Commentary

Jose Reyes' hamstring likely to cost him

Soon-to-be free agent shortstop probably won't get megacontract due to his leg woes

Originally Published: August 9, 2011
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Just about every day in baseball, somebody's hamstring pops. Most of them, we barely even notice anymore. Kinda like an Ozzie Guillen rant or another Frank McCourt trip to the courthouse.

But when one of those hamstrings belongs to a human lightning bolt named Jose Reyes, it sure is funny how everyone in baseball pays attention. And not just because we've seen this episode before.

It's because, in three months, we'll start spending every waking hot-stove hour talking about Jose Reyes. He's about to become one of the biggest names on baseball's offseason free-agent marquee. And if you listen closely, you can hear his cash register ringing.

[+] EnlargeJose Reyes
Andrew Weber/US PresswireJose Reyes is currently on the disabled list for the second time this year with a strained left hamstring.

But it isn't ringing quite as loudly today as it was a week ago, or a month ago. And it's all that frigging hamstring's fault.

"I calculate that every day he's hurt costs him another half-a-million bucks," one baseball man quipped Monday, after Reyes landed on the disabled list for the second time in the last five weeks with a strain to his left hamstring.

To which our first reaction, we must admit, was: Is THAT all?

Was Jose Reyes ever going to get The Carl Crawford Contract (seven years, $142 million)? We've always had our doubts. And we weren't alone.

But with every multihit game, every stolen base, every 4-3-4-1 line he sprinkled into a box score near you over the first three months of this magical season, those doubts were melting. How could they not?

He was a one-of-a-kind player with a special gift, playing a premium position at a level all his own. And as you watched him hit that accelerator night after night, it was easy to forget that not every Jose Reyes season has looked like the first half of this one.

But now? Now it's all coming back to us … and to the people who run those baseball teams that should have been lining up to pay him.

"The guy just can't stay healthy," an official of one of those teams told Rumblings this week. "He's a great player, but he just can't stay healthy. He's the kind of guy who really shouldn't get any more than a three-year deal. The Mets might give him five, but … that would feel way too risky for me."

And that won't be the only team using that word, "risky," we have a feeling.

Thanks to the injury-history data you can track down at Baseball Prospectus with one click of the mouse, you don't need your own MRI machine to measure just how risky a long-term deal with this man could be. It's all laid out for the world to see:

• This is the third time in the last four seasons Reyes has had his season interrupted by hamstring issues. And he had two seasons like that early in his career, too.

• This is the seventh time in his career he's wound up on the disabled list -- five of them because of hamstring problems.

• And just since Opening Day 2009, Reyes is up to 197 days missed with assorted hamstring, knee, Achilles, calf, oblique and thyroid issues.

It isn't easy to explain away a barrage of facts that overpowering by saying, essentially, that stuff like this happens to everybody. But Reyes gave it a try Monday, even bringing up the name of Crawford, coincidentally enough, and telling the Mets' press corps: "You see Carl Crawford? He pulled a hamstring, too."

Well, that's true. Crawford did in fact pop a hamstring of his own this season. But here's the difference:

He did that AFTER he'd signed that seven-year contract.

Whereas BEFORE he scribbled his name on that deal, Carl Crawford had never been on the disabled list with any sort of leg injury. And most people still thought his contract was risky. So Reyes probably doesn't want to know what those same people are thinking about him.

"It's just more of the same old same old with that hamstring," said one NL scout.

"Some guys are always injury-prone, and he's one of them," said another NL scout. "And to be honest, I think he always will be. He's just a guy who's prone to pulling muscles, and you can't count on those guys."

So what would that scout say if he was asked by his team whether to invest in Reyes? You know exactly what he'd say: No thanks.

Some guys are always injury-prone, and he's one of them. And to be honest, I think he always will be. He's just a guy who's prone to pulling muscles, and you can't count on those guys.

-- A National League scout on Jose Reyes

"His whole game is based on sharp cuts, fast movements and agility," the scout said. "I know he's done everything medically he was supposed to be doing. So you'd think it should work. But that guy is always going to break down. I've seen it too many times. It's a shame. But I'd have no confidence in him on a long-term deal."

So how many dollars could this fellow's uncooperative hamstring cost him? Who knows? Could it be $50 million? $40 million? $20 million? Depends what happens in August and September. Depends how the forces line up once he hits the market. But it could easily be in that range.

The buzz in the business is that the Mets were prepared to offer him $100 million over five years. Maybe that would have gotten it done, hamstring pops or no hamstring pops.

But now you could see those guaranteed years shrinking -- to four years, maybe even to three, with options that would vest a fifth year if he can just stay off the DL.

After all, look around. How many teams at the top of the payroll charts figure to be shopping for a $100 million shortstop?

The Yankees? Committed to Derek Jeter for three more years. The Red Sox? Don't have another nine-figure deal in them after last winter. The Cubs? Starlin Castro ends that conversation. The White Sox? Keep talking like they're tapped out.

