Blogger’s note: I wrote Part One of this piece in January, but it was very hard for me to write Part Two, though I knew the direction I had wanted to take. Yet, I wasn’t able to support my own argument, so I kept in my back pocket. Now, I am able to believe in the mission statement of this piece. Thanks for listening. ~Coop
Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a major league baseball team with a lot of backloaded and horrific contracts, but had two young and emerging stars on the left side of the infield. One was the scrappy and perceived to be immature dude, the other was a guy who wanted to make everyone like him and put pressure on himself to be better. Fans in this town saw the debate as an “either or” situation, meaning, you had to take one or the other in an argument. And most of them did…they’d take the third baseman in most arguments. He had a higher ceiling, and the other guy wouldn’t amount to much with his perceived limitations.
Sound familiar? It should: I’m giving the background to how the Philadelphia Phillies were perceived around the league and within their own fanbase in the early 2000s. The third baseman and shortstop I refer to, of course, are Scotty Rolen and Jimmy Rollins.
But let’s think back to that time period when the Phillies would come to visit Shea Stadium. Their “idea” of superstar were those two or Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu. Most of their contracts were complete disasters, and had (and still have) some of the most fickle fans in the history of sports. But some fans were left either shrugging when Scotty Rolen demanded a trade – basically saying that the management was not serious about putting together a championship team, and forced a trade. Some of the fans may have even agreed with Rolen’s assessment, but when he became a “wing man” for the best hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols, the pressure was off…heck, he even won a championship.
But how did that work out for the Phillies? That immature shortstop who had perceived limitations, Jimmy Rollins, declared their team was the one “to beat” and went on to win an MVP award for having a big mouth and backing it up with his bat. Once out of the shadow of the third baseman, Jimmy Rollins came into his own. And of course, with a better vision, the Phillies were able to build a team from within with sickening and enviable talent emerging such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, to name a few. Using their other chips such as Kyle Drabek to orchestrate a trade for the likes of Roy Halladay, and actually “lowballing” (for lack of a better term) the prized jewel of the free agent market prior to the 2011 season, Cliff Lee, in return for the chances of winning a championship and putting him in a better position to win games.
All in the course of less than a decade. Oh, and I hate the Phillies. Just throwing that one out there.
But it brings us to a similar question, about our left side of the infield. For years and years, we’ve seen the rising and maturing of our own homegrown superstars, David Wright and Jose Reyes. Up until last year even, you never met two players who brought fans together to root for the team more, or caused more of a rift among the fan base. You can probably ask five different fans what their opinion of Wright is, and you’ll get five different answers – yet most will agree he strikes out too much, and tries to do TOO much. Yet, marketed as the “face of the franchise,” he’s up to his ears in charity work, and tries too hard to say and do the right thing at all times, and to his detriment and the team’s, on the field as well.
Then there’s Jose Reyes. It’s funny to me to see how the tide has turned with feelings on him. Last year, I remember people suggesting to “listen” to trades or to all-out trade Reyes, because he was immature and injury-prone and his antics (such as dancing, smiling, orchestrating handshakes with his teammates) weren’t much welcome in baseball today. In the clean-cut and milquetoast era with Derek Jeter leading the way, it’s no wonder that the antithesis of Jeter on that “other” New York team would cause such strong feelings.
Until you know, he started doing well. Until you know, suddenly we were all reminded of why we all thought so highly of him and wanted him to be a Mets lifer. Until you know, we saw that other teams wanted our guy. Well, no way, as they say, Jose…is ours!!
I have to admit that I am one of those folks who thinks in terms of “either or” with the left side of the Mets infield. I don’t know why – I mean, in a large market, for two guys of their caliber there is no reason why the Mets should not and could not hold onto both of them.
Until reality hits and I see that I am holding on to an idea that may have passed.
See, my friend Matty Faz over at Kiner’s Korner had a term for the years of Reyes and Wright together, and called it the “Fake Empire.” It makes me see a few things. One is that we haven’t won a darn thing with those two at the helm, why are we clinging on to them both? The other is the response to that question: it means that the Mets are serious about rebuilding if one or both is let go. It also means a part of our youth of is gone.
Since David Wright is out with a back injury, it goes without saying that to trade him at this juncture would be not only a mistake, but it would be an impossibility too. But it’s not an unfair question to pose about the future with the combo of Wright and Reyes. Of course, Reyes tweaks his hamstring again and is currently sitting on the DL, bringing pause to whole Keep Reyes campaign…well, let me take that back. It’s bringing pause to me to think about a piece I had worked on a few months ago, said I was working on a Part Two…but couldn’t bring myself to post it.
Frankly because I didn’t believe in what I was saying fully. I couldn’t put out an argument that I wasn’t in full support of one way or another.
But now I do. I am saying that when Wright returns, it would not be a bad thing to entertain the idea of the Mets moving on without him in the future plans. The shortstop position is tougher to fill. We’d also have to replace a leadoff hitter in Reyes, and a different type of baseball player. Someone who is built to play in CitiField, one of the Dimensional Players I have discussed in the past.
David Wright, to me, is not one of those “Dimensional Players,” and his greatest assets shine when he’s serving as a wingman like Rolen. No matter how much we want him to be the “leader” of the team, the “face” of the franchise, right now without him, the team has performed at a consistent level and what’s more? The Mets’ marketing geniuses are forced to use images of Jose Reyes and even Carlos Beltran to draw in fans. And you know what? We’re buying those images hook, line and sinker.
One Way or Another…Jose Reyes needs to stay on this team, as a healthy and performing Reyes is exactly what this team needs to be successful. We’ve seen just how poorly the team executes when he’s not well (and what the team has done in his absence isn’t a vote against him, but rather a way to see that the team believes they can win by invoking the values of Reyes – the Claw!). David Wright is a wingman, and while that may be good for another team, the fact is, it takes away from the New York Mets and it’s may be tougher short-and long-term to find appropriate players to build around a guy who needs a better supporting cast.
Ideally, as a large market we should be able to keep both but let’s face it: when both of them are performing, they haven’t won anything. It’s not a matter of money anymore. It’s a matter of performance. Sometimes the chance you don’t take is the one you regret. Look at the Phillies: they took a chance, and they are showing no signs of slowing down in the near future.
It’s time to cut the cord. One way or another, we should be thinking about life without David Wright and a future with Jose Reyes being the leader of the team.