Monday, December 5, 2011

Mets' Decision to Keep Reyes Backfires

Just before the trade deadline, Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson faced a dilemma; Trade his shortstop, best player, and the face of the franchise, for prospects that could help the team in the future, or hold on to him and receive draft pick compensation if Reyes were to go elsewhere in Free Agency. Alderson decided Reyes had more value to the team as a shortstop than a trade chip, and decided to allow Reyes to finish out his contract with the Mets.

When Reyes hit the market this offseason, his departure seemed quite likely, and at this point is certain. The Mets’ offered Reyes five years at $80 million, which was not enough to prevent Reyes from inking last night with the Miami Marlins on a six-year, $106M deal.

From the Mets’ perspective, Reyes signing with the Marlins is basically a worst-case scenario. On the field, they’ll have to see Reyes suit up for their division rival 18 times per year for the foreseeable future. That’s not even the worst of it, though. At 72-90, the Marlins finished in the bottom half of MLB teams, meaning they have a pick in the first half of the first round that is protected from being given up as compensation for Free Agent signings. Additionally, the team has already signed Heath Bell, who is a higher-ranked Free Agent according to Elias’ rankings, despite Reyes receiving a contract for more than double the guaranteed money. Because of the new CBA’s reordering of Type A and Type B Free Agents, the Marlins will not need to give up their second round pick to the Padres, although the Padres still receive a compensation pick directly before the Marlins’ second-rounder. So, since Bell was a higher-ranked free agent under the old system, he bumps the Reyes compensation pick back a round, while the Marlins won’t have to actually give up that pick because of the changes to arbitration rules for relievers under the new system. This is a coup for the Marlins, who have exploited the shift in CBA arbitration policies perfectly, while the Mets get the short end of the stick, as their compensation pick for Reyes will be no higher than the Marlins’ third rounder, and could very easily drop from there.

The buzz around baseball suggests that the Marlins aren’t done spending. If they go on to sign another Type A Free Agent ranked higher than Reyes, the Mets’ compensation pick could be bumped back even further. The Marlins are still considered players for Albert Pujols, and to a lesser extent Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson, all of whom receive a better Elias score than Reyes and the signing of any of whom would result in the Mets’ compensation for their best shortstop in franchise history being a fourth round pick.

While trading Reyes might have been tough to swallow for the Mets’ fanbase, holding on to him has resulted in yet another obstacle to their returning to contention. The Mets should be looking to restock their farm system and add young talent through any means possible, in order to set themselves up to compete sometime around 2014 or 2015. By trading Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez at the deadline, they did so to a certain extent, but by hanging on to Reyes the Mets may have missed out on most of the value they could have gotten from their best trade chip.

This situation is quite unique, as it required the change in compensation systems and the Marlins’ decision to push for most of the top-tier Free Agents to line up. However, it offers a reminder of the uncertainty surrounding any Free Agent market and the old Elias Ranking compensation rules. For a team that needs young talent as badly as the Mets, holding on to Reyes to appease the fanbase for a few months was simply a risk they couldn’t take. Although I’ve been impressed by Sandy Alderson’s tenure with the Mets so far, taking the PR hit at the deadline would have been worth trading Reyes, as it now represents the difference between the prospects that might have been available in a deadline deal and the third- or fourth-round draft pick the team will now receive. If Reyes had signed for a team that would have resulted in the Mets’ receiving a first-round pick as compensation, the Mets still probably could have gotten more value for him in a trade. With a first-rounder as the best-case scenario, and the possibility for that pick to drop further, the team should have taken Reyes’ value in prospects when they had the opportunity. Instead, Reyes’ compensation represents another setback for the Mets in their push to return to the playoffs and emerge from the shadow of their crosstown rivals.

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