job elsewhere eventually.
• Best wishes to Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, the latest to battle the effects of concussions. He has been prescribed three weeks of rest, though his timetable for a return is uncertain.