As of July 31, last year—the annual date of MLB's trade deadline—the Mets held third place in the NL East, 13.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Yet, they were four games back in the wild-card standings, so arguably a trip to the playoffs was still attainable.
However, the Mets had traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants days before (July 27, to be exact) the deadline. Two weeks earlier, Francisco Rodriguez was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. These moves signaled that the front office believed the postseason was out of reach and went into sell-off mode.
Why wasn't Reyes also dealt away for prospects who could have strengthened the future of the Mets organization? Presumably, owner Fred Wilpon thought he could re-sign Reyes and didn't want to get rid of a player who had been with the Mets for 10 years.
Yet, Wilpon also said in his infamous interview with The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin that Reyes wouldn't get "Carl Crawford money," meaning a seven-year, $142 million contract. Wilpon was right—sort of.
Reyes ended up signing a six-year deal with the Miami Marlins worth $106 million. So the total value of the deal was obviously less. Reyes' annual salary of $17.7 million was also less than the $20.3 million Crawford was getting from the Boston Red Sox.
But, upon his return to Queens in April with the Marlins, Reyes told reporters (among them ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor) that the Mets never made an attempt to re-sign him once he became a free agent. The team didn't even make an offer.
Even if Wilpon intended to re-sign Reyes, the team's finances were in disarray due to Wilpon's involvement with Ponzi scheme engineer Bernie Madoff. A subsequent lawsuit by victims of Madoff's scheme trying to get back the money they lost threatened to bankrupt the Mets. The team couldn't spend any money, and general manager Sandy Alderson eventually cut payroll by $52 million.
However, Wilpon knew about the lawsuit before the 2011 season, prompting him to seek minority investors in the team. It's likely that the Mets knew they wouldn't be able to offer Reyes a contract extension during or after the season. So why didn't they trade him?
Trading Beltran yielded the Giants' top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was recently promoted to Triple-A Buffalo and could be a part of the Mets' starting rotation next season. What could Alderson have gotten had he made a deal with a playoff contender looking for a shortstop, such as the Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals or Cincinnati Reds?
Instead, the Mets held onto Reyes and got nothing in return for him when he left as a free agent. Now, the same thing might happen with Wright.
The Mets third baseman has a $16 million option for next season that the team will almost certainly pick up, rather than buy him out for $1 million.
Picking up an option on a player and then trading him certainly isn't unprecedented. As an example, the New York Yankees did that with Gary Sheffield before trading him to the Detroit Tigers after the 2006 season.
But, in locking Wright down for 2013, should the Mets keep him, attempt to work out a contract extension, and perhaps, try to compete for the NL East title again?
The Washington Nationals have established themselves as the new power in the division, with the Atlanta Braves not far behind, and the Phillies are retooling with an eye toward contending. Do the Mets look at their NL East rivals and figure that they will probably finish in third or fourth place again next season?
Does Wright, who will be 30 years old next season, look at the same circumstances and decide he needs to go elsewhere to try and win a championship?
As I've written previously, Wright will have plenty of attractive options on the open market if he becomes a free agent after 2013.
The Braves, Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox could all be looking for a third baseman. There just aren't that many good ones available in the trade or free-agent markets. It comes down to Wright and the San Diego Padres' Chase Headley.
Wright would seemingly be silly to re-sign with the Mets. Yet, if they offer him a contract comparable to the six-year, $100 million deal that Ryan Zimmerman got from the Nationals, does Wright decide he's comfortable with the Mets and opt to finish his career there?
Regardless of Wright's preference, the Mets can't sit in limbo and do nothing. They can't let another star player leave and get nothing in return. A decision has to be made.
Wright has shown he can still play at a high level, putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season. So concerns about diminishing skills are unfounded.
Either that's worth something to the Mets and they keep their franchise player, satisfying fans who have stuck with the team through their recent struggles, or they try to get top-level prospects from a team that views Wright as a key piece toward a playoff and championship run next season, with an eye toward signing him to a long-term extension.
The smart move would probably be to trade Wright. The popular move would be to keep him. It's up to the Mets to figure out which is the best decision for the franchise's future.
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