DALLAS — Jose Reyes felt the love from the Miami Marlins. And the money.
When the free-agent signing period began last month, the Marlins wanted to meet the All-Star shortstop right away — as in not a minute to spare.
So owner Jeffrey Loria, team president David Samson and their top baseball officials arranged a midnight rendezvous with Reyes and his agent at a table outside Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, the New York hotel famous for hosting President John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe a half-century ago.
“12:01. Those guys are crazy,” Reyes said Wednesday, when his $106 million, six-year contract was finalized. “They showed me a lot of love.”
Leaving the cash-strapped New York Mets, who signed him when he was 16, Reyes accepted an offer that pays him $10 million in each of the next two seasons, $16 million in 2014 and $22 million in each of the final three years. Miami has a $22 million option for 2018 with a $4 million buyout, which could raise the total to $124 million.
Reeling from three straight losing seasons, $70 million in losses and a lawsuit seeking to recover money from their owners for the victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, the Mets never made a formal proposal to retain their first NL batting champion.
“They didn’t make a real offer, so that means they don’t want me there,” Reyes said. “I need to move on.”
After trading Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, All-Stars are disappearing as fast from the Citi Field home clubhouse as spectators are from the stands. Reyes sounded hurt that the Mets made little effort to retain him.
“If you’re asking whether I should have sent him a box of chocolates, perhaps I should have done that,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “But on the other hand, the box of chocolates would have cost $106 million.”
Wearing the new look of the Marlins — a cap with a blue, white, orange and yellow “M” with a swoosh that looks like it could be a logo for a fast food chain — Reyes’ dreadlocks dangled onto the white jersey of the team, which was renamed from the Florida Marlins as it prepares to move into its $515 million downtown ballpark next season.
It appears as Reyes’ bank account swells, his hair will shorten.
“We have team rules. Period,” Loria said. “Everybody adheres to them.”
Samson said he arrived at 11:56 p.m. for the initial meeting.
“Jeffrey walked into the Hotel Carlyle with a long overcoat because it was about 12 degrees out, and under the overcoat was the Jose Reyes new Marlins jersey that had not been released yet,” he said. “A few other people in the bar thought that this was some sort of strange, freaky show, because the owner of the team stood up and literally went like this, and underneath was Jose Reyes’ jersey,” Samson said, pulling apart his jacket by the lapels. “We then ordered some drinks and stayed around for a couple of hours just talking and getting to know each other, and a few days after that Jose came down to Miami and saw the ballpark. So 12:01 to us was always a big deal because we wanted to show Jose from the beginning that we had an idea.”
A four-time All-Star, the 28-year-old Reyes hit .337 and also topped the league with 16 triples, while also stealing 39 bases. But hamstring injuries have limited him to no more than 133 games in any of the last three years.
He joins a team that suddenly aspires to be among baseball’s big spenders. When the meetings began Monday, the Marlins finalized a $27 million, three-year contract with closer Heath Bell. And the winter meetings have been dominated by Miami’s pursuit of three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols.
“It’s a perfect situation in Miami,” Reyes said. “We have a lot of talent there and the new stadium, the weather, close to Dominican, a lot of Spanish people there, so I think I’m going to like it and enjoy it as much as I can.”
His arrival means All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez will have to move to third base. Loria said he spoke with him.
“It was an upbeat conversation. He’s going to be a member of our team,” the owner said.
For months, Reyes had been waiting for the Mets to make an offer. Alderson said Friday and early Saturday that he thought maybe some of the parameters he suggested could develop into an offer, but by Saturday night it was clear to him the Mets weren’t willing to pay what was needed.
The realization of the switch dawned on Reyes on Sunday night, when agent Peter Greenberg accepted the Marlins’ offer. Greenberg said Reyes’ reaction was simple: “I’m a Fish.”