New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes picked the perfect year to have what is shaping up to be one of the best offensive seasons of all-time. While the Mets franchise is bleeding money, Reyes is increasing the price tag he will command in the off-season with every run scored and every base stolen. The Mets, who lost $50 million during the 2010 season, according to the New York Times, are unlikely to have the financial wherewithal to sign Reyes to the nine-figure contract that he will eventually agree to, leaving the 28-year-old star to shop his services to the highest bidder. In guessing where Reyes will wind up, and for how much, it's important to first assess where his 2011 season stacks up historically.
Excluding players who were linked to PED use (A-Rod's 57-HR 2003, Miguel Tejada's 150-RBI 2004), one could argue that Reyes' 2011 season (if his current pace holds up) may be the most statistically impressive ever by a shortstop. His 31 triples would tie for 2nd most in a single season (to Chief Wilson's 36 for the 1912 Pirates), and easily be the most in baseball's modern era (the top 20 triples-totals occurred before 1926, when massive ballparks made three-baggers far easier to achieve). His 135 runs scored would rank 18th all-time, and 3rd most by a shortstop (trailing only A-Rod's 140 in 1996 and Jimmy Rollins' 139 in 2007). Reyes' .926 OPS is 12th highest in the big leagues, his 60 steals would give him his 3rd 60-steal season in the last 5 years (including 78 in 2007), and his NL-leading .352 batting average has him in line for his first career batting title.
Reyes' outburst comes at a time when most teams are struggling to find offensive production from the shortstop position, with half of MLB's starting shortstops hitting .260 or lower. The dearth of effective shortstops, coupled with Reyes' outstanding 2011 and relative youth, has him positioned to cash in following this season. To see just how much Reyes will get in free agency, look at the contracts recently signed by his peers. Whether Derek Jeter's 3-year, $51 million gift, ahem, contract was $20 million more than any other team would've offered him will be irrelevant depending on what agent is negotiating a deal. That $17 million annual figure will only be a starting point for discussions, with the final figure likely to approach $20-$23 million per year. The 7-year, $134 million extension signed by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will probably be close to the deal Reyes ends up signing. However, Reyes (unlike Tulowitzki, who was still under contract with Colorado for 3 more seasons before signing his extension) will have the advantage of shopping himself to multiple teams and creating a bidding war which will only drive up the price further. The Giants have a glaring hole at shortstop, with the Mike Fontenot-Brandon Crawford platoon barely hitting over .200. The Red Sox, despite Jed Lowrie's hot start, would likely want to gauge Reyes' interest in leading off for one of baseball's most potent lineups. Even the Atlanta Braves, who have curtailed their spending since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007 but have a lot of payroll coming off the books after the 2011 season, might be interested in replacing journeyman Alex Gonzalez with the perennial all-star.
Regardless of who Reyes eventually signs with, we can be sure that he will not come cheap. If the Mets star keeps up his torrid pace, all Reyes will have to do is point at the statsheet and watch the money pile up.
Rob Smith is a contributing writer for the Business of Sports Network. He can be reached on Twitter @RobSmithUSF or on his personal blog, http://smithersports.blogspot.com/