It’s only June 27th, not even the halfway point of the season, and it already feels like there’s nothing left to say about Jose Reyes. He had four hits yesterday — including another triple — stole a base, scored three times, and drove in a run. In the field, he snagged a hard one-hopper in the bottom of the first inning that may have been the turning point of the game. But yesterday wasn’t even close to being his best game of the season. Let’s put it this way: Reyes is not in the top ten in the league in on-base percentage (he’s 11th) or walks, and he’s not in the top ten for home runs or RBI. Other than those four, he is in the top ten in just about every other offensive category, and leads most of them. It’s gotten to the point that I half expect a coyote to hand Reyes dynamite when he’s on the basepaths, or him to reveal accidentally that he’s discovered how to bend the rules of the Matrix.
Whatever the reason for his success, it’s becoming more and more obvious that someone is going to pay Jose Reyes a lot of money after this season. He’ll be 29 in 2012, he plays a valuable defensive position, and he’s just having a ridiculous season. People give big contracts to players like that. Reyes has fairly similar career numbers to Carl Crawford, and Crawford received a seven-year, $140 million dollar contract from the Red Sox last offseason. Derek Jeter, a nominal shortstop, is being paid $51 million dollars over the next three seasons. Troy Tulowitzki, another elite shortstop, is being paid $158 million dollars from now until 2020. So it looks like someone is going to invest over $100 million dollars in Jose Reyes this winter.
Which means that the big question the Mets need to ask themselves is this: How much money are they willing to pay Jose Reyes? And, how much money should they be willing to pay Jose Reyes? Because, as great as Reyes has been, $100 million dollars is an enormous bet to make. How many big free agent contracts can you remember that, once the contract was completed, the team said, “You know, in retrospect, that was a good decision.” Putting that many resources into one player a big risk.
But let’s handicap that risk. Here’s what I did: I made a list of players similar to Jose Reyes at age 28 — i.e., players who were decent hitters with a lot of value in their running game, and had a similar career value to Reyes through age 28. I threw out anyone from before World War I (different game), anyone who played during World War II (returning players and integration caused the talent level in the game to jump immediately afterward), and anyone killed by a pitched ball (Baseball-Reference lists Ray Chapman as the hitter most similar to Jose Reyes). I added in a few modern shortstops who had a similar value to Reyes at age 28 but weren’t as good of hitters. The list is more or less in order of Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement through their age 28 season, so the players listed before Reyes were better through age 28, the ones after him were worse.
Each player’s statistics through age 28 comes first, and their statistics from age 29-35, the next seven years, below that. (Or from age 29 through the present, if the player isn’t 35 yet.) The “Pay the Man?” question is short for “Would you be happy if you gave this player a seven-year, $126 million dollar contract for their age 29-35 seasons?” In the words of a beer commercial, here we go: Continue reading