The Angels? Wouldn't give The Carl Crawford Contract to Crawford himself, even though he practically threw himself on their doormat. The Phillies? No more $100 million deals on their horizon, either -- unless Cole Hamels gets one.

So besides the Giants and possibly the Brewers, how many teams were the Mets going to have to outbid in the first place?

But there's another side to this argument. For one thing, the Mets can't drop the years and dollars too low -- because it would draw other clubs into the auction.

For another, there are the dynamics of the market itself. Other than Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, who comprise a free-agent category unto themselves, there is going to be NO other player out there who resembles Jose Reyes, a 28-year-old middle-of-the-diamond leadoff dynamo.

As an executive of one team reminded us, Adrian Beltre headed off into that same marketplace last winter with a long injury history of his own and virtually no contending teams looking for third basemen -- and still got a five-year deal.

So you can be sure that nobody will have to hold a benefit concert for Jose Reyes this winter. He IS going to get paid. But five weeks ago, there's no telling how many teams might have been ready to forget every previous line in this man's voluminous injury history.

Well, not anymore -- because there's no better cure for that sort of amnesia than the sound of Jose Reyes' hamstring popping. Again.

Ready to Rumble

• Other teams now expect the Padres to make another attempt to trade Heath Bell this month, if only out of fear he could accept their arbitration offer next winter. And those efforts could begin as soon as this week.

Of course, the always-entertaining waiver rules would seem to make it impossible for the Padres to move Bell to Texas or Philadelphia, two of the teams that appeared most interested before the non-waiver trade deadline. But the collapse of the Pirates and Reds could put the Cardinals in perfect position to claim Bell and try to work out a deal.

Of the six remaining NL contenders, the Cardinals are tied with Arizona for the worst record (a half-game behind San Francisco). So if they slip behind those two teams again, they would have first dibs in the waiver order. But if the Cardinals heat up, those clubs could block Bell's path to the other contenders. So the Padres will have to time Bell's placement on waivers just right if they want to move him to St. Louis.

• Here's why some July shoppers prefer to wait until August to make their moves: When the Padres talked to St. Louis about Bell before the deadline, their No. 1 target was Colby Rasmus. If those talks get rekindled this month, they would figure to get a lot less in return, just because the Padres would seem to have so much less leverage now than they had a week and a half ago.

• One of the questions reverberating around baseball since the trading deadline is: Why the heck did the Astros sign Wandy Rodriguez to that three-year, $32.5 million contract a little over six months ago if there was ANY chance they'd be trying to unload him -- and that contract -- a few months later?

It's easy to say now that things are different, because this team is 39 games under .500, sinking fast and about to get sold. But the club was ALREADY up for sale. And Jim Crane -- a man whose No. 1 item on the to-do list is cutting payroll -- was considered the most likely buyer even then.

"That contract just doesn't make sense now," said an executive of one club. "It's OK if you intend to keep him. But not if you're in a feeding frenzy to slash payroll."

Initially, it looked as if the Astros were attempting to trim the payroll for next season from about $71 million to $60 million. But now, with the completion of the sale of the team only a week away, other clubs are hearing Crane might attempt to drive that number down to $50 million or even below. And they can't reach that figure without moving Wandy Rodriguez.

"I just don't get it," said the same exec quoted above. "When you give a guy a contract like that, you're basically saying, 'We're not going to trade you.' Well, they're not saying that anymore."

• Despite speculation last month that Bud Selig was leaning toward approving an expansion of replay for this year's postseason, sources say that's highly unlikely while the sport is in the midst of labor negotiations. But every indication is that, by next season, baseball is headed toward what the commish describes as "very modest" changes.

All fair-foul calls are likely to be reviewable by next year. And this weekend's bungled trap/catch call in Florida just adds to the likelihood that those calls also will be included in the next replay expansion.

• But several managers we've surveyed would prefer a more dramatic change in the replay system than that. They would love to see a fifth umpire in the booth who would have the authority to look at replays and overturn obvious mistakes on other calls -- particularly on the bases. But Selig isn't ready to board that train. And MLB and the umpires' union would have to negotiate a change that major. Since the umpires' labor deal doesn't expire until after the 2014 season, that one won't be happening anytime soon.

• You can bet a lot of people in baseball are waiting with great fascination for the details of the NFL's new HGH testing plan to emerge, because owners in this sport would love to sell a similar plan to their players. But as always, the NFL has done a great job of spinning its "agreement" to look as if HGH blood testing was agreed to when, it now appears, the players haven't signed off on any sort of proposal. And no testing will begin until they do.

Meanwhile, baseball appears to be heading in a similar direction, with much less spin or hype. From what we're hearing, baseball is likely to leave the HGH issue open for future discussion -- as research continues on a more reliable, less invasive test -- rather than let it stand in the way of a new labor deal. But if the NFL players actually do agree to any type of blood-testing in the next few weeks, MLB will be studying that program very closely.

