The NL East is a division crowded with competitive teams hoping to dethrone the reigning National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies, Braves, and Marlins all won at least 85 games last year. However, it was the New York Mets that many predicted would make a run at the World Series.
It was not to be. The Mets were ravaged with injuries all season. They finished the season with a record of 70-92 and missed the postseason.
The year was a huge disappointment to say the least. The injuries were simply too much to overcome. But one could make the argument that they missed one player more than any other. There are plenty of candidates; Carlos Beltran and David Wright both missed significant time. Without shortstop and leadoff man Jose Reyes, however, the Mets were just an entirely different ballclub.
Reyes has been cleared to resume baseball activities after doctors declared that his elevated thyroid levels had returned to normal. A hyperactive thyroid is the latest issue to sidetrack the return of the Mets’ leadoff man. A short stay on the disabled list developed into a hamstring injury that limited Reyes to 36 games last season.
The most troubling part of the injury was that it afflicted Reyes’ most valuable asset—his legs. When Reyes is healthy, he is one of the best base stealers in baseball. Reyes has never stolen fewer than 50 bases in a full season. That is no easy feat. That contribution alone makes Reyes vital to the Mets' success. The value of his speed can really not be quantified. Whenever Reyes sets foot on base, the opposing pitcher must be cognizant of the fact that Reyes may attempt to steal. Even when Reyes stays put he is in the pitcher’s head.
Manager Jerry Manuel has openly discussed moving Reyes to third in the batting order at least until the return of Beltran, though no decision has been made. Regardless of where he hits in the order, the Mets need Reyes to spark a lineup that struggled mightily last year. The Mets were ranked 12th in the National League in runs in 2009.
Though Reyes is defined by his speed, his bat will be just as valuable, especially for an ailing New York lineup. Even with the addition of Jason Bay and a full season with Jeff Francoeur, the Mets still face concerns in the lineup without Reyes playing a significant role in their success. Reyes’ career batting average is .286 and his career OPS is currently .772. If Reyes had played last year and attained his career averages he would have ranked fifth in the National League in both categories.
A fact that many seem to forget is that Reyes is only 26 years old, a year shy from what is considered a major leaguer's prime year. There is still upside and Reyes could very well improve. Imagine if Reyes could raise his season average of 13 homers into the 17-20 range and become a perennial .300 hitter. No one expects Reyes to suddenly become a big time slugger, but a boost in power numbers would make him even more formidable.
Reyes hit .300 in 2006 when he won the NL Sliver Slugger award, so there is certainly cause for optimism. Reyes is also a solid defender at shortstop with a career fielding percentage of .974 at the position.
The success of Reyes’ season will most likely hinge on his ability to stay on the field. He has proven his effectiveness and will no doubt be an improvement over replacement Alex Cora.
Ever since Reyes solidified his position in the majors in 2005 he has been a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully this year he could return from injury and take the next step. Whatever the result, it may very well decide what happens to the Mets in 2010.