Wright vs. Reyes – Did the Mets keep the right star?

Reyes & WrightAt 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.

Reyes 396 1790 472 90 16 30 85 135 176 238 145 326 8.3 36M
Wright 402 1748 454 94 9 47 40 178 304 208 214 401 15.6 46M

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.

17 comments for “Wright vs. Reyes – Did the Mets keep the right star?

  1. BK
    February 27, 2015 at 8:12 am

    You nailed it at the end of this piece. Ownership shouldn’t have put Sandy in the position to make a choice. If the smart baseball move was to keep both (and I think it was), he should have had the resources to keep both.

  2. February 27, 2015 at 8:16 am

    I guess it’s a question of durability. Reyes’ livelihood is dependent on his legs. To this day the Mets have not found a competent SS or lead off hitter. They should of found a way to keep both. I do understand that Wright has an image as Mr. Clean and has the persona of a team player. Can’t change the past. So I don’t dwell on it.

  3. Glenn
    February 27, 2015 at 8:42 am

    i really wish they could have kept both, but in addition to Wright being the more marketable player, I think Alderson saw him as the better bet for a long term deal as his slugging is more likely to hold through his mid-30’s than Reyes’ speed.

  4. Matt Netter
    February 27, 2015 at 8:47 am

    I have a feeling I’m preaching to the choir on this one. It might not have stung as much had the Mets either a) traded Reyes for a haul before he hit FA or b) made a reasonable offer (say, 5 years/80mil) and got outbid with something outrageous. That we lost him to a backloaded deal from a division rival is all kinds of wrong.

  5. DED
    February 27, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I loved having Jose Reyes to cheer. I was very sorry to see him go. That said, I would have chosen Wright over Reyes had it been my decision. Wright was by far the better health risk, and Jose’s game was largely dependent on speed, the quality that was at greatest risk with him. Read the reviews coming in from Toronto on Reyes’ defense these days; he’s not the same guy today that we all loved.

    The real, best answer, would be to follow the path that the Mets are taking under Alderson: continue to produce middle infielders in the system. They are a fragile commodity, and rarely continue as elite players much beyond age thirty. A smart GM won’t trap himself into having to overpay for a rapidly declining talent.

  6. Joe Gomes
    February 27, 2015 at 9:26 am

    The truth is that if the Mets had gone to Reyes with a backloaded contract that paid Reyes 12M or so for the first 2 years, he would have taken it in order to stay.
    But the Mets would much rather pay 16M or so to Granderson.

    When Reyes left, he took all the energy this team had with him. Even now you can feel the void.

    Wright vs Reyes? I would have kept Reyes because of the position he plays but a NY team should have been able to keep both. No excuses are valid.

  7. February 27, 2015 at 9:46 am

    It’s not on a whim that WAR favors power over speed — by any objective measure, power is more valuable.

    The issue wasn’t that the Mets kept Wright over Reyes. The issue is that they built their ballpark favoring the skills of Reyes over Wright. One can argue that when the ballpark was being built that it was unfathomable that the Mets would let Reyes go. Hey, look how wrong you can be.

    Edit: You shouldn’t add OPS+. You can sum the three years and get a cumulative number for the time span. For Reyes, it’s a 108 OPS+ for ’12-’14 and a 133 OPS+ for Wright.

  8. James Preller
    February 27, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Some odds & ends . . .

    * The post begins with a false dichotomy, that SA faced an either/or situation. Clearly, clearly, he did not. They could have kept Reyes — just look at the financial numbers — but SA opted against it.

    * In Chicago, Theo Epstein opted to crater the organization, thus ensuring premium draft slots for the Cubs (think they had a #2 and a #4 as a result, top of my head), coming away with high-ceiling young players. For the Mets, SA decided to muddle through, arrogantly (I believe) assuming that he was smart enough to cobble together 85-win teams during the transition period. That is, one went for a rebuild; they other did not.

    * Not trading Reyes — no guts, no glory — was the real sign of weakness from Sandy. He blew it, and lied to the fans throughout the process; never had any intention of retaining the SS. I personally think he lacked the courage to make the move and upset the fans. When SA first arrived, he had the license to act boldly and instead talked patience. Reyes was the makeover deal in front of him, and he waffled and waited and dithered and lost the moment. Sound familiar?

    * It’s possible, even probable, that the Wilpons ordered SA to resign Wright.

    * Since Reyes left, SA has done nothing — absolutely nothing — to fill in the gap at SS and leadoff hitter. Four years, going on five, not even an attempt. Strange. Today Collins calls on the team to “play like veterans.” He really truly wants to play Tejada above Flores; the old baseball man wants the better glove out there, period. Despite the insolent facts, the evidence of the past few years that, well, Tejada doesn’t cut it.

    * The term I much prefer, and that I don’t read that much anymore, is “table-setter.” It includes the 1-2 spots in the lineup and puts the premium on OBP. Those guys at the top who get on and score runs. The Mets don’t really have a #1 or #2. Forcing Lagares into that role might possibly create some tension when, and if, he falls short. In my eyes, offensively, Lagares remains a riddle. I just don’t have a strong feeling where he’s going to end up as a hitter.

    • James Preller
      February 27, 2015 at 10:16 am

      The point I wanted to make about muddling through, rather than cratering, was that the Mets ended up with picks in the #10-14 range, rather than a shot at the top of the talent pyramid.

