JAWS and the 2024 Hall of Fame Ballot: José Reyes

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Content warning: This piece contains details about alleged domestic violence. The content may be difficult to read and emotionally upsetting.

2024 BBWAA Candidate: José Reyes
José Reyes SS 37.5 29.3 33.4 2,138 145 517 .283/.334/.427 103
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

During the Mets’ run of relevance in the mid-2000s, José Reyes looked like a superstar in the making. Through 2008, his age-25 season, the electrifying and charismatic shortstop had already led the National League in triples and steals three times apiece while collecting at least 190 hits for four straight seasons. Before that run, however, he had also demonstrated a propensity for leg injuries that cost him significant time. Those injuries eventually soured the increasingly cost-conscious Mets ownership on him despite his All-Star level play, and to be fair, Reyes was never really the same after departing New York via free agency following the 2011 season. By the time he returned five years later, he was not only a considerably diminished player but something of a pariah, having been suspended for violating the league’s new domestic violence policy and then released by the Rockies.

José Bernabe Reyes was born on June 11, 1983 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the older of two children of José Manuel Reyes, a plumber, and his wife Rosa. He grew up in Palmar Arriba, a village 120 miles north of Santo Domingo, and began playing baseball at age 10, on a dirt field using a milk carton for a glove until his father could afford a used one. Reyes took to the game quickly enough that he joined his father — who at that point was building toilets for a factory — on the company softball team while still a pre-teen.

“I brought him to play one day for the factory team, and a friend saw him in action and said to me, ‘If you want to get something out of this kid, then get him out of the countryside,'” Jose Manuel told the New York Post in 2011. After some initial fear of leaving home, the younger Reyes joined a youth team in the Felix de Leon League in Santiago, 20 minutes away. Eventually that put him on the radar of major league teams. Two months after the 16-year-old, 130-pound Reyes had begun switch-hitting, he was invited to a tryout camp. Four teams passed. “He was nothing special across the board, they thought: a below-average hitter and fielder with below-average speed and a below-average arm,” wrote ESPN Magazine’s Lindsay Berra in 2006. “But [Mets scout Eddy] Toledo was taken in by the grin. ‘There was something special in his face and eyes. He was so exciting to me.'”

Able to appreciate the youngster’s energy, focus, and raw athleticism, Mets assistant general manager Omar Minaya green-lit the signing. Reyes received a bonus of $13,000 (or was it $15,000, or $22,000?). Reyes gave half the money to his parents and uncle, who built a bodega in front of their home where they sold plantains, corn, and sweet potatoes grown on farmland the shortstop also purchased for them.

While most Dominican players begin their professional careers with a season in the Dominican Summer League or the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Reyes started his career with the Kingsport (Tennessee) Mets of the Appalachian League in 2000; he was just a week past his 17th birthday on Opening Day. He hit .250/.359/.318 and stole 10 bases in 49 games, after which Baseball America called him “the consensus best defensive infielder in the league… [with] outstanding hands, range and footwork at shortstop, as well as a strong arm.”

After Reyes hit .307/.337/.472 with five homers, 15 triples, and 30 steals at A-level Capital City as an 18-year-old, he rocketed to no. 18 on BA’s Top 100, then to no. 3 after hitting .288/.343/.444 with eight homers, 19 triples, and 58 steals in stops at High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton in 2002. BA hailed him as having “the best set of pure tools among minor league infielders” but cautioned about his strike zone judgment.

Reyes began the 2003 season at Triple-A Norfolk, hitting a modest .269/.333/.356 while swiping 26 bags in 42 games before missing a month with a right hamstring strain. Once he rehabbed, the Mets promoted him to debut against the Rangers on June 10, 2003, the day before his 20th birthday. He went 2-for-4 with a single off John Thomson and a double off Aaron Fultz. On June 15, he hit his first homer, a grand slam off the Angels’ Jarrod Washburn, and three days later hit a bases-loaded triple off the Marlins’ Kevin Olsen. Though he didn’t raise his on-base percentage above .300 for good until August 5, he reached .307/.334/.434 (102 OPS+) with five homers and 13 steals before suffering a Grade 2 sprain of his left ankle while trying to avoid a double play on August 31, ending his season. All told, he accumulated 2.3 WAR in just 69 games, an impressive beginning.

