NEW YORK, NY: Jose Reyes #7 of the New York Mets rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
I don't have a problem with giving Jose Reyes $18 million next year.
There's a good chance he'll be worth more than that. The evidence is clear, there.
But $18 million next year, and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that?
I honestly don't know. So let's work through some of the math together.
After injury-plagued 2009 and '10 seasons, Reyes somehow put together the best hitting season of his career. In retrospect, we can see a couple of reasons why -- given his improved health, anyway -- Reyes would hit so well. One, he was 27; that's the age at which players most commonly produce their best hitting statistics. And two, he was exceptionally lucky; after entering 2011 with a .308 career batting average on balls in play -- a perfectly normal and reasonable figure -- Reyes batted .353 on balls in play last season.
That huge jump might tell us something about his future if something else in his game changed. But something else didn't. Not in his hitting game. He hit roughly the same percentage of grounders, flies, and line drives as before. More of them just happened to elude the fielders this year. Which isn't likely to happen again.
Then of course there's the injury issue. Here's David Schoenfield:
Obviously, after missing 191 games the past three seasons, Reyes comes with enormous health risks. During the 162-game schedule era, which began in 1961, only 13 shortstops have averaged 140-plus games per season from ages 29 to 34. Not surprisingly, none of them had the extensive injury history that Reyes has had prior to their age-29 seasons. Even ignoring 2009, when he played just 36 games, Reyes has missed 65 games the past two seasons. It seems fair (and logical) to assume Reyes will miss an average of 30 games a season over the life of this contract -- or more than an entire season's worth of games. That's what kept the Mets -- and presumably other teams -- from matching the Marlins' offer of six seasons.
I agree that it's logical to guess Reyes will average roughly 130 games per season over the life of this contract. At best. It takes just one season of 40 games to drop that average quite a bit. But let's say 125-130 games per season. As Schoenfield notes, even at that rate, Reyes is still worth $18 million per season -- easily worth $18 million -- as long as he's hitting. And keeps doing the other things that he's been doing.
That last is the part that worries me. Or would worry me, if I loved the Miami Marlins with the passion of a thousand love songs. As Schoenfield acknowledges elsewhere, Reyes' defense hasn't been good in recent seasons. Not according to our preferred metrics, anyway. He's also not running like he once did.
It seems to me that what the Marlins might be getting for six years is a player who will never hit like that again, and is getting slower both on the bases and at shortstop.
Let's go back to 2008, which is a hitting season more in line with what we might expect, going forward. Reyes was worth 26 runs to the good with the bat, but he also played a ton of games and he was younger. So we'll cut that back to 20 runs (charitably, I suspect). He figures to be good for a couple of baserunning runs. He gets another adjustment of roughly 25 runs for being a shortstop. Now we're up to 47 runs. But he loses five runs for his defense, if you believe the last two years. Which figures to roughly four Wins Above Replacement.
Next year, one WAR will be worth around $4.5 million.
If Reyes does play his 125-130 games next season, he figures to be worth $18 million (give or take).
And that's how the basic math makes this contract look reasonable. Actually, it's funny how often, when you actually do the math, these big free-agent deals do look reasonable.
Of course, we will expect Reyes to decline over the life of the contract. We also expect Wins Above Replacement to cost slightly more with each passing season, because of salary inflation. Does the salary inflation match Reyes' expected age-related decline?
I don't have any idea. I don't have that information handy. Here in Dallas, we have baseball writers, not information. But I'm guessing however you run the numbers, you're going to find that Reyes' expected performance over these next six years is worth slightly less than $119 million, or slightly more. But within whatever margin of error you happen to find acceptable.
If he plays 125-130 games per season.
One catastrophic injury makes this deal look foolish. Two makes it a disaster.