The first time I met Jose Reyes was in a minor league clubhouse in 2003, and even then he looked like a star. He was energetic and upbeat, even in a dank, dingy locker room in Syracuse, and when he played, even in front of a tiny crowd in a game that barely mattered, he looked the same as he does today: Like the best player on the field.
So sure, it is easy to see why the Mets would want to keep Jose Reyes. He hits. He runs. He plays defense. He does "the claw." He is, according to renowned baseball historian Alex Rodriguez, the greatest player in the world. Of course the Mets would like to keep him. Who wouldn't?
They just can't.
There are, obviously, an ever-growing number of people who believe the Mets shouldn't trade Reyes in the coming days and weeks, and that is certainly a reasonable opinion to take. But for those who do think that way, for those who leap to defend the idea that the Mets must keep their franchise shortstop, consider how you would answer these two questions before digging in your heels too deeply:
1. Do you believe, in your heart of hearts, that the Mets have a realistic chance at making the playoffs this season?
2. Do you believe, in your soul of souls, that the Mets have a realistic chance at signing Reyes to the type of contract he will almost surely get on the expected free agent market this winter?
At this point, the answer to the first -- with a 7 1/2 game deficit in the NL wild card and five teams ahead of the Mets -- is almost universally "no." And the second, for those who are being honest, is very likely the same, particularly when you consider the Mets' tenuous financial situation, owner Fred Wilpon's comments in a New Yorker article about Reyes not being worth "Carl Crawford money" and the reality that, if Reyes continues to produce anything close to what he's done so far this season, he'll probably end up getting a contract that is almost exactly Carl Crawford money.
Understand, in some ways this has nothing to do with Reyes. Some will say the Mets should try to trade him because he's shown a history of being injury-prone (a label that is generally unfair) or because there is no way he could possibly sustain the fluky numbers he's putting up this year (somewhat true, when you consider his 60 point jump in batting average and high BABIP, but still hardly reason to deal a player of his talents).
No, this is more about that game general managers play all the time, the risk-reward battle they endure on every player decision they make. For first-year Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who has already shown he is not afraid to handle a difficult situation, the choice with Reyes has to come down to probabilities: Are the Mets likely to make a run this season? No. Are the Mets likely to be able to give Reyes a contract that takes up something around a fifth or a quarter of their payroll next year? No.
So then, given those probabilities, Alderson must get something more for him than just two draft picks, which would be the Mets' compensation if Reyes leaves as a free-agent.
Even more, Reyes's value has never been higher. In many ways, those who say the Mets should keep him because he's playing so well are missing the point -- his first half numbers -- which include a .354 average, the highest in the majors -- are more the reason to deal him than keep him.
Assuming his latest hamstring hiccup that has landed him on the disabled list is as minor as the Mets claim (no guarantee, I'll grant you), then the sticker price on Reyes has never been as good as it is right now. He is playing the way the Mets always imagined he could, doing it every single night and showing that he can, as much as anyone, be the cog to a team's offense.
That's something teams will pay for, either now or in the offseason. And since the Mets are looking to cut payroll, keep costs down and generally avoid putting too much equity into any one player, keeping Reyes off a season like this is far closer to a stretch than a certainty. Does Reyes like New York? Of course. But there will be no hometown discount. Players know they get one big opportunity during their careers and Reyes -- at 28 and squarely in his prime -- is no fool. He will get his money.
That's why the Mets need to get something now. You hear about the Giants, maybe, or the Cardinals. Maybe even the Reds, which would sure make the NL Central compelling come September.
Alderson needs to be talking. Whether it is a solid young major leaguer or two legitimate prospects (preferably pitchers) coming back, the Mets should be players on the Reyes market before the trade deadline ratchets up the time pressure even more.
Trading Reyes isn't a white flag. It isn't a bad PR move or something that should be seen as the Mets tanking their season. Their TV ratings are already bad. Their attendance is already low. A deal like this one isn't going to make a significant difference in any of that.
It's just the right choice. The smart choice. The choice that makes the most sense, given the probabilities.
It will hurt. Of course it will. Reyes is a star, always has been, even going back to the minor leagues in 2003. He hits. He runs. He plays defense. He does "the claw." For all those reasons and more, the Mets want to keep him.
They just can't.