Unfortunately, his follow-up season was an injury-plagued mess. Reyes again strained his right hamstring in mid-March, didn’t debut until June 19, and played just 44 games before being sidelined by a stress reaction in his left fibula, which cost him another six weeks. He finished with a dismal .255/.271/.373 (66 OPS+) line and 0.5 WAR in 53 games. Most alarmingly, his walk rate plummeted from 4.5% to 2.2% even though he swung at just 20.6% of pitches outside the zone; he took a lot of called strikes and struggled in the zone.

Reyes’ 2005 season was a mixed bag. On the one hand, he was healthy enough to play 161 games and lead the NL in plate appearances, at-bats, triples (17) and steals (60) — the last two of which exemplified what a dynamic player he could be — yet he hit just .273/.300/.386 (81 OPS+), was six runs below average defensively, and finished with 1.6 WAR. Still, with David Wright turning in an excellent first season, Minaya succeeding Jim Duquette as GM and adding free agents Carlos Beltrán and Pedro Martinez, and Willie Randolph taking over from Art Howe as manager, the team improved from 71 wins to 83.

After some spring tutelage from Rickey Henderson, the 23-year-old Reyes broke out in 2006, improving his pitch selection, doubling his walk rate from 3.7% to 7.5%, and hitting the ball on the ground more often to better utilize his speed. Again he led the NL in triples (17) and steals (64), this time while batting .300/.354/.487 (115 OPS+) with 19 homers, which along with improved defense pushed him to 5.9 WAR. He made his first All-Star team, and in August signed a four-year, $23.25 million extension covering his 2007-10 seasons.

With Minaya trading for Carlos Delgado and signing free agent Billy Wagner, nearly everything clicked for the Mets in 2006. They won 97 games and the NL East, then swept the Dodgers in the Division Series, before falling just short in a tight seven-game NLCS against the Cardinals. Reyes hit just .250/.298/.386 in 47 PA during that run, but did have a pair of three-hit games in the NLCS, one in a Game 2 loss (including a leadoff double that sparked a three-run rally in the first and an RBI single in the second, both off Chris Carpenter) and the other in a Game 6 win (including a leadoff homer off Carpenter and a single, steal, and a run scored against Braden Looper in the seventh). He went 0-for-5 in Game 7, alas.

Reyes’ 2007 and ’08 weren’t quite up to his ’06 level, but he did total 9.9 WAR and 319 games across the two seasons, hitting .280/.354/.421 (102 OPS+) with 12 homers and 78 steals in the former year, during which he was elected to start the All-Star Game, and .297/.358/.475 (119 OPS+) with 16 homers and league leads in hits (204) and triples (19) in the latter. As noted several other times elsewhere within this series, the Mets cratered down the stretch in the closing weeks of both seasons and lost out on playoff spots on the final day. Reyes was among the culprits in both collapses, hitting .187/.282/.320 during their 5-12 plummet in September 2007, and .200/.256/.300 as they went 3-6 to close ’08.

While Baseball Prospectus 2009 anointed him “The Most Exciting Player in Baseball,” Reyes was limited to just 36 games that season. He injured his right leg in San Francisco on May 13, made just one pinch-hitting appearance over the next five games, and underwent an MRI by Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache when the team reached Los Angeles. ElAttrache diagnosed Reyes with a partially torn accessory hamstring tendon, and both he and the Mets agreed that Reyes could continue playing. The Mets publicly maintained that Reyes was day-to-day with tendinitis in his calf, not a hamstring injury, but he played just two more games before hurting himself while running. Not until early June did the Mets reveal he had torn a hamstring tendon, and in late September he tore the hamstring itself while testing the leg. Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon — the guy with this track record — publicly claimed that ElAttrache misdiagnosed the injury, creating a rift between the two teams.

