At the conclusion of the 2011 season, General Manager Sandy Alderson was faced with what still stands as the biggest decision of his Mets tenure. David Wright and Jose Reyes were both 28 years old and set to become free agents. Alderson only had the budget to resign one of the team’s two homegrown, fan-favorite stars. While most Mets fans wanted both the slugging third baseman and the speedy shortstop to remain with the team, this apparently was not an option for the cash strapped franchise.
Reyes was coming off a career best season in which he won the National League batting title with a .337 average to go with a .384 OBP, 39 steals and a league leading 16 triples. Wright’s 2011 season was perhaps the worst of his career. Cut short to 102 games by a back injury, Wright hit a career low .254 and missed the All-Star game for the first time since his rookie year.
Wright, a first round pick in 2001, made his Mets debut in 2004 at age 21. He hit .293 in 69 games. From 2005 to 2010, Wright had five MVP caliber seasons, each with 100+ RBI and 25+ home runs, and one off year in 2009 when he struggled to adjust to Citi Field.
Reyes, signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 when he was just 16, also was a star in the years leading up to 2011. He made his debut with the Mets at age 20 in 2003, hitting an impressive .307 in 69 games. In 2004 Reyes regressed a bit, missing games due to injury and batting just .255. From 2005 to 2010, Reyes had five all-star quality seasons and one injury shortened season. He led the league in stolen bases and triples three times each during that six-year stretch.
Having to decide between the two was like deciding between a Mets helmet filled with soft serve ice cream or an ice cold beer on a hot summer day at Citi Field. Why can’t we have both? Alderson values power over speed and ownership liked the idea of making Wright the face of the franchise the way Derek Jeter had been for the Yankees. And so, Wright was signed to an 8-year, $138 million dollar contract to keep him in orange and blue through the 2020 season. Reyes, meanwhile, signed with the rival Florida Marlins, much to the chagrin of Mets fans. Reyes’ contract was back-loaded and, after one season in Miami, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.
So, three seasons have passed since this transpired. Did the Mets front office make the right call? Here’s a comparison of some key offensive stats from the 2012-2014 seasons.
The numbers are a lot closer than you may have assumed. Each had one great season, one solid season, and one down year cut short by injury. Their games played, plate appearances, hits and doubles are nearly identical. Wright had more power and drove in more runs, while Reyes stole more bases, hit more triples and scored more runs. The two were also neck and neck in batting average and on base percentage, though Wright had a much higher slugging percentage, resulting in a higher OPS+. Because WAR favors power over speed, much like Alderson, Wright had a much higher WAR over the past three seasons. Wright also earned $10 million more than Reyes during this time. As you can see, there’s no real clear cut winner here and, for that reason, there probably wasn’t a wrong decision to be made between the two; except for one problem that doesn’t show up in the stats columns – Wright was a lot more replaceable.
With Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores, the Mets had two other third baseman in the system. Quality shortstops are a lot harder to come by, particularly ones who can hit, field, bat leadoff, energize their teammates and electrify the fans. Instead of Flores at short and Wright at 3rd, we could have been looking at Reyes and Flores on the left side of the infield. Which is preferable? Or perhaps, in this hypothetical scenario, Flores plays second and Murphy plays third. The point is there are options, no holes and no years wasted on Ruben Tejada. In spite of Coach Terry Collins love affair with him, Tejada is an average fielding shortstop with no power and no speed. His one stand out stat is his on-base percentage, a mirage built up by intentional walks granted the number 8 hitter on a national league team with weak hitting pitchers. Even during his one good year, Tejada was nowhere near Reyes’ class. Three years on, we still can’t replace our shortstop or leadoff hitter – like losing two players.
In the end, Alderson may not have made the wrong decision. He shouldn’t have had to make it in the first place. Ownership was short-sighted, not recognizing that 1) Reyes was irreplaceable, 2) he would have paid for himself in ticket and merchandise sales and 3) the decision to let him leave would result in a bitter fan base that only now, three years later, is starting to believe in the team again.
We are devoted fans. We are New Yorkers. We wanted the ice cream and the beer.