      I think he felt that he could still keep the interest of the NY fans — flash the cape, toggle the mirror, tip the hat. The fans were not fooled and revenue plummeted anyway, and for a longer period of time than necessary.

      • Chris F
        February 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm

        It is wrong that you could pen these comments so perfectly aligned to my thinking that I dont even need to write anything down. We’re having a Vulcan mind meld James.

    • Name
      February 27, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      “In Chicago, Theo Epstein opted to crater the organization,”

      No. He certainly did not. He was quite active in trying to improve the team in both 2011 and 2012. There was no plan to tank.

      2011 offseason
      -Signed David DeJesus, Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm
      -Zambrano for Chris Volstad
      -Cashner for Rizzo

      2012 offseason
      -Signed Scott Baker, Dionner Navarro, Shawn Camp, Kyuyi Fujikawa, Edwin Jackson, Nate Schierholtz, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman

      There’s no reason to give any credit to Theo Epstein. He’s failed like Sandy, but in a difference sense. Sandy’s done nothing, where Epstein has done a lot but nothing has worked.

      “For the Mets, SA decided to muddle through, arrogantly (I believe) assuming that he was smart enough to cobble together 85-win teams during the transition period”

      I think it was the other way around. He wanted 100 loss teams, but he inherited a team that was capable of winning 80-85 (look at the 2011 and 2012’s first half record).

  9. studes
    February 27, 2015 at 10:59 am

    If you’re going to quote stats in an article, you shouldn’t wind up ignoring them. Wright has clearly had the better of the last three years, as you can see in their WAR totals. Adding OPS+ numbers is goofy, but still Wright has been the better batter, by a decent amount, and advanced stats indicate he’s also been the better fielder.

    Plus, the gap between the two is very likely to get worse. Speed is one of the first tools to go. Reyes is not going to be the same player anymore. He’s already a subpar fielder and he’s only going to get worse. He probably shouldn’t even stay at shortstop anymore. Of course, Wright may not recover from the past year, but he’s got a very good chance to be much better than Reyes for the next three years.

    One final thing you didn’t mention: the draft pick they received for losing Reyes turned into Kevin Plawecki, one of the top catching prospects in the minors.

    Editor’s Note– Please do not capitalize words in your post, as it is a violation of our Comment Policy.

    • Name
      February 27, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      “the draft pick they received for losing Reyes turned into Kevin Plawecki, one of the top catching prospects in the minors.”

      Kevin Plawecki and Matt Reynolds.

      Any Met fan who is seriously griping about not trading Reyes is delusional. There was no package out there for an injured Reyes that would have been better than what Plawecki and Reynolds turned out to be.

  10. LG
    February 27, 2015 at 11:22 am

    To me those numbers indicate Wright has been pretty clearly the better player. Huge difference in OPS+ and WAR which I think are the two more important stats up there. RBI and runs scored comparisons don’t make for great comparisons when we are talking about two hitters in two different roles on two different teams. A lot of that stuff is dependent on where you hit and who is around you.

    An in terms of the individual seasons Wright had two elite level years (albeit he missed a bunch of time in one of them) – and one blah year. Reyes had a couple of pretty good years but not nearly on the level of Wright (and like Wright one yr where he missed a lot of time), and a relatively mediocre year. Wright’s avg OPS+ over those 3 years is 133, Reyes’ is 108. That’s a big gap

    Reyes deserves some bonus points for being a SS, since the avg SS doesn’t hit as well as the average 3b….but given the Mets would likely be using the same players and just having them arranged in different positions – I think that is less important than it might otherwise be.

    It would be nice to have an experienced SS and not thrust someone who might not be a SS in the SS position. But Reyes defense has slipped quite a bit in recent years – so I don’t think the defense improvement makes up for the lost offense. And I always tend to lean towards offense over defense anyway.

    That said, while I think Wright has clearly been the better player over the last 3 years, there is still plenty of time for this to play out. They both have some bouncing back to do. I think the added length to Wright’s deal could be a bigger factor. If last year carries over and both show clear signs of slipping at least with Reyes there are only 2 years left on his deal after this season…whereas Wright will still have 5 years left (he makes less money those last couple years…but still 5 yrs is quite a long time).

    But I do agree with the conclusion they should have kept them both. They never should have had to choose. (I don’t think Reyes’ necessarily would’ve “paid for himself” though…if that was feasible they likely would’ve known that and kept him)

  11. February 27, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    Off-Topic: All this hype about Harvey facing “live batters” and they are instructed not to swing!

    Ha, ha, ha.

    Somewhere Dave Hudgens is smiling.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as it is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  12. Joe F
    February 27, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    The comparison also fails to account for defense, which with Jose has really cratered over the past few years. He was last in active SS in DRS last year and has averaged a FLD% of about .970 since he left. Jose has not been the same player since he left and continued to struggle with injuries. He only has 4 3B in the last two years and his days as a top shelf base stealer are over. I think DW has been marginally better over the past 3 years and who knows what the next few have in store, but Reyes wont be worth his money over the remaining contrac

  13. Metsense
    February 27, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    I would take Wright over Reyes if a choice was forced. Wright’s WAR indicates he is earning his salary. Reyes WAR indicates that so far he too has earned his salary. Reyes seems incapable of putting together three more years of 4+ WAR so it is unlikely he will be able to earn the remaining $66M. His last 4+ WAR season was 2011. Wright, on the other hand also needs around a 4 WAR for the next five years. He may have trouble earning his future salary also but he does have a history of having more recent 5+ WAR campaigns.

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