DALLAS -- The Marlins added another big name free agent on Sunday, reportedly signing Mets shortstop Jose Reyes to a contract worth six years and $106 million, pending a physical. Here are five thoughts on the intra-division signing:
His new contract makes him the third-most highly compensated shortstop in baseball history, with his $17.7 million average annual value trailing only the $25.2 million AAV Alex Rodriguez received on the 10-year deal he signed with the Rangers and the $18.9 million AAV the Yankees' Derek Jeter received on his 10-year contract that began in 2001. (A-Rod, of course, moved to third base in the midst of his contract, after his trade to the Yankees.) Reyes' $106 million total value ranks fourth behind Rodrigues, Jeter and the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, who is in the midst of a 10-year, $157.8 million deal. For comparison's sake Reyes' new teammate, Hanley Ramirez, is in year four of a six-year, $70 million deal, though he wasn't a free agent when he signed his, which includes three arbitration years.
Reyes only played 126 games in 2011, largely because of a balky hamstring, but he was among baseball's most productive players when healthy, winning the NL batting crown with a .337 average and leading the league with 16 triples. He also set career bests with a .384 on-base percentage -- 49 points better than his previous career rate -- and a .493 slugging percentage.
That production shows that Reyes is capable of being a truly elite, difference-making shortstop. So often the commentary surrounding him revolves around his ever-present smile and love of the game or about how his blazing speed makes a Reyes ball in the gap the most exciting play in baseball. (He's led the majors in triples four times.) But those trains of thought undersell the point that Reyes is an all-around great baseball player -- when healthy.
Unfortunately that two-word descriptor "when healthy" is an intricate part of any Reyes scouting report. He has only played an average of 98 games the past three years, though he did average 158 games the previous four seasons. And Reyes is still only 28 years old -- he won't turn 29 until June -- so one would think he is in his athletic prime and thus able to regain his past durability.
Baseball's free agent market is generally inefficient, with signees rarely living up to the full extent of their contracts, but Reyes makes the Marlins better and a more attractive draw, both for fans and other free agents, so this contract has a decent chance of working out.
This summer one scout who has seen both players extensively said the friendly rivalry between Ramirez and Reyes inspired maximum effort from Ramirez, whose play has been questioned at times. And that comment was made even before Ramirez's all-out lunge for an outfield pop-up at the Mets' Citi Field in August led to a shoulder injury that ended his season. So what now that the two of them will be playing alongside each other rather than opposing each other? Will the either the position change or the disparate contracts -- Reyes will now be making more money -- sour Ramirez? Or will they extract the best from each other?
For one thing they'll be playing in very close quarters and probably inhabiting the same side of the infield. On Sunday night a source told ESPN.com that, while a move to centerfield is not out of the question, Ramirez has already agreed to move to third base. Ramirez's agent, Adam Katz, gave a no comment to Yahoo! Sports when asked how the move would impact his client, which could mean any number of things.
Ramirez, who is six months younger than Reyes and will turn 28 later this month, only played 92 games in 2011, that shoulder injury cutting short what already was by far the worst season of his career. But his offensive peak is higher than Reyes'. Ramirez won his own batting title with a .342 average in 2009, but he also has far more power, hitting 21 or more home runs in four straight seasons from 2007 to '10 and maxing out as high as 33. His .947 OPS from 2007 to 2009 was eighth-best among all major-league hitters. If he does move to third, he'll be able to add more muscle to his 6'3" frame and could see even greater power.
Even though the Securities and Exchange Commission is now reportedly investigating the financing for the Marlins' new ballpark, a $515-million retractable roof stadium set to open in 2012, the club said that would not affect their offseason spending plans and it hasn't. Miami inked Padres closer Heath Bell to a three-year, $27-million deal late Thursday night and now Reyes on Sunday night, meaning the previous penny-pinchers are responsible for the first and third most expensive contracts so far awarded this offseason.
And they may not be done. Reports Sunday night said they were going to continue pushing for Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and a starting pitcher, potentially the Rangers' C.J. Wilson or the White Sox' Mark Buehrle.
Even if the Marlins don't add any other big name this winter, they've already generated significant buzz around the club as they sell season tickets for the inaugural season in the new ballpark and moved themselves into playoff contention, particularly in light of next year's expanded postseason that will feature a second wild card.
New York general manager Sandy Alderson spoke to a Mets writer earlier Sunday evening and reportedly acknowledged that the club lost $70 million and would not be able to match the suggested sum Miami had offered Reyes -- the Mets reportedly offered some $20-to-$30 million less than the Marlins.
In a very narrow context this means Mets fans should expect Ruben Tejada to be their Opening Day starter at shortstop. Also it becomes easy to criticize in hindsight New York's decision not to trade Reyes at the deadline last summer because now they only receive two draft picks in return for him -- one is a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, but the other is only the Marlins' third-round selection because their second pick will go to the Padres for Bell. But the Mets apparently did make a good-faith effort to re-sign Reyes with an offer approaching $80 million, so letting Reyes walk becomes at least a little more palatable.
In a broader sense, however, the Mets took another large step back in terms of on-field competitiveness and interest. It's bad timing, too, as the club needs to put more fans in the seats in the face of declining attendance and as ownership is soliciting minority investors to help improve cash flow.
If ace Johan Santana and first baseman Ike Davis successfully return from major injuries -- and if the club, even though they can't replace Reyes, makes a couple smaller additions -- New York could have another team that's within shouting distance of .500 but again likely looking up at it rather than down.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: downtrodden NL East club signs high-ceiling but injury-prone star from division rival to deal of questionable length and value on Sunday eve before the formal opening of baseball's annual winter meetings.
Sure enough, one year after the Nationals made ex-Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth a very rich man with a seven-year, $126-million contract, the Marlins handed Reyes, the former Mets shortstop his $106 million. In both cases the team likely overpaid somewhat in order to lure a top talent to a club in a significant postseason drought.
One difference: While last year's winter meetings will be remembered only for the Werth and Carl Crawford signings, this year's edition could feature even more after clubs patiently waiting on most free agents until the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified. With the CBA in hand, expect more big happenings in the next four days.