In Defense of Jose Reyes

Could someone please tell me why I’m already reading so much about how Jose Reyes’ contract is an albatross contract, and the Jays are “stuck” with him?

First thing’s first — he was just traded, which technically is the very definition of liquidity/tradability. Somebody (Alex Anthopoulos) believed he would add value to his team, and purchased the rights to his services. I understand this would suggest Vernon Wells contract was tradable when the Jays unloaded him, but… Tony Reagins is insane. Different story.
How does public perception change so much? The Marlins were mostly applauded for making such a big splash in bringing him in last year. A change in perception would normally require persistent under-performance. I just don’t quite see that here.
The overwhelming opinion here seems to be that the contract was an overpay after Reyes produced a great contract year. While I can’t argue Reyes had a great year in 2011 (he really did), closer examination of his 2012 season and its context helps disprove the “overpay” theory. Starting with very basic production stats, Reyes had more hits (184), doubles (37), home runs (11), walks (63), and stolen bases (40) than in 2011. Yes, he appeared in 34 more games and had 105 more at-bats in 2012 than 2011, but let me put that a different way: he played in 34 more games, 160 in total. If he does that again this year, that alone should be viewed as a victory. Surprisingly, players produce more on the field than on the bench (Francisco Cordero excluded).
Let’s broaden the picture a bit and talk about all shortstops in 2012. We’ve highlighted that Reyes supposedly experienced a significant drop-off in performance; he had a .780 OPS for the season. That value ranks behind only Ian Desmond and Derek Jeter in all of Major League Baseball for shortstops. He also ranked first in walks with 63, second in stolen bases with 40, second in hits with 184, first (ie. lowest) in strikeouts with 56 (minimum 500 plate appearances), third in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. I personally don’t think Ian Desmond is going to hit 25 home runs again next year or slug .511, and don’t think Derek Jeter is going to lead the league again with 216 hits. So, keep in mind that in his big drop-off year Jose Reyes was very easily one of the top 3-5 hitting shortstops in baseball, and he was playing on a team that was out of contention by the trade-deadline, with a losing atmosphere, a toxic clubhouse, and arguable a crazy head coach in Ozzie Guillen.
Detractors will undoubtedly look to the length/size of Reyes’ remaining contract years as the true problem. He is making a great deal of money (5 yrs and $US 92 million remaining), and he is an injury risk, and he will be 35 when it expires. I can’t argue there is a great deal of inherent risk built in here, but let me editorialize a bit : why is is it suddenly a bad thing now to lock up a proven player for several years of his prime? What are the odds the organization could organically develop a shortstop of Reyes’ calibre, and how much would fans gripe if the Blue Jays didn’t subsequently lock that player into a long-term contract? Teams are constantly being punished for being on either side of this fence — 1 year contracts are subject to very volatile costs and risk of losing players, while 6-10 year contracts are at great risk of losing value and occupying payroll flexibility. It’s amusing to think that the same people bashing Reyes’ contract status right now are the same who are clamouring to sign Josh Johnson to a Zack Greinke-level extension (or rake Anthopoulos over the coals for letting him go). Long-term contracts, when used appropriately, are the key to extended periods of success. The general public should be happy the Blue Jays have an All-Star calibre short-stop and leadoff hitter locked up for the next five seasons (six with club option). All players possess downside risk, every season. This one has been playing at an elite level for the last decade — that has to count for something.
I’m hearing more and more that the lasting view of this trade will depend almost entirely on Josh Johnson’s performance this year. I have to respectfully disagree on this — yes, if Josh Johnson pitches to his capabilities this year, it would be a huge boon for the Blue Jays, but does the acquisition of two other front-line starters not mitigate the risks associated with Johnson? I would have to say that the linchpin of this trade remains the 29-year old lead-off hitter and All-Star shortstop they acquired to replace an underperforming Yunel Escobar who had completely torched his trade value and clubhouse presence last year (not to mention torching any currency the Blue Jays had with Toronto’s gay community; a shame, since a “Rainbow Jays” campaign pretty much writes itself..).
Overall, I’m fascinated by the ever-changing perception of this trade. It goes without saying that Alex Anthopoulos’ legacy will be coloured by how this trade affects the on-field product. Lest we forget that JP Ricciardi was building a an awful lot of momentum up to (and including) the signings of AJ Burnett, Troy Glaus, and BJ Ryan in 2006. In my humble opinion, if this trade results in even one playoff appearance, it can’t be viewed as a failure — Toronto is twenty years removed from any notable amount of success. Anything beyond that has to be considered a success, and most die-had fans will tell you that one World Series in the next five years could justify just about any contract, even if you disagree with me on the value of the Blue Jays’ new shortstop.
– G.W

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