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Jose Reyes Trade Talk: Why NOT the Giants?

There’s been some talk that the San Francisco Giants are having internal discussions about trading for Jose Reyes this year. At first blush, it makes sense – the Giants are trying to get back to the promised land and are starting second baseman Mike Fontenot at shorstop (moving zombie Miguel Tejada to third for now), and the Mets are languishing at the bottom of a tough division. And yet, it’s not likely – the Giants aren’t actually a great fit.

Let’s address the idea of timing first. There’s a delicate balance between building toward the future and ensuring that fans still come to the park and are still interested in the Mets this year. It’s a tight rope that may be hardest to walk in large media markets. Trade Reyes now, and the story immediately becomes next year, and what the team is doing for the future. That story, that conversation, is not one that brings butts to the ballpark – especially Reyes-jersey-wearing-butts. Trading him now would hurt the team now.

On the other hand, if you trade Reyes now, you certainly would get a better return. If Sandy Alderson is worried about Reyes’ ability to hold up over a long term contract – a concern that would probably turn him away from an extension much more than a lack of walks, most likely – then he’d be right to trade him. And get the most that he could. Without alienating half of his fan base. Still tricky.

So now we get to the discussion of what a Reyes trade might net from the Giants organization. The first thing that should immediately be made clear is that Jonathan Sanchez is not an acceptable return. This isn’t even about the fact that Sanchez is a lefty with control problems, and the Mets organization is probably okay on those for, like, the next decade thanks to Oliver Perez. Instead, it’s about years of financial control – Sanchez will be in his final year of arbitration next year, meaning the Mets would have to pay about 80% of his market value and then lose him to free agency. That’s certainly not worth risking potential fan alienation over.

No, instead, Alderson would probably be looking for a collection of prospects. When the Rays traded Jason Bartlett in his last year of team control, they received Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes, and infielder Cole Figuero in return. That’s three relievers and a less-than-exciting infield prospect. Change the names up – Reyes is obviously a much better player – but retain the structure, and you might have the beginnings of a possible deal. Alderson would probably be looking for one serious prospect, one decent prospect, and two young fliers.

The Giants system doesn’t rate that highly after graduating Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. This alone might be an argument against – their system is less-well thought of than the Mets, and both are below the fold. But the Giants are a veteran team trying to win now, and they might trade some of their top prospects for a chance at a repeat and the inside track on re-signing Reyes.

Let’s look down the list our maven Marc Hulet has provided us, then. Even with his mediocre debut, the team probably isn’t trading Brandon Belt for four months of Reyes, and the Mets already have a pretty good first baseman. Next on the list is probably the prize of a Reyes deal: Zach Wheeler. Drafted out of a Georgia high school in 2009, Wheeler is 20 and in low-A ball. He has shown great strikeout punch and stuff, and improved control this year – he’s more than a decent return. Keith Law named him the 36th best prospect and had some nice things to say:

Wheeler will sit at 90-94 mph and show 96 or better with a big, slow, but tight curveball in the low to mid-70s; he has been mixing in an above-average slider in the 85-89 range and will flash an average changeup, the one pitch for which he doesn’t show great feel yet.

Wheeler still is filling out physically and should have the workhorse, 220-inning build we expect from No. 1 starters, although I’m a little concerned about the stress his arm action might put on his shoulder. Overall he’s an elite arm, with the potential for four average or better pitches including a plus fastball and the body to handle a big workload.

Would the Giants give up their number one pitching prospect? Considering that Brian Sabean coined There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect (TINSTAAP), perhaps yes. But what of the secondary pieces?

Francisco Peguero is an interesting outfielder, but the Mets have a good amount of interesting outfield pieces. Ehire Adrianza is a slick-fielding shortstop that might have no bat – that sounds familiar, even if he’s ahead of Chin-Lung Hu. Then come a host of okay outfielders, and I’d guess that the Mets might be interested in Thomas Neal should the Giants want to include him. But it really doesn’t seem likely that a team that needs outfielders would trade an outfield prospect to a team that has a decent bevvy of outfielders.

So perhaps we settle on Charlie Culberson as the second ‘decent’ piece. Look across his MiLB line, though, and you’ll notice that it is not really impressive. He’s struck out on 21% of his at-bats, has a .110 ISO, and has taken a walk in 6.3% of his plate appearances. His glove no longer works at short, so he’s a second baseman, and he’d be behind Reese Havens on the org depth chart in New York. But he’s an infielder, and he’s cut his strikeout rate, and he could be a piece. Go further down the list and you’re getting even more flawed players – Brandon Crawford is a shortstop, but if Hulet says you have the upside of a Adam Everett or less-powerful J.J. Hardy, you know there are problems with the player as a major piece of a trade like this.

Only a cursory look, and we’ve already run into plenty of problems for a Giants trade. Even if they include Zach Wheeler, the rest of the package would probably be trumped by something the Red Sox could offer, for example. Unless the Giants do include someone as exciting as Madison Bumgarner or Brandon Belt, their minor league may just not have enough to offer the Mets, even for 2/3 of a season of Jose Reyes.