NEW YORK — Jose Reyes is keeping his options open, which could make it hard for the New York Mets to afford him.
The star shortstop told the team he’s not interested in negotiating a new contract during the season, perhaps increasing the chances that the cash-strapped club will put him on the trading block.
The 28-year-old Reyes can become a free agent after the World Series and could be one of the biggest prizes on the open market next winter. He said he wants to remain with the Mets, but doesn’t want any off-the-field distractions right now.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about me (being) comfortable,” Reyes said Tuesday. “Nothing’s changed. I want to stay here. Like I always say, I want to be a New York Met all my career. But right now I just want to play baseball.”
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he reached out last week to Reyes’ agent, Peter Greenberg, and asked about the possibility of negotiating a new deal during the season.
Reyes, the NL batting leader, met with his representatives at home Monday and they informed the Mets they would rather wait until after the season to talk about a contract.
“We will respect his wishes and hopefully pick up negotiations at the end of the season,” Alderson said.
New York will be the only team allowed to negotiate with Reyes for a brief period following the World Series. But after that, he can field offers from anyone.
“We’re going to have plenty of time in the offseason (to) make this happen. But right now I just want to play without a distraction,” said Reyes, a fan favorite who has spent his entire professional career with the Mets. “My agent said from the beginning, from spring training, he doesn’t like to do any contract negotiations during the season. So for me right now the only thing that I can do right now is continue to play. I don’t want to put any distractions on my mind because that’s going to affect the way that I perform on the field.”
Reyes’ stance puts the Mets in a difficult position — especially if they stay on the fringe of the wild-card race this summer. Trade him for prospects before the July 31 deadline and they essentially give up on the season while infuriating an already frustrated fan base.
Keep him for the rest of 2011 and risk losing him on the free-agent market for nothing more than a pair of draft picks as compensation.
It’s a dilemma that small-market teams like Cleveland and Florida face all the time. But in New York, where the Yankees outspend everyone, it’s not as common.
“That element of uncertainty is a factor, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a determinative factor,” Alderson said. “We’ll just have to weigh it as time goes on. Obviously we want to act in the best interests of the Mets long-term and you know at this point, by virtue of having reached out to Jose, I think that’s an indication that we feel that having Jose with us long-term would be a real positive. At the same time, we’ll just have to see where events take us over the next four or five weeks.”
The Mets’ situation, of course, is more dicey due to their financial problems.
The club’s owners are facing a $1 billion lawsuit because of their business with Bernard Madoff, and it’s unclear how long it will take for the case to play out.
Fred Wilpon told Sports Illustrated last month his team is “bleeding cash” and could lose up to $70 million this year. Reducing the payroll for 2012 seems likely.
Hedge fund manager David Einhorn has agreed to buy a minority stake in the team for $200 million, and the deal is expected to be completed by the end of June.
But in a recent profile of the embattled owner in The New Yorker, Wilpon said this about Reyes, who has a history of leg injuries: “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money. He’s had everything wrong with him. He won’t get it.”
Crawford signed a $142 million, seven-year deal with the Boston Red Sox last winter. Whether Reyes scores that kind of contract remains to be seen, but he has comparable skills and some of their career numbers are strikingly similar.
Reyes, meanwhile, is having a huge season and seems to up his price every time he swings the bat and dashes around the bases.
The speedy leadoff man went into Tuesday night’s game against Oakland hitting .341 and leading the majors with 12 triples and 35 multihit games. He was tops in the NL with 103 hits and also ranked among the league leaders in runs, doubles, steals and total bases.
He’s been so dynamic that manager Terry Collins handed out blue Mets skull caps — just like the one Reyes wears under his helmet — to all the players Tuesday, hoping some of his magic might wear off.
Rookie infielder Justin Turner even donned fake dreadlocks under his cap before batting practice.
“I think he’s feeling out of place all by himself out there with his skull cap on,” Collins said. “So I thought today we’d make him feel at home. Lighten things up a little bit.”
Last weekend, Reyes dismissed speculation that he was considering changing agents from Greenberg to Scott Boras, saying there’s “no chance” he will switch.
Romero clarifies remarks
ATLANTA — The Toronto Blue Jays held a team meeting Tuesday to discuss pitcher Ricky Romero’s remarks about his teammates.
After losing 2-0 to Atlanta on Monday night on a two-run homer by pitcher Tim Hudson in the seventh inning, Romero said the Blue Jays relied too much on Jose Bautista and Adam Lind to drive in runs.
Toronto manager John Farrell would not say if he approached Romero or if Romero approached him about speaking to the team before its game against the Braves.
“I think he recognized the fact that some of those (remarks) might have been interpreted the wrong way and to his credit he wanted to be sure that no one took them as such,” Farrell said. “And he addressed his teammates.”
Farrell said Romero elaborated on his thoughts so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings.
“I think that speaks volumes (about) him as a person, that he takes accountability for the actions he demonstrates,” Farrell said.
Toronto had just two hits against Hudson. Braves closer Craig Kimbrel entered with runners on first and second in the ninth inning and struck out Corey Patterson, Bautista and Lind.
Bautista and Lind, who have combined this season for a .328 average, 36 homers and 90 RBIs, were a combined 0 for 8 with four strikeouts.
“Those guys are getting pitched around, so everyone’s got to step it up or else we’re not going to keep winning ballgames,” Romero said Monday. “We’re going to keep losing ballgames like this. Like I said, this team doesn’t revolve around one or two guys. Everyone’s got to put in their part. That’s how we win ballgames.”
Romero wasn’t available to speak with reporters before Tuesday’s game.
Farrell said he likes the competitive spirit of Romero, the staff ace in just his third season.
“Ricky’s putting himself in a very select group of pitchers in the major leagues by his performance,” Farrell said. “Along with that status comes greater attention, greater focus, on how he does his work. Ricky is a leader by example in every sense of the word.”
Romero allowed six hits and walked two in seven innings against the Braves, dropping 6-7 on the year. The left-hander has dropped three of his four starts this month despite a 3.23 ERA.
Romero was disappointed in himself for giving up Hudson’s second career homer, but also called out his teammates for a lack of run support.
“If you don’t score, you don’t win,” he said. “I did everything possible. I’ve thrown that pitch 101 times. You never really expect the pitcher to hit it out. If anything, just put the barrel through it and get a big (single) or something. It was Timmy’s night, I guess. He did his job on the mound and helped himself with two runs.”
Toronto was fourth in the AL East entering play on Tuesday, 8½ games behind division-leading Boston. It had lost two straight and seven of 11.
“When comments are made and actions are performed, they resonate,” Farrell said. “In this case, as he is with everything else, he is accountable. And he’s handled it the right way.”