|Joes Reyes and David Wright exchange greetings for the first time as former teammates. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- The fan reaction to Jose Reyes in his return to Citi Field was pretty well split, which fits the Mets' half-hearted (at best) attempt to keep him last winter. While there are understandable feelings of loss for what might have been on the part of everyone involved, ultimately the Mets probably made the right call for everyone concerned.
Reyes the Miami Marlin seems even slightly peppier than his usual peppy self. The good South Florida weather seems to agree with him, and he’s fitting in splendidly with the nuthouse that is the Marlins roster (manager included).
The Marlins love the enthusiasm and energy he’s bringing to the team just as it’s beginning to acquire some fans. Owner Jeffrey Loria made it a point to go over to Reyes before the game to tell him, "I don’t care if you’re hitting .021, I’m thrilled to death you’re with us," before adding with a smile, "But just move the average up a bit please." (For the record it was .230 coming in.)
Mets people, while positive about Reyes personally, had grown tired of wondering how healthy he could stay. The solid but decidedly less exciting and less peppy Ruben Tejada is doing a fine job so far, and fits into a pretty nice young New York nucleus. The Mets never got close to the $106 million as a guarantee the Marlins paid over six years, and technically, as Reyes mentioned, oh about 20 times yesterday, the Mets never actually made one concrete offer.
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"They didn’t offer me anything ... If they didn’t make any offer that means they didn’t want me to play here," said Reyes, who went 0 for 4 in the Marlins’ 2-1 defeat to the Mets.
The Mets might have wanted Reyes, but surely not at fair-market value. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson called Reyes’ agent, Peter Greenberg, just before the Winter Meetings to suggest parameters for a five-year deal with a vesting option and incentives that might, could possibly, maybe, have gotten him close to $100 million. If he was as good as ever before, only healthier. The offer was presented as hypothetical. But Reyes was down the line with the Marlins by then. He kept telling them, "Make me an offer," and he never heard a real solid one.
The Mets tried, a little anyway. They bothered to gauge the market. But they didn’t act like they wanted him very badly. And that’s just as well.
Maybe the Mets grew tired of all the leg injuries ... the calf, the hamstring, and everything else. Maybe they sensed it was time to move to a new era. Or maybe, they just didn’t have the money.
"I know they had problems there, that's too bad," Reyes said with a hint of sympathy. "This is a business."
Maybe things would be different if the Madoff case had been settled a few months earlier, and the Wilpons had a little more certainty in their lives and their bank accounts. But maybe they just wanted a bit more surety on the ball field.
When Reyes played, often there was no one better. He was productive on offense (even if he wasn’t the on-base machine Alderson prefers), and he was often spectacular on defense. Healthy and at his best, there were few players as exciting as Reyes. He made the Mets lively. The initial concern was they'd be dead without him. But where, exactly, did they go with him?
Fifteen games into a six-year marriage, the Marlins are loving the attitude, if not the batting average. The Marlins motor-mouth manager, Ozzie Guillen, said he thinks Hanley Ramirez's resurgence has more to do with Reyes than Ozzie himself, high praise from a manager who usually likes to take it himself.
"He shows up every day with the same attitude -- that's hard. Sometimes you fight with your family, sometimes you don’t wake up right, sometimes you are 0 for 4," Guillen said. "It’s fun to watch. It's fun to be around."
The Mets, very kindly, played a nice video tribute to him, as they had done before for Mike Piazza and other returning former stars. The Mets are nothing if not good losers.
As luck would have it, Reyes arrived on a very-Met-like day, with Mike Pelfrey (elbow) and Jason Bay (ribcage) going on the disabled list the day after the team fell back to .500 following a doubleheader sweep by the Giants. He’s seen this act before in spades.
The Mets are going to struggle to manufacture runs with their igniter gone to their rival. But the reality is that it was time to move on. The team had posted losing records in Reyes’ last three years after three heart-breaking finishes the three years before that.
Reyes missed 189 games over his final three seasons in Flushing with an assortment of ailments that had to give pause to a team, especially one that appeared to be on the cusp of financial ruin. If the Mets are going to spend $100 million or more on anyone, better to spend it on someone at least slightly more reliable. That would be their third baseman.
Mets fans enjoyed the Reyes show for eight years, and judging from their reaction, some wish they still could see it daily. A fair number stood and cheered when he was announced, and while an equal number booed, Reyes, ever the glass-half-full guy, tipped his cap to all.
He was serenaded before the game with his song, "Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se." But that familiar chant was met this time with boos and insults by fans who recalled Reyes’ ailments, and mostly his defection.
"They showed me a lot of love,’’ Reyes said afterward, “and some not."
"Welcome back to New York traitor," screamed one young fellow wearing a Reyes jersey with red lines through it. Characteristically, Reyes smiled broadly and flashed a peace sign, then gave a thumbs-up to the throaty detractor. As much as anyone, the new Marlin Reyes understands this is the right outcome.