After Mets' quiet winter, Reyes a focus

Gonzalez: After Mets' quiet winter, Reyes a focus

After Mets' quiet winter, Reyes a focus
NEW YORK -- Besides a shakeup of the front office and coaching staff, the Mets -- as uncharacteristic as it may be -- have gone through this offseason rather inconspicuously, deciding against making drastic changes to an expensive roster that has yielded nothing but fourth-place finishes the previous two years.

And that's a good thing.

In fact, it's the right thing, the fair thing and the prudent thing for first-year general manager Sandy Alderson and his new staff to allow itself one good, up-close look at several costly yet underperforming players who may still hold tremendous value. The Mets want to win now and believe they can, but the 2011 season isn't primarily about that for the new decision-makers in Flushing. It's about learning.

The most important subject: Jose Reyes 101.

The Mets have been handcuffed lately by the fact they'll owe eight players $111.5 million in 2011. But it's a lot easier to put your finger on the situation of the other seven than it is for that of the starting shortstop, who will be a free agent at season's end and may or may not merit being a core member of the Mets moving forward.

Reyes has seemingly taken the form of the new GM's biggest Year 1 decision.

Alderson has expressed that he isn't too keen on handing out "second-generation multi-year contracts," but he has at the very least entertained the notion of signing Reyes long-term. Reyes' agent, Peter Greenberg, reaffirmed Tuesday that his client's preference is to stay with the Mets, but he added that the two sides hadn't had any dialogue regarding a potential deal.

Though Alderson and Greenberg both say they prefer not to negotiate contracts in-season, neither of them will eliminate the possibility of that taking place under the right circumstances.

But for now, the Mets will apparently wait -- and, most important, see.

"It could be an easy decision; it could be a difficult decision, given the money that's been handed out this year," Alderson said from the Owners' Meetings. "But when the time comes for us to make that decision, we'll see where we are and he is."

For the Mets, this calendar year isn't just about restocking the farm system, cutting fat off an overweight payroll -- though $50-plus million could be coming off the books -- or giving valuable experience to up-and-coming young players. Perhaps more so than anything else, it's about figuring out what this team will be moving forward -- what identity it will take on, and which players it will build around.

The Mets may still have something here, and Reyes may still be the kind of player Alderson can build around, along with his three locked-up veterans -- David Wright, Jason Bay and Johan Santana -- and several top-shelf prospects.

Or, Alderson may have to blow it up and start all over again.

The 2011 season will go a long way in deciding that, and Reyes' situation could be Alderson's biggest test. It can set the tone in the short-term, and -- good or bad -- it can greatly shape the landscape of the Mets for the long haul.

Deciding blindly was never really an option.

"I didn't want to do anything immediately that would be a substantial change from where we were in late August without me getting a chance to look at the team," Alderson said. "I guess that's just my personal nature, wanting to see things for myself."

Reyes, 28 in June, is entering the final season of a four-year, $23.25 million contract. From 2005-08 -- when he batted .287, averaged 64 steals and made two All-Star teams -- the native Dominican was easily one of baseball's top-five shortstops. Then, over the last two years -- as several injuries, most notably a thyroid problem, limited him to 169 total games -- his stock plummeted.

But shortstops this dynamic, this talented and (still) this promising don't come along very often. Alderson said Reyes is "an outstanding player and has a chance to be even better than he has been."

The question is whether he's worth signing to what could eventually be a Carl Crawford-type contract -- depending on how 2011 goes for him -- and if Reyes would settle for anything less before hitting the market.

"I think [staying with the Mets] has always been his first choice, but he also knows it's a business and that he has a chance to hopefully break the bank if he doesn't [sign before the offseason]," Greenberg said. "But he's made it clear that's his first choice is to stay in New York."

The Phillies added Cliff Lee this offseason to give them one of the best rotation foursomes in baseball history, the Braves signed Dan Uggla and once again look good, and the Marlins and Nationals each made big moves in their own right. Meanwhile, the Mets have stayed rather dormant when it comes to their roster.

That's because Alderson needs to soak in more information during the 2011 season than in any of his years as an Ivy League student.

He needs to see if the left shoulder of Santana -- with three guaranteed years left, totaling more than $70 million -- is healthy enough to keep him pitching at a high level.

He needs to see what, if anything, he has in Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez -- if not a valuable piece to the roster, then maybe trade bait.

He needs to see if the uppercut swing of Jason Bay -- guaranteed $16 million each of the next three years -- is any sort of fit within the spacious dimensions of Citi Field.

He needs to see what he has among an assortment of promising young pieces, like Jenrry Mejia, Jonathon Niese, Josh Thole and Ike Davis.

And he needs to see what Terry Collins will be as a big league manager -- something he hasn't been in over 10 years.

But, most of all, Alderson needs to figure out if Reyes is still one of those players who can help make up the Mets' core.

"Like I said," he repeated, "it could be a difficult decision, or it could be a very easy decision."

The answer won't come within the idleness of an offseason.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.