Herb G - Those Who Don't Learn From History...
In the glitzy trailer for the movie version of F. Scott FitzWilpon’s baseball saga, “The Great Sandy”, a world-weary Terry Collins says to Wheeler-dealer Sandy Alderson, (pun intended) "You can't repeat the past."
"You can't repeat the past?" asks Alderson. Upon some consideration he replies "Why, of course you can." And then, Alderson goes on to do just that.
The story starts prior to the 2011 season. Sandy’s resources are severely strapped, and he has to make a decision on what to do with his fleet footed leadoff hitter, Jose Reyes. The dreadlocked dynamo has one year to go on a team friendly contract and Reyes seems intent on testing free agency at the end of the season. He could trade Reyes, but Reyes’ value is somewhat compromised because he is coming off successive seasons where he lost time due to injury, and teams are wary. But Sandy realizes the shortstop’s value to the Mets, so he plans to make a strong effort to resign Jose, believing that Reyes’ injury history will work to his advantage.
In 2009, Jose aggravated a previously strained calf in late May, placing him briefly on the DL, but was out for the rest of the season when he tore his hamstring in a minor league rehab game. After having surgery to repair the hamstring during the off-season, Reyes was ready for 2010, when a hyperactive thyroid sidelined him for 2 weeks at the start of the season. Then, during the summer, a recurring oblique injury caused him to miss three separate stretches of one to two weeks each. Surely, Sandy concludes, no team will offer Reyes, whose whole game depends on sound legs, a long term contract, say 5 or 6 years.
Sandy’s conclusion is reinforced when, just prior to the trading deadline, in July 2011, in the midst of an MVP caliber season, Reyes suffers a hamstring injury that causes him to miss two weeks, and then re-injures the hamstring in August. Alderson never considered shopping Reyes in July, and his intention to resign Reyes is demonstrated by the fact that he contacted Reyes’ agent, Peter Greenberg in mid-June to initiate discussions on an extension, but Reyes opted to postpone any talks until the season is over. The mid season injuries cement Alderson’s idea that he will not need to, nor will he consider, offering Reyes 5 or 6 years.
At season’s end, Reyes has won the NL batting title, reinforcing his value to the team, and Alderson meets with Reyes and Greenberg and outlines the parameters of a contract he feels is a fair starting point for initiating negotiations. He even goes so far as to express optimism about the situation between Reyes and the Mets. That optimism is short lived, however, when the Miami Marlins swoop in and offer Reyes a deal he cannot refuse. Alderson never considered the fact that a free spending Jeffrey Loria, eager to fill a new stadium, would go on a spending rampage. When Reyes was offered 6 years with a 7th year option, Alderson folded his tent and walked away. He wanted Reyes badly, but he would never match the term of that offer.
Fast forward a little over a year to the 2012/2013 off-season. Michael Bourn, another speedster who plays a premium position, (center field) suddenly appears on the Mets’ radar. Bourn is almost two years older than Reyes was when the Mets were considering signing him back in 2011, although he has not had the injury history that Jose has had. Bourn had entered the free agent signing season looking for a deal of at least 5 years, and so he was ignored by Alderson early. With Bourn still unsigned as January came to a close, Alderson’s interest was piqued. He initiated discussions with Bourn, believing that, as a 30 year old whose game was in his legs, he would have a hard time securing a 5 year offer from anyone else. It seemed as if he was right, since the ongoing talks with the Mets were all you heard about for some weeks. Starting with a 3 year offer, Alderson reluctantly went to 4 years in an attempt to secure a deal, but he held firm against that 5th year.
Suddenly, in the 11th hour the Cleveland Indians swooped in and made Bourn a comparable offer dollar wise, but with a vesting option for a 5th year. So long as Bourn remained healthy, that option would almost be sure to vest. There was another factor at play as well. The Mets were reluctant to lose their first round draft pick to sign Bourn and were going to appeal to MLB to protect their pick. That appeal might delay the signing of any deal by two weeks or more. But that 5th year was a significant factor in Bourn’s decision to sign with Cleveland even though his stated preference was to join the Mets.
For the second year in a row, the Mets lost out on the coveted leadoff hitter they so desperately needed, over the question of the length of the contract. In both cases Alderson misread the opposition, believing that other GMs would think as he did, and withhold that extra year. One can only wonder what the Mets will do going forward if they find themselves in the same position next year, badly needing a leadoff hitter to set the table for the middle of the lineup. Will Alderson extend himself if it becomes necessary, and overpay in years to get what he needs? Or will he allow history to repeat itself and fail to fill a need because he believes that in the long run it could burden the team?