|Miami wasn't expected to sign Reyes (left) because it had Ramirez (right) at shortstop. (US Presswire)|
DALLAS -- We had an idea this day was coming.
And still it shocks us.
We knew the Marlins were spending, and we knew the Mets weren't. And still this all seems just a little crazy.
We knew that if the National League East was a bank of elevators, Jose Reyes just stepped off the one headed for the basement and jumped on the express going up.
Now it's real, isn't it?
This wasn't the night the NL East changed. But it sure was the night where we had no choice but to acknowledge that it had.
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Reyes is leaving the once-big-market (but not anymore) Mets. He's joining the once-small-market (but not anymore) Marlins, after agreeing Sunday to a contract that sources said will pay him $106 million over the next six years.
The Mets' best player is gone, gone to a division rival on a deal that the Mets had no intention (and perhaps no way) of matching.
The Mets, who just two years ago had the highest payroll in the entire league, were happy just to tell their fans that they tried. The Marlins, who just two years ago had the lowest payroll in all of baseball, weren't satisfied until they got it done.
Has there ever been a free-agent signing that said so much about the direction of both teams involved?
As news of the Reyes signing spread through the lobby of the Anatole Hotel Sunday night, baseball executives gathered for the winter meetings asked telling questions.
About the Mets: Who's the next guy out the door?
Some will no doubt say this is too much money for Reyes, that he's too big a risk because of all the injuries. But as I wrote last summer, isn't it every bit as big a risk to let your rival sign him and watch him beat you?
Even executives who decided they couldn't afford Reyes will tell you that he could make any team in the game better. Even clubs that shied away from the risk admitted that there are few (if any) players in the game who do all that Reyes does.
The Marlins weren't an early pick to sign him, only because they already had Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. Even now, the risk for the Marlins is two-fold, because not only do they need to worry that Reyes will get hurt again, they almost must worry that the Reyes-Ramirez dynamic won't work.
Ramirez is going to move to third base, but few will believe he's happy about it. Owner Jeffrey Loria said a few weeks back that Reyes is "a wonderful team guy," and will accept it, but others in the game aren't so sure.
As for the Mets, you can actually argue that this is for the best.
They didn't win last year, with Reyes having a great season. They didn't draw fans last year, with Reyes being one of the greatest players in the game to watch.
They don't have the money or the farm system for a quick fix. They weren't going to win the next few years, with or without Reyes.
Better to move on.
Better still, they should have moved on in July, should have traded Reyes when he had big value on the market. They'll get two draft picks for him now, but Reyes was in demand then, and they would have done better than draft picks.
Nothing they can do about that now.
Nothing they can do, except tell their fans that they tried.
And nothing we can do, except acknowledge how much has changed in the NL East.
Not everything, of course. The Phillies are still a big-money, big-market monster, still the favorite going in.
The Braves are still a talented and dangerous, if somewhat financially-limited, team.
The Nationals are still on the rise, with probably the best young talent and still with money to spend (and with Prince Fielder, Wilson and Buehrle their targets).
It's the Mets and the Marlins who have switched roles. It's the Mets, the team that no way was going to keep a player like Jose Reyes, and the Marlins, the team that no way was going to let the winter pass without signing him.
We saw it was happening before Sunday. We knew it was happening.
And now we have no choice but to acknowledge it.