Future Friday (Reyes Edition)

[caption id="attachment_720" align="aligncenter" width="800" caption="Jose Reyes congratulates Ruben Tejada in last year's Mets game against the Marilns in Puerto Rico. Because of the Wilpon financial mess, it remains to be seen how much those two players, and quite possibly a third factor into the Mets plans for next season. (Photo Credit: Andres Leighton / AP)"][/caption]

With September already upon us and the Mets being all but mathematically eliminated from postseason play, it is now time to examine the future of this team – one Friday at a time.  I call this section Future Friday because it is really catchy, but more importantly it’s about what this franchise could or should do to finish better in 2012, quite possibly the last baseball season on Earth.

In this first Future Friday, I was going to focus on September call-ups, analyze their 2011 campaigns in the minors, and predict what can they bring to the table for 2012.  In this case I would be talking about pitcher Josh Stinson and infielder Josh Satin.  But graduating from a catholic high school, I was taught to avoid Satin.  Also there is a much larger development that will have a bigger impact on the Mets than the Bible’s baddest villian.

As you already know, the Wilpons are a financial nightmare.  They are accused of profiting from the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, and a Madoff recovery trustee is looking to “recoup” up to $1 billion in alleged profits.  Such a lawsuit would financially cripple a team, even worse than a contract to Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez ever could.

The Wilpons were doing everything in their power to fix their mess.  Earlier this year, they held a bid to try and infuse money into the club by selling a minority, non-controlling stake in the team.  The winner, David Einhorn, has been negotiating with the team throughout the season to try and finalize a deal.  The crux of the deal was that a minority stake would be sold for $200 million and that if Einhorn was not paid back in five to eight years, he could obtain a controlling stake of the team.  That is the extent of my knowledge because I have not yet had the “pleasure” of taking a business class in Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

However that deal collapsed.

In a Daily News report yesterday, apparently Einhorn is out of the running to purchase a minority portion of the team.  A lot of the details were mostly “he said, she said” and you can check for yourself here, but this is a potentially huge development that can cripple the Mets in 2012.

Jose Reyes is in the final year of his contract, and despite hitting the DL twice in 2011 with a nagging hamstring, he is still going to receive a huge deal.  He still is the National League’s leading hitter, while pacing the Senior Circuit in triples.  The Mets really want to win, and if they want to be at least competitive, they are going to need to resign Reyes for 2012 and beyond.

But how can they do that if the cash-strapped franchise just lost their $200 million bailout?

I’m really sorry to say this but I don’t think they can.

The backup plan on the financial side of the team would be to sell about a dozen shares at $20 million a pop.

So if you couldn’t reach an agreement to one person, how do you expect to finalize 10-12 separate agreements?  It’s just another sign of the Wilpon mess.

But if Reyes is indeed not retained, the Mets must start looking for alternatives.  I do not believe they will bring someone else in through free agency because of their cash problems, but they will definitely be looking for an in-house solution.

While Reyes’ production is irreplaceable there are two players in the Mets organization that can play shortstop without being an abomination to the position.

The first of those is Ruben Tejada.  Currently Tejada is in his second year with the big-league club.  He did not make the team out of spring training in 2011, but has done a decent job playing second base and shortstop while David Wright and Jose Reyes were injured.  This season he has hit a solid .280 with no power (only 12 doubles in 73 games).  He has also stolen only three bases.  These are obviously not Reyes-like numbers, but Tejada’s claim to fame is his defense.

Although he does have nine errors this season in limited duty, scouts rave about his defensive potential.  The metrics on fangraphs.com don’t lie. His range factor per nine innings of 4.41 is only three-hundredths of a point lower than Reyes’.  If sabremetric statistics are too complex to drive home the point here’s this: Tejada’s fielding percentage (records putouts and assists before dividing them by total defensive opportunities) is actually BETTER than that of Reyes.

The other player to consider has yet to break the big-league team.  But Jordany Vadelspin has been making some noise up in Binghamton and Buffalo this season.

Through September 2, Vadelspin has managed to keep his AA and AAA numbers consistent despite being moved up to better competition.  In fact he is posting the same .297 batting average through both levels.  He showed some impressive pop while in AA with 15 homeruns, and already has two in 22 games, to go along with his eight doubles in Buffalo.  He is also fast on the base paths.  In Binghamton, he stole 33 bags in 107 games, which averages about a steal in just over every three games.  In terms of replacing Reyes, that number comes pretty close.  Reyes’ average was a steal in just under every three games.

While those offensive numbers leap out, Vadelspin’s defense leaves a little to be desired.  While playing shortstop in AAA, he has made 5 errors in 16 games.  His range factor per nine innings is nearly half a point lower than that of Reyes and Tejada.

It may seem as if Vadelspin’s numbers may compare much more favorable than that of Tejada’s as Reyes’ replacemnt, but we don’t have any major league numbers for him, and that’s what would really matter.  And trust me, I’m hoping this is not the scenario but the deciding factor to who is the starting shortstop next year between those two will be their spring training performances.  Both players will be tested by equally skilled competition, which will make the fairest determination possible.

What the Mets do between now and next April will determine how their 2012 season plays out.  The Wilpon financial nightmare might not be as bad as it currently seems, and Reyes could be retained.  Or the situation can deteriorate rapidly and the Mets will have to choose between the two.  Two things are certain: Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins will have their hands full trying to put together a competitive team for 2012, and I will be back next week with another edition of Future Friday.

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