Minnesota Twins

• An AL exec on one of his biggest trade-deadline surprises: "I was really surprised by the lack of movement by a team like the Twins. I can understand why they wanted to hedge. I get that. They thought they still had a chance. But what I don't understand is why they didn't move a guy like Kevin Slowey. I know there were clubs that had interest. He's making $2.7 million in Triple-A. And he's almost certainly going to be a non-tender this winter. If they'd traded him, at least they would have gotten SOMETHING. At least they would have gotten rid of the money. So I'm just not sure why he's still there."

• When the Phillies traded for Hunter Pence, it wasn't just another right-handed bat they were looking for. It was energy. And if there's one thing Hunter Pence can offer any team, it's megawatts.

"They knew this guy could supply energy, because that's who he is," said one NL scout. "You'll see him hit a routine ground ball and run a 4.15 or a 4.1 to first base, and then you look over at their dugout and see the reaction, and these guys know this is a guy who plays like his hair is on fire.

"I think he gives them an element they need, and that's hunger. … He'd play this way for the Pirates or the Cubs or anybody. But it means more on a club like this. Some of those guys have won for so long, they expect to win, so they play at a certain pace. But this guy is like a guy on the bread line and somebody hands him a steak."

• One NL scout on Starlin Castro: "He'll be the Cubs' All-Star representative for the next five years."

• Another NL scout on the implosion of the Pirates: "I hate to say this, but they're playing more like they should have played the whole year. Their starting pitching carried them for four months. Now it's basically collapsed."

• No one would dispute that Mariano Rivera is still one of the best closers alive. But that doesn't mean he's as good as ever. According to FanGraphs, Rivera's swing-and-miss rate (16.5 percent) is at an all-time low for the 10 seasons FanGraphs has been keeping track. That swing-and-miss rate was at nearly 24 percent as recently as 2008.

"It's subtle, but a lot of pitches where he used to get that swing and a miss, now guys foul those pitches off -- especially left-handed hitters," said one AL executive. "Those cutters that used to bore in and eat left-handers alive, now they get better swings off those balls. He's still great, but he's also 41 years old. Time marches on. It happens to everybody -- even him."

Five Astounding Facts (Tuesday Edition)

1) Here's to Craig Counsell, now that he's finally ended his historic 0-for-45 funk. So how long was that streak, REALLY? Incredibly, in the time in which Counsell was getting zero hits, 46 players racked up at least 50 hits.

2) Counsell ended that 0-fer just in time, too. Not only would one more out have made him the first player in modern history to go 0-for-46, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, but we haven't even seen a PITCHER go 0-for-46 since Aaron Harang did it in 2005.

3) Uh-oh. The Astros hit 40 games under .500 this weekend, for the first time in team history, and they'd need to go 25-22 in their final 47 games to avoid losing 100. So why does that matter? They're one of only three franchises that have never lost 100. (The Angels and Rockies are the others.) And if the 'Stros had just made it through this year, they could have become the fifth current team with a streak of at least 50 seasons without losing 100. The others are the Angels, who have never done it, Cardinals and Dodgers -- neither of whom have lost 100 since 1908 -- along with the Phillies, who haven't lost 100 since 1961. Oh, well.

4) We've seen 20 pitchers named Rodriguez appear in the big leagues, according to Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. But as ESPN Stats & Info "Kernel" collector Doug Kern reports, we'd never seen two of them get mixed up in a game like July 31's Astros-Brewers tilt. Winning pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez. Losing pitcher: Fernando Rodriguez. In response to the many loyal readers who needed to know, this was indeed the first game in history in which the winner and loser were both named Rodriguez.

5) It took nine games for Hunter Pence to find out what it felt like to lose a game as a Phillie. But that was only the second-longest winning streak by a player joining a new team at the trading deadline. The longest? Wilson Betemit beat him by one game after he got dealt to the Dodgers at the 2006 deadline.

Tweets of the Week

Our five favorite tweets from Stephen Colbert after he took over MLB's official Twitter feed last Friday:

• Legal disclaimer: If you're hit by a foul ball while reading my tweets, I am both not responsible and entitled to half the ball.

• If I'm in charge of MLB tweets, I can do trades, right? Cardinals, I'll give you two cameras and a Teleprompter for Albert Pujols.

• I can't wait to see Ken Burns' nine-part documentary about my control of baseball's twitter feed.

• SCORE UPDATE! Seattle Salamanders 7, Albuquerque Balloons, aught. Also, it's Toss Your Trash On The Field Day at all stadiums!

• That's it for my day at @MLB. Celebrate by dumping a cooler of Gatorade on your computer!

Headliner of the Week

Finally, this just in from those witticists at theonion.com:

PIRATES ACQUIRE LEE, LUDWICK
TO BOLSTER 2ND-HALF COLLAPSE

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com