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Phillies’ Shortstop Jose Reyes: Could it Happen in 2012?

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The Phillies have been a professional franchise for 128 years, and have played almost 20,000 games. In nearly 1600 of those, Jimmy Rollins has taken the field in some capacity. It sort of puts Rollins’ place in Phillies history into perspective as he nears the completion of a decade in Philadelphia. Jimmy Rollins Photo: Getty

Rollins has been an all-star three times, a gold glover three times, and even a league MVP. And as he approaches free agency at season’s end, the natural question is whether the endearing middle infielder will remain a Philly beyond this fall. Rollins will turn 33 before next season and, while he is still posting good offensive numbers for a shortstop (on pace for 15 HR, 65 RBI, 95 runs, and 30 steals), his statistical pace has decelerated in recent years.

Rollins would love to finish his career in Philadelphia and will likely seek a multi-year contract in order to do so. The question that remains to be answered is whether the Phillies are ready to make the contractual commitment to Rollins if it is in the range of three-to-four years at a dollar amount likely to be above $10 million per season.

It’s a decision that will be critically important for a Phillies team whose championship window is still a couple years away from closing. Does re-signing Rollins make sense in light of his age and the Phillies’ need for improved offense? The Phillies have only two positions that could feature new faces next season. The first is left field, as Raul Ibanez will not return for 2012. The other is shortstop.

The crop of free agent outfielders for 2011-2012 may not be the path to great improvement for the Phillies offense. The best names available will be Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Josh Willingham and Nick Swisher. While each of these players would be an upgrade from Ibanez, it is not exactly a banner year for free agent outfielders. That leaves shortstop, and of the 16 shortstops slated for free agency, one has offensive numbers comparable to Rollins (the Orioles J.J. Hardy) and one is putting up numbers that are better than Rollins did during his 2007 MVP season.

His name is Jose Reyes.Jose Reyes Photo: Paul J. Bereswill

It’s a name that could take some real getting used to for the Phillies and their fans. While the Mets are no longer a threat to the Phillies in the standings, the Mets still stir hatred among Philadelphians and have become synonymous with losing: on the field, in their approach to the game, even financially.

But in the midst of all of that losing, Reyes is having the best season of anyone in the National League, and he is about to be available to the highest bidder. This season, Reyes is leading the league in hitting (.349). He is on pace for 131 runs scored, 43 doubles, 31 triples, and 59 stolen bases. The numbers are mind-boggling, and Reyes could make as big of an impact on a team’s offense as any free agent on this winter’s list.

And as a result, Reyes is about to become a very wealthy man.

A recent article by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman included some salary estimates for Reyes: attained from a group of agents and baseball executives. The consensus of the group was that Reyes could command somewhere in the range of 5-7 years at approximately $20 million per season. It’s a huge price tag for a Phillies team that seems to be accumulating more huge price tags by the season.

However, Reyes’ potential impact on a depreciating Phillies’ offense would be incredible. He does all of the things that Jimmy Rollins did when Rollins was recognized as the team‘s offensive spark plug, only he is doing them much better. He gets on base, he is a prolific base stealer, he scores runs, and he is on pace for 80 extra-base hits. Like Rollins, he is a switch hitter, and is equally good from both sides of the plate.

So, how realistic an option is Reyes for the Phillies? Obviously, the money will be huge. And obviously, the Phillies are already committed to some pretty huge money for 2012 and beyond. Assuming that Phillies do not pick up Roy Oswalt’s option for next season, they currently have nine players signed for 2012 at a total of $113 million. Those nine players include 3 starting pitchers (Halladay, Lee, Blanton), five position players (Howard, Utley, Polanco, Victorino, Ruiz) and one reliever (Jose Contreras).

They also have a number of players who are arbitration-eligible, but the only one that will result in a large dollar amount is Cole Hamels, who could get a raise into the $15 million range for next year (unless the Phillies lock him up with a long-term deal before then). One apparent necessity in a Reyes signing would be the trade of Joe Blanton and his $10.5 million salary for 2012.

There is also the decision of what to do with Ryan Madson, who is represented by pit bull agent Scott Boras and will likely seek closer money (at least $8-10 million) after his successful audition as the Phillies‘ stopper. That salary may be worth it for a contending team who wants the peace of mind that a top closer provides, but it is also a dollar amount that could be viewed as cost-prohibitive if it prevents the Phillies from pursuing other areas of need..

But even if the Phillies don‘t re-sign Madson, there are still 14 more players to sign on top of a payroll that is already at $128 million (assuming Hamels’ $15 million). The good news is that most of those 14 players will make less than $1 million each. Jon Mayberry Junior and Domonic Brown can round out the position players as the corner outfielders. Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick would man the 4th and 5th starters’ positions for approximately $4 million.

The bullpen could be stacked with young arms with cheap price tags (Bastardo, Stutes, Herndon, Carpenter and DeFratus) that make well under $1 million apiece. The Phillies could supplement those youngsters with Conteras ($2.5 million) and one or two experienced arms for a total of $8 million or less.That leaves only the bench, where the Phillies will likely sign Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez to extensions. They could also sign Ross Gload, Brian Schneider and Ben Francisco (or similarly priced free agents) bringing their approximate bench salaries to $9 million.Jose Reyes photo: William Perlman (Newark Star-Ledger)

Finally, assume that the Phillies took the plunge for Jose Reyes and signed him for $20 million per season. The financial breakdown of their completed roster would look like this:

Starting Pitchers: $60.5 million
Position Players: $75.9 million
Bullpen: $8 million
Bench: $9 million
Total: $153.4 million

That total doesn’t look too bad when compared to the Phillies’ current payroll of $175 million. In adding Reyes, they would be making a commitment to a player that has had injury problems in the past, and who may be super motivated by playing for a mega-contract. Perhaps that motivation will be just as strong when he is playing for a World Series favorite in the most exciting environment in baseball.

Much of this decision will hinge on the Phillies’ 2011 postseason performance. A World Series title could convince the team that they don’t need to add another $20 million salary to their already bulging payroll. However, anything short of another title could convince Ruben Amaro Jr. that his team needs an offensive upgrade that Jimmy Rollins or an aging free agent outfielder can’t provide.

Jose Reyes could be a possibility. As long as that soccer chant that substitutes “Jose” for “Ole!” stays in New York.

 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net 

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Reyes Casual Photo: Paul J. Bereswill