MLB Free Agency: Why Philadelphia Phillies Need Jose Reyes
With the MLB Hot Stove heating up, the Philadelphia Phillies need to have a deal for shortstop Jose Reyes simmering if they want to improve on their early exit from the 2011 playoffs in 2012.
Reyes, a member of the rival New York Mets in 2011, would be the perfect upgrade over incumbent shortstop Jimmy Rollins, also a free agent this winter. Reyes would be a shot in the arm for an offense that at times seems to be asleep at the wheel, and he brings youth and improved range to an aging middle-infield.
With Rollins making it clear that he will be demanding at least a four-year deal, pursuing the younger Reyes would make sense from a contractual standpoint as well.
Coming off of one of the most disappointing seasons in team history, a year that began with World Series aspirations and ended with a 1-0 shutout loss at home, it is apparent that changes need to be made within the clubhouse for the team to reach its full potential.
Here are five reasons that signing Reyes, instead of re-signing Rollins, would be a key step in the right direction for the Phillies to return to the World Series.
A baseball purist will tell you that the true task of a leadoff hitter is to work the count, force the pitcher to throw as many pitches as possible and above all, get on base. A consistent criticism of Jimmy Rollins in his time as the Phillies leadoff hitter has been his very un-leadoff approach at the plate.
In 11 full seasons with the Phillies, Rollins has carried a batting average better than .275 only five times. Only three times has Rollins earned a walk-to-strikeout ratio better than 1.0 and he has never had an on-base percentage above .350.
On the other hand, statistically, Reyes is much more traditional leadoff hitter. In nine seasons with the Mets, Reyes has carried a batting average better than .275 seven times, winning the batting title in 2011 with a .337 average.
In two less seasons of service than Rollins, Reyes has had a walk-to-strikeout ratio of at least 1.0 just as many times, three. Even more impressively, Reyes has carried an on-base percentage of .350 or better five times.
What do all these statistics mean to the Phillies? Simply put, more runs. With the power in the middle of the Phillies' lineup, if the top of the lineup can get on base more, then the middle of the lineup will have more opportunities to drive in runs.
All too often, the Phillies offense turns stagnant when all nine hitters swing for the fences and miss. The Game 5 loss to the Cardinals was a perfect illustration of this stagnation. Having a .300 BA/.350 OBP hitter at the top of the lineup would do wonders to help the Phillies run production throughout the season and build confidence in their ability to manufacture runs.
Relying less on the long-ball will help the Phillies go deeper into October.
Range in the Middle-Infield
As the Phillies' core gets older, it will be important to strategically place youthful speed at certain spots in the field to cover for aging veterans at other positions.
With second baseman Chase Utley's health seriously coming into question at the start of 2011 with what often develops into a chronic injury (tendinitis of the knee), it will become more and more important that the Phillies buffer Utley with a middle-infield partner who can make up for what he lacks in range.
Rollins has always been among the top shortstops in the game in terms of range. However, given his age and historical evidence, that range will decline severely in the very near future.
With the Phillies already contractually locked-in long-term with Utley, it would be a major hindrance to the Phils defensively to lock-in the other side of the middle infield opposite Utley with a player whose range projects to decline significantly over the next few seasons.
Reyes is an athletic freak, making plays that few can make at shortstop. He would more than be able to cover for what Utley can't, and do it for longer as well. If there is a knock on Reyes' fielding, it is that he has a tendency to occasionally be wild with his throws to first.
One factor in that inaccuracy, though, is that he gets to balls that others can't and attempts to make plays where others wouldn't even have an opportunity.
If the Phillies were to sign Reyes, they certainly would not suffer a drop-off defensively, and it would be a better long-term defensive investment.
Jimmy Rollins turns 33 at the end of this month. He is insisting that he wants no less than four years on his next contact, with a player-option for a fifth season. That would put him at 38 years old by the end of his deal.
Compare that to Derek Jeter, who turned 37 in the middle of last season. For the last two seasons, there have been whispers of moving Mr. November to another position as his range has deteriorated so much, and Rollins is no Jeter.
Ultimately, one has to wonder if Rollins would be able to even effectively play the position for another three years, let alone four or five.
Jose Reyes, on the other hand, is just 28 years old, just now entering his baseball prime. The Phillies could offer Reyes a seven-year deal with little concern as to whether or not he will be able to continue playing the position through the life of the deal.
In terms of age, it is a no-brainer. Reyes is clearly the better option.
Change in Clubhouse Leadership
The Phillies' playoff loss to the Cardinals was ugly in that it was so non-descript. Playing the deciding Game 5 at home in front of a sell-out crowd, the Phillies came out listless and lacking energy. The leaders in the clubhouse had obviously failed to prepare their team for the game.
If the Phillies expect their vaunted pitching staff to ever fulfill their potential as the greatest ever, they need to win something first, and in order to win something, a change in leadership on the team is necessary.
Rollins has always had an adversarial relationship with the fans in Philadelphia, who are among the most passionate in all of sports. One has to wonder how that carried over to the clubhouse. Given that he has been entrenched there for more than 11 years, he is the de facto leader in the clubhouse.
In order to spark some passion in the Phillies, it is time to move on to new de facto clubhouse leadership. If the Phillies sign Reyes, he will bring a loose-ness that could help what seemed to be an uptight team in Game 5, when it mattered most.
The biggest advantage to signing Reyes over Rollins would be that it would weaken the rival New York Mets while, at the same time, it would be the most cost-effective move.
Consider that Rollins, whose age threatens to force his career into a steep decline in the coming years, will command a salary in the $10 million to $12 million per year range.
Meanwhile, Reyes is entering the prime of his career, represents a steep upgrade offensively and will likely command a deal in the $16 million to $20 million per year range, a difference which, relative to the upgrade he would be over Rollins, is loose change.
If the Phillies sign Reyes, they can inject youth into an aging team and keep themselves viable for years to come with a secondary core of Reyes, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence already in waiting to replace Rollins, Utley and Howard as the backbone of the team.
The extra $6 illion to $8 million would pay for itself in continued sellouts, potential TV revenue, etc, with the continued success of the team. Move to save that $6 million to $8 million by signing Rollins, and the Phillies risk becoming a victim of their own age by sticking with an aging core.
In order to maintain their recent success going forward, the Phillies need to sign Jose Reyes.