The shortstop’s hamstring held together in 2010, but thyroid and oblique problems limited him to 133 games. Reyes never actually went on what was then the disabled list for the latter, merely missed weeks here and there in true Wilpon-era fashion. He made the NL All-Star team but hit for just a 103 OPS+ with 11 homers, 30 steals, and 2.3 WAR. The Mets picked up his $11 million option for 2011 nonetheless, but by this time they were feeling the pinch of the Wilpon family’s involvement in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. With Reyes’ free agency looming, owner Fred Wilpon dug himself a hole in a May 30 New Yorker profile by Jeffrey Toobin:

“He’s a racehorse,” Wilpon said. When Reyes started with the Mets, in 2003, just before his twentieth birthday, he was pegged as a future star. Injuries have limited him to a more pedestrian career, though he’s off to a good start this season. “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” Wilpon said, referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.”

Wilpon wasn’t wrong, but he was decidedly undiplomatic and unimaginative in failing to grasp Reyes’ premium value as a marquee attraction at a key defensive position in the league’s largest market. The quote landed during an exceptional season in which the shortstop set across-the-board career highs with a .337/.384/.493 (144 OPS+) line while leading the league in batting average and triples (16), stealing 39 bases, and tallying 4.6 WAR (but an ugly -14 DRS). He did all that in just 126 games, however, landing on the DL twice due to a recurrent left hamstring strain.

Despite Wilpon’s apparent greasing of the skids, GM Sandy Alderson resisted trading Reyes before the deadline because he hoped to re-sign him. The Mets reportedly offered Reyes a five-year deal in the $75 million –$85 million range with a sixth-year option to push it over $100 million, though Reyes maintained that no offer was ever made. Either way, the Marlins signed Reyes to a heavily backloaded six-year, $106 million deal, part of a free agent binge in which they also landed Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, and traded for Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen as they prepared to move into their new stadium. Reyes’ addition was made possible by Hanley Ramirez agreeing to move from shortstop to third base.

Reyes stayed healthy and hit pretty well (.287/.347/.433, 109 OPS+) while stealing 40 bases for the Marlins, but his -16 DRS (accompanying Ramirez’s -10 at third base) limited him to 3.0 WAR. The Marlins’ experiment crashed and burned; the team went 69-93, and was dismantled about as quickly as their 1997 championship squad was. On November 19, Reyes, Buehrle, Emilio Bonifácio, John Buck, Josh Johnson and $4 million were traded to the Blue Jays for a seven-player package (Henderson Alvarez III, Anthony DeSclafani, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarría, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis, and Justin Nicolino).

With Reyes missing two months due to a left ankle sprain and but still putting up a 113 OPS+ and 2.6 WAR, the blockbuster did little to change the immediate fortunes of the Blue Jays, who improved from 73 wins… to 74. Though Reyes landed on the DL due to another left hamstring strain in 2014, he did play 143 games, hit .287/.328/.398 (105 OPS+) while going 30-for-32 in steals, and produce 3.4 WAR. The Blue Jays improved to 83 wins, but any hope that the team’s nine-game improvement represented a corner turned was undone by a 50-50 start in 2015. Reyes struggled both before and after missing nearly four weeks due to a small crack in his rib as well as a muscle strain, suffered on a checked swing. He was hitting just .285/.322/.385 (92 OPS+) on July 28 when the Blue Jays swung a six-player deal with the Rockies: Reyes, Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins. The trade, motivated by the Rockies wanting to get out from under the $107.5 million remaining on Tulowitzki’s 10-year deal, helped the Blue Jays make the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Meanwhile Reyes — who himself still had $56.3 million to go on his contract — hit just .259/.291/.368 (67 OPS+) for a 94-loss team.

