Jose Reyes has gotten off to an awful start in 2018 for the New York Mets. He has also been completely mishandled by his manager. He may have some baseball left in him, he just needs to play.
A searing line drive would skip between the outfielders as they chased after the ball in a hurried panic. Off to the races, Reyes would go. Sprint he would, and havoc would ensue as he tightly rounded first, peeked back and turned on the afterburners as he reached second. Finally, dirt would fly as he dove head first full bore, into third base leaping to his feet while clapping his hands with unabated exuberance.
Inevitably one of the three Mets who followed him would make an out or get a hit. There was once a name for it. A “Reyes Run” could be a spectacle or rather mundane: A Reyes walk, a stolen base, followed by a sacrifice fly and a groundout.
One thing was for certain, watching Jose Reyes play was something to behold.
While those moments are few and far between during his second stint in New York, as recently as last year, Reyes proved he could still bring the Citi Field crowd to its feet with both his bat and his legs.
But, the 2018 season has been all too different for the 16-year veteran.
Now Reyes sits at a crossroads. Through 32 games and 55 at-bats, his OPS is .403 and he is hitting an embarrassing .145 with his lone home run accounting for his only RBI. It hasn’t been pretty. There is no way to sugar coat seven hits and three walks in 59 plate appearances.
That said, the blame isn’t solely on him.
Mickey Callaway has completely misused Reyes. Even with third baseman Todd Frazier on the disabled list, Callaway has not given Reyes even a semblance of consistent playing time as a starter and even at-bats on consecutive days to right himself.
While Reyes’ limited opportunities were understandable with Frazier entrenched at third, his injured right hamstring provided ample opportunity to give Reyes a bundle of regular at-bats to right himself. Remember, Reyes got off to a similarly awful start in 2017 but played his way out of it. His early scuffles have created a chicken and egg conundrum. If he doesn’t hit he’s less likely to play but, if he doesn’t play, how can he get on track?
Reyes, who is earning just $2 million in 2018 after signing a one-year deal suddenly might find his roster spot in a precarious position when everyone gets healthy. All this while not getting the chance to work out of his present funk.
Wilmer Flores has gotten the bulk of playing time against both lefties and righties at third. Asdrubal Cabrera has gotten just two off-days at second, and Reyes has not started either of those games. Until recently most of his scant starts have come at shortstop, to give Amed Rosario a breather.
Flores, known as a lefty-killer is hitting just .171 with a .483 OPS in 41 at-bats against southpaws, but still has been given ample time to right himself, a privilege Reyes has not been accorded.
That not only says something about what Callaway thinks of Reyes, but underscores his complicity in the position Reyes finds himself.
Reyes has been not only a starter, but an everyday player his entire career. Suddenly, he finds himself sitting on the bench days at a time. He sometimes goes four or five days without seeing action and gets one or two starts per week. He’s started nine total games, five at third, four at short and one at second. None have come consecutively.
It’s hard to right oneself from the bench, especially when one is used to getting regular at-bats. Hitting is a lot about rhythm, timing, and confidence, something that comes with reps. Baseball players are about routine and Reyes’ routine is completely different in 2018. For his entire career, the switch-hitting Reyes never got days off and played whenever healthy. While its incumbent upon Reyes to make an adjustment, giving a player used to playing every day a cluster of at-bats would seem the prudent thing to do if he is to contribute.
While hardly respectable, Reyes is hitting .184 in his ten starts, compared to 1-for-13 as a pinch hitter, and .059 as a sub.
After starting the season hitless in 17 at-bats Reyes told Fred Kerber of the New York Post:
“I’m kind of lost a little bit right now. This is my first time going through this in my long career. Pinch hitting is tough. I am used to playing every single day, so I need to adjust to my new role. I know it’s not easy for me, but I will find a way… When you have only one opportunity, it’s kind of hard. I am going to put a little bit of pressure on myself. But I am going to find a way. It’s still early for me and I’m learning the new role that I’m in.”
Days later it looked like Reyes was coming around. He spelled Amed Rosario on April 21 and went 3-for-4 with a stolen base, then went back to the bench. Eight days later he went 3-for-5 with a SB and HR. Reyes goes back to the bench the following day.
Last season Reyes endured an atrocious start as the incumbent starter at third base, hitting .095 through his first 70 plate appearances. As late as June 29, game 75, he was hitting under .200. Yet, Reyes was able to right himself, slashing .296/.361/.504 for the rest of the season. First filling in at short when Asdrubal Cabrera went on the DL, then moving to second after Neil Walker was dealt.
Now he looks lost at the plate and in the field, mired in a 2-for-22 slump entering Wednesday’s game.
Though Reyes managed a hit in a rare start at third on Tuesday, he had two throwing errors, one which cost the Mets two first-inning runs. Once again it came after spending days languishing on the bench. Now it looks like he is pressing, and even looks apprehensive at times, unthinkable for the aggressive, enthusiastic Reyes.
The 34-year-old has hit the ball hard at times, but he’s hit into some tough luck. His 85-mph exit velocity is only four miles off the league average and his batting average on balls in play is an almost unthinkable .149, meaning he is not only slumping, but hitting into some tough luck.
In discussing his struggles with Dan Martin and Mike Puma of the New York Post Reyes alluded to his lack of opportunities:
“Last year, I went through a similar situation, but it was a little bit different because last year I had the opportunity to play a little bit more. I can just do my work and routine and try to put my swing together.”
Instead of Reyes, Callaway even elected to start rookie call-up Luis Guillorme at third, despite him never having played there until he got to the big leagues. Guillorme also spelled Cabrera at second. That time could easily be accorded to Reyes, a starter his entire career and an established veteran with a track record. While Guillorme has gotten off to a solid start at the plate and looked impressive this spring, Reyes was supposed to be an integral part of this team.
“It’s not a surprise to me because I haven’t been playing too much,’’ added Reyes to the Post, “That’s nothing new. Whatever happens, happens.”
After winning a batting title and leaving as a free agent, Reyes made his return to the Mets after his career and livelihood were almost taken from him. Was he the same player that once brought crowds to chant his name in unison? No. However, occasionally, we would see that Reyes magic and be reminded that this was once a great player who still had an abundance of talent.
When he came here for a second tour of duty he switched positions twice.
In 2016 he played a solid third base and provided an offensive spark for a team in desperate need of a lift. Last season, he started at three positions and persevered through the worst start of his career. He would lead the Mets in games played and at-bats, swipe 24 bags, end up with a .728 OPS and 14 long balls. His defense is not what it once was, but Reyes is still capable of playing all three infield positions, though looks far better in the middle infield.
Through his struggles, Reyes’ effervescence and veteran presence have been unassailably lauded. Though Callaway has shown little faith in Reyes on the field, the first-year skipper has been effusive in his praise of Reyes’ mentorship of fellow Dominican shortstop Amed Rosario and contribution to his continued development. Reyes took Rosario under his wing last year, and Rosario was vocal in lobbying for his return this offseason.
That said performance matters. Reyes has obviously found the adjustment to a bench role more difficult than anticipated. His role on this team is not as a starter, if he is going to have value, he’s going to have to adjust to receiving irregular playing time. But, that adjustment would be much smoother if he was able to get comfortable in the batter’s box and on the field with some consistent time.
Jose Reyes didn’t lose his skills overnight. He still has some baseball left in him. Reyes just needs at-bats
Given his track record, he should be warranted the opportunity.