Monday, December 5, 2011

Going, Going, Gone Forever

             On December 4th, the Miami Marlins once against stoked the fire of the Major League Baseball hot stove.  The Marlins, who recently signed closer Heath Bell, reportedly inked former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes to a 6-year $106 million contract. Matt Kemp recently signed a $160 million contract with the Dodgers, making Reyes’ recent signing the second 9-figure deal made this off-season.

             The Phillies should have signed Jose Reyes.  The hole between second base and shortstop remains void with Jimmy Rollins currently a free agent.  Most, if not many, believe Rollins’ eventual destination will be a return to Philadelphia.  Despite Rollins’ hometown hero status, the Phillies made a mistake making him their top priority in filling their need at shortstop.

            Reyes’ contract will pay him $17.67 million per season, and if you need convincing as to the frugality of the deal see Dave Cameron’s article on [insert hyperlink here].  Reyes commanded a great deal of money on the open market, becoming the second highest paid free agent shortstop ever.  In 2011 Reyes compiled a 6.1 WAR, his third posting of at least a WAR of 6.0 in his 9 MLB seasons.  In this, his contract year, Reyes displayed his true brilliance.  He hit .337 with a .384 on base percentage and scored 107 runs.  His batting average on balls in play was a career high .353 and his strikeout percentage was a career low 7.0%.  For a leadoff hitter, these numbers show greatness.  Reyes’ game is predicated on his speed on the base paths.  He annoys pitchers, forcing them to take their attention off of the hitter and put some effort into preventing Reyes from running.  Reyes proved a pest running the bases, stealing 39 of 46 bases he attempted, good enough for an 85% success rate, which shows patience and intelligence when stealing. 

            Despite his outstanding statistics, Jose Reyes’ name always sparks a conversation about his health.  Reyes has never played in 162 games, and has play in 160 games only twice in his career.  This past season Reyes experienced similar injury problems that forced him to visit the disabled list twice.  Reyes played only 126 games in 2011, a fact that worried many teams when they considered signing him, but given his statistic in 2011 also showed his potential brilliance at age 28. 

             Jimmy Rollins has been the Phillies everyday shortstop since 2001.  He won the national league MVP in 2007 and helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series.  During his time in Philadelphia Rollins has become an icon, team leader, and fan favorite despite a decline in his production.  Rollins showed some minor improvements in batting average (.268), BABIP (.275), and OBP (.338) but still pales in comparison to Reyes’ numbers.  One consistent criticism of Rollins has been his inability to walk and his tendency to swing early in the count and constantly hit pop-ups instead of line drives.  Rollins’ walk percentage was 9.2% in 2011, the third best of his career, but even still, his on base percentage ranked 9th in MLB for shortstops.  Rollins continued his penchant for popping the ball up, posting an abysmal .95 ground ball to fly ball ratio.  In addition, Rollins compiled a 41% fly ball percentage on batted balls and only a 7.7% home run to fly ball percentage.  Thus, Rollins, as the Phillies leadoff hitter, continued to hit the ball in the air too often without showing the power he provided earlier in his career. 

            Rollins, at age 32, is looking for a 4-5 year contract.  Such a deal would constitute another addition to bad contracts given out to aging players by Ruben Amaro.  Rollins’ numbers show a decline in every area, even defensively, which is seen as his greatest on-the-field attribute.  Reyes received a 6-year contract from the Marlins, which would end when he is 34 years old, while a 4 year contract for J-Roll would leave him a Phillie until age 36.  Over that span of time, barring any major injuries, Reyes will most likely be a better player.  Thus far this off-season the Phillies biggest splash was the signing of Jonathan Papelbon to a 5-year $50 million contract.  Instead of giving a relief pitcher $10 million per season, the Phillies should have used that money to sign Jose Reyes.  Despite the growing market for closers, set up men, and lefty specialists, these players till only play in about 60 games per year while even an injured Jose Reyes contributes in at least 100 games per season.  Imagine for a second a lineup that included Jose Reyes.  It might look like this:

Jose Reyes
Shane Victorino
Chase Utley
Hunter Pence
Jim Thome
John Mayberry Jr.
Placido Polanco
Carlos Ruiz
Roy Halladay

With Reyes at the top of lineup, the Phillies, even without Ryan Howard, do not look offensively challenged.  With Rollins leading off, that story changes greatly.  The combined OBP of Reyes, Victorino, and Utley from 2011 was 1.083 while the combined OBP of Rollins, Victorino, and Utley in 2011 was 1.037.  With outstanding starting pitching the Phillies do not need to score huge numbers of runs, but with Reyes they might have scored enough to push them back into the World Series, while with Rollins they may continue to decline.  Finally, financially, the Phillies already possess the largest NL payroll, so I ask, if the Phillies are willing to spend money, why not do so efficiently by signing players like Jose Reyes and David Dejesus, and not Jonathan Papelbon and Jimmy Rollins. 

            So, should the Phillies have signed Jose Reyes?  I think Reyes provides a great upgrade to Rollins, and had they not wasted money on Papelbon, signing Reyes was financially feasible.  Rollins will most likely be the opening day shortstop for the Phillies in 2012, but that decision, coupled with Reyes’ new contract in Miami, may prove to be a missed opportunity.