Third? How about hitting first, second or fourth if his valuable hamstrings stay in one piece all summer long? How about fifth, sixth or anywhere between seventh and ninth if his legs don't betray him again?
Third?! If I'm Reyes, as long as I'm not disabled for all but 36 games again, I'm so giddy I'm hitting in ballet tights and lipstick if that's what the club wants me to do.
"That's right," a grinning Reyes says early the other afternoon following another momentous occasion for him: A running session hard enough to break a good sweat over the emerald grass here. "I don't care where he puts me. I just want to be on the field and help this team win the NL East.
"It doesn't matter if it's hitting behind the pitcher -- I'll do it."
Yes, the signs are there for the Mets to make a major recovery this year.
Only I don't mean Reyes' winning smile, or his ranging into the hole to scoop up a bouncer following surgery last year to repair a torn right hamstring. Or ace Johan Santana pronouncing himself fit following an operation to remove five bone chips from his elbow last September.
No, I mean the signs, literally, are there.
What look like giant police badges are posted over two doors on the way out of the Mets' spring clubhouse here. On each, an interlocking "NY" is imposed over the Manhattan skyline underneath the large words "Prevention and Recovery."
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Working with Mets doctors and rehabilitation specialists, Jose Reyes wintered in New York making sure his hamstring healed properly. More
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Thread: Mets' expectations!
The club's definition of "Prevention and Recovery" following an abhorrent season that was so injury filled it could be fully appreciated only by a group of pre-Med students in a lab?
"The medical staff wanted a theme and a focus this year," general manager Omar Minaya says. "It's more on preventing injuries, spending more time on stretching and flexibility than bulk."
That the 2009 Mets were undone by injuries to Reyes, Santana, Carlos Beltran (who played in only 81 games because of a sore knee), Carlos Delgado (who played in only 26 games because of a hip injury) and others has been well documented.
But the wreckage was so thorough and so devastating that forensic scientists continue to sift through it. And what they're finding is downright grotesque.
In their 2010 annual, the analysts at Baseball Prospectus write that the '09 Mets lost 1,451 days to injury (highest total in the majors) at value of $52 million (yep, also the highest, and predictably, it's not even close).
The authors call these startling numbers "flat-out historic, if not the worst ever." (In this case, "worst-ever" cannot be documented definitively because records for disabled-list days and salaries are spotty through the years).
Comparatively -- and tellingly -- according to the Baseball Prospectus study, the '08 Mets actually lost more player days to injury (1,645) but at a lower total payroll value lost ($34 million).
That's 194 more player days wiped out in '08 ... but $18 million more in value down the sinkhole in '09.
Thus, while it's tempting to say that the wide smiles of Reyes and Santana in these early days are priceless, um, not so fast.
To that end, the Mets intend to take this "Prevention and Recovery" program as far as they can this spring.
Such as ... they have designed a program for Santana in which their ace will not start a Grapefruit League game until the second week of the schedule, determining that he still can build enough stamina to be ready to throw 90 pitches or more by opening day.
Sleeper ... Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur is a breakout candidate numbers-wise, but he also qualifies as a sleeper because he could be had with a late-round pick or a $1 bid in most drafts at this point.
Bust ... Francisco Rodriguez: If someone is seeing the pre-declining K-Rod and picking him among the elite closers, those Fantasy owners will be left very disappointed. He can still be good, but he is no longer great in our book.
Breakout ... John Maine: You will still be able to get Maine late, perhaps after Draft Day in mixed leagues altogether because the injury risk is dragging him down, so we still have to clarify this breakout pick as more of a sleeper than anything.
-- Eric Mack
Top Mets Prospects (2010 destination)
1. Isaac Davis, 1B, Triple-A
2. Fernando Martinez, OF, Triple-A
3. Jonathon Niese, SP, Triple-A
4. Jenrry Mejia, SP, Double-A
5. Bradley Holt, SP, Double-A
|Mets outlook | 2010 Draft Prep Guide|
And this idea of batting Reyes third, at least until Beltran returns from the knee surgery that is expected to sideline him until at least May and possibly longer? It's not just to link him with David Wright and newcomer Jason Bay to give the Mets better production in the middle of the order.
It's also designed with one of the themes of the Mets' season in mind: Keeping Reyes healthy.
"Some of it," Manuel admits. "Early, because of the inclement weather. Reyes is so important to us."
Translation: Cold conditions are not ideal for hamstrings. Wet conditions could be worse. And cold and wet are like a loaded weapon about to fire.
"I think what we have to do with Jose is, we have to be careful in him getting back into the leadoff spot and trying to do the things he did before," Manuel says. "We need Jose Reyes for, hopefully, 155 games. This gives him an opportunity to ease into his role as well as us seeing what can happen.
"I think it will be a big move for us as a team."
Without question, Reyes and Santana are two players the Mets cannot lose again. If they do, no matter how many runs Bay produces, no matter if David Wright regains his power stroke, no matter if Oliver Perez is touched by an angel and suddenly repeats his mechanics without getting all out of whack ... if Reyes and Santana disappear, the Mets can flush another season in Flushing.
"Those are elite major league players," Manuel says. "And we have to do whatever we can to keep them on the field," Manuel says.
The year the Mets came within one NLCS win of reaching the World Series, 2006, Reyes was so dynamic that he led the NL with 64 steals (the second of three consecutive seasons he topped the league) and 17 triples. He finished seventh in NL MVP balloting.
The Mets know what they can be when Reyes is what he can be.
"He looks great," Minaya says. "It's good to see his smile. He's such a big part of the team. ... It's hard to replace a Jose Reyes. You can't do it."