- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Who Would Want Jose Reyes?

Over the weekend, the following passage was found in Buster Olney’s column (sorry, “Insiders” only)

By the way: Some rival executives are convinced that the Mets’ financial situation all but ensures that Jose Reyes — who stands to be in the running for a nine-figure contract as a free agent next fall if he stays healthy and has a good year — will be traded before the July 31 deadline. That’s all speculation at this point.

This rumor may seem a bit dubious to some. After all, Reyes isn’t the only Met heading into the final year of his contract. Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo qualify here as well, and all but Castillo are slated to make more than Reyes, so if a straight salary dump is the order of the day, the Mets have plenty of options. But let’s pretend for a minute that there’s something to this – who would want Reyes in 2011?

For the moment, let’s leave aside the question of who could put together a package worthy of Reyes, as there are a lot of factors at play there. For starters, will Reyes net a significant piece as a two-three month rental? Additionally, there are prospects who surprise, and others who will regress throughout the season, so it’s not as simple as saying “Player X + Y = Reyes.” Finally, since the needs of the Mets farm system bumps dangerously close to “everything,” the possibilities of different trade packages are far ranging.

Back to Reyes’ value, we can see that the Fans’ Scouting Report expects him to continue to move closer to his 2006-2008 peak. FSR has Reyes slated to be the fourth most valuable shortstop in the game in 2011 (by WAR), behind only Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Stephen Drew, as well as fourth in wOBA, behind Tulowitzki, Ramirez and Jed Lowrie. They have him leading all shortstops in stolen bases, and reaching double figures in both triples and home runs. Bill James’ forecast is a touch lower, but on the whole it’s similar.

There are a few teams for whom Reyes would represent a curiosity. As Gordon Edes noted this weekend on Twitter, the Red Sox have had eight different Opening Day shortstops since 2000, and should Marco Scutaro and Lowrie prove an impediment to Boston’s march back to the playoffs, perhaps they would have interest. This may be even more true in St. Louis, where Albert Pujols’ possible last year and a Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto combo may be suboptimal. Ian Desmond is likely too young to give up on just yet, but if he is still underperforming in July, and the Nationals are still on the fringes, perhaps they would enter the discussion. And how bittersweet would it be for Yankee fans if the “Jeter to Center” campaign was accelerated by the arrival of his cross-town counterpart?

Aside from these teams, there are five teams that meet at the intersection of contender and below-average shortstop. The most obvious fit would be in Milwaukee, where the Brewers are geared up for one last run before losing Prince Fielder, and are solid everywhere but up the middle. Nowhere is that need more clear than at shortstop, where Reyes would represent a massive upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt. It wasn’t that long ago that Alexi Casilla was considered an important part of the Twins’ future, but after three years of replacement level performance, his time may be running short. Teaming up Reyes with Denard Span (still projected to have a .340ish wOBA after a dismal showing last season) in front of Joe Mauer could be lethal for Twins opponents. Alex Gonzalez has rarely been a threat offensively, and with question marks defensively at both second and third base, the Braves could both take advantage of Gonzalez’s superior defense and accommodate Reyes at shortstop. The fit isn’t as easy in Detroit, thanks to the two-year deal the Tigers just gave Jhonny Peralta, but FSR projects his bat to be on a permanent vacation. And while Peralta isn’t known for his glove work, the inevitable Carlos Guillen injury could create an opportunity for the Tigers to juggle both Peralta and Reyes, shielding Peralta’s defense late in games with Will Rhymes. Finally, another player whose main tool used to be power is the Giants new shortstop Miguel Tejada. But FSR has Tejada projecting to be one of the worst shortstops in the game this year, slugging a dismal .389. With the Giants likely in the thick of things once again, and the upgrade to Reyes could, even in half of a season or less, be pivotal for a Giants offense that is likely to consist of Buster Posey and…Buster Posey.

Jose Reyes may not need to be traded. After accounting for K-Rod’s buyout, losing Beltran, Rodriguez, Perez and Castillo is going to net the Mets $44.5 million for the 2012 club, and certainly some of that could be used to extend Reyes. But of the five Reyes may be the most attractive trade chip, depending on how you feel about K-Rod’s anger management issues, so they may feel pressure to trade him to help restock the farm system. If they do, they will find a host of teams willing to acquire him. If Reyes comes out of the gate strong, the number of interested teams could conceivably be any team that didn’t begin play in 1993. But even if the list is a bit shorter than that, there should still be a number of contending teams with needs at shortstop.