Since Jose Reyes entered the major leagues, one day before his 20th birthday in 2003, the word “if” seems to have proceeded his name more times than not. As Jose Reyes yesterday celebrated his 27th birthday, it may just be time to stop using that terminology and accept the three-time stolen base champion for what he is, the key to the Mets winning the National League East. From 2006 to 2008, Jose played in 472 regular season games (an average of 157 games per season). And in each of those three seasons Jose posted on-base-percentages of .354, .354, and .358. He led the major leagues in stolen bases in 2006 and 2007, and finished second to Willy Taveras in 2008. In 2009, Reyes seemed primed to break out. Jose had led the major leagues in triples three of the proceeding four seasons, amassing 65 triples over that time, and was going to get to play his home games in the quirky, cavernous Citi Field. However, his season was cut short by a hamstring injury after just 36 games. Now, after missing the first week of the 2010 campaign with a thyroid condition, and scuffling through the first third of the season, Met fans are left wondering… Jose Jose Jose! Where are you???
Since returning from an 11-month hiatus from baseball, Jose has shown only flashes of the brilliance he showed before his disappointing 2009 campaign. The increased plate discipline we came to know before his injury seems to have all but disappeared, and Jose seems to be pressing at the plate. Pitches that he would frequently deposit into the gaps are now routine pop-outs. And after manager Jerry Manuel’s unsuccessful experiment with Jose batting third in the lineup, he seems to be struggling to re-find his identity. The hope was that the ultra-talented Reyes would move seamlessly from the leadoff spot to the three-hole like Florida’s Hanley Ramirez was so successful with. But alas, Jose Reyes is not Hanley Ramirez.
On a positive note, Jose’s struggles at the plate have not affected his play in the field. Much like his Met teammate Jason Bay, who has also disappointed with the stick this year, the fact that he is able remain steady in the other facets of the game can only serve as a positive sign that he has not lost his confidence. The team is willing to battle for it’s manager Jerry Manuel, as evidenced by the team’s 33-28 record. And as the season wears on, one would think that Jose’s offensive game will return. It’s also worth noting that Jose is second in the National League in steals with 15, just 5 behind NL leader Michael Bourn. So the endless potential with Reyes endures.
The man remains a one-of-a-kind commodity: a gold glove caliber shortstop capable of changing the complexion of a game with his legs alone. In a true team sport like baseball, there are very few players who get the distinction of being a playmaker. But Jose remains in that elite class. His track record is proven, and at 27, Jose Reyes is entering his prime. While 2010 remains a struggle for Jose, Met fans should not lose faith. This is undoubtedly the offensive low-point in the career of Jose Reyes and it just goes to show that hitting at the major league level isn’t always easy, especially after you’ve been away from it as long as Jose has. IF Jose Reyes can play himself back into form at the plate, the Mets will win the National League East. But as is always the case with Reyes… it remains a huge if. As the great Tug McGraw said “Ya gotta believe.” And as a die-hard Met fan, I can’t disagree. Ya gotta believe, baby!