He never played for the Rockies again. On October 31, 2015, Reyes was arrested in Maui and charged with abuse of a family member. The Maui County Police department said Reyes and his wife Katherine Ramirez were involved “in an argument that turned physical and resulted in injuries.” Ramirez told police that her husband had grabbed her throat and pushed her into a glass door, and that she had suffered thigh, neck and wrist injuries.

Reyes pled not guilty to the charge, and when Ramirez declined to cooperate with prosecutors, it was dismissed in April 2016. Even so, Reyes’ case became the first taken up by Major League Baseball following the introduction of the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy in August 2015, which gave commissioner Rob Manfred broad powers to discipline players even if they weren’t arrested or convicted. Reyes was placed on administrative leave on February 23, and on May 14, Manfred announced that his suspension would run through May 31, a total of 51 games (he was not the first player disciplined under the new policy, as Aroldis Chapman’s 30-game suspension was handed down in March). Reyes, who cooperated with the investigation and its treatment provisions, issued a boilerplate statement of apology once the suspension was announced.

The policy allowed Reyes to go on a rehab assignment prior to his reinstatement. He played nine games for the Rockies’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate, but the team preferred to turn to top prospect Trevor Story. Reyes was designated for assignment on June 15 and released eight days later, still owed $39.1 million on his contract. Two days later, the Mets — who had just lost Wright to season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc — signed Reyes to a minimum-salary deal. He joined their A-level Brooklyn Cyclones affiliate for a tune-up, and received a mixed reception at MCU Park, cheers mixed with boos. Afterwards he expressed his remorse for the situation he had put himself and his family in:

“I need to be a better man. Be a better husband. Be a better dad for my girls. I got three girls, I need to be an example for them. I’m a human being. I made a terrible mistake. I say so sorry to everybody. I say sorry to my wife, my dad, my mom, to everybody. They know I’m a better person than that.

“I paid my suspension to MLB. I went to counseling. I’m going to continue to be going again to counseling, whatever it takes. They will see a man who stands up for his mistake.”

It all sounded good, but in the wake of what had happened, it was still jarring to hear Reyes receive a hero’s welcome from the Citi Field crowd when he returned to the majors on July 5 following two games with Brooklyn and nine with Double-A Binghamton.

Reyes went 0-for-4 that night against the Marlins, but collected two doubles the next day, and homered against the Nationals the day after that. He hit .267/.326/.443 (107 OPS+) with eight homers in 279 PA. Even with subpar defense at third, he was enough of a stopgap to help the reigning NL champions claim a Wild Card berth. Reyes went 0-for-4 in the Wild Card Game as the Mets were shut out by the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner.

After the season, the Mets picked up Reyes’ minimum salary option, but the returns diminished even as he collected his 2,000th hit on May 20 against the Angels’ Alex Meyer, and stole his 500th base against the Padres on July 24. He hit for a 94 OPS+ but was 21 runs below average while splitting his time between shortstop, third base, and second base. He finished with just 0.1 WAR in 145 games, his continued presence prompting all kinds of questions on a 92-loss team, the main one being: Why is he taking a roster spot from a player who could help more? Likewise in 2018, after his original contract expired and the Mets re-signed him as a free agent when they could have sent him on his way. Then again, would Reyes playing better and being even more celebrated have been easier to take under the circumstances? His decline as a player at least offered that relief.

As it was, in 2018 Reyes played in 110 games but made only 251 PA, sinking to a 62 OPS+ with -0.3 WAR for a 77-85 squad. On the final day of the season, he received a sendoff, making one plate appearance against the Marlins before being replaced by Amed Rosario, then taking a curtain call for the Citi Field fans.

Reyes hoped to play in 2019, but couldn’t land a major league deal. On July 29, 2020, he announced his retirement.

While Reyes’ early years were uneven enough that he was never clearly on a Hall of Fame track, a trip to Cooperstown was hardly out of the question. His 20.2 WAR through his age-25 season (2008) was higher than that of 13 out of the 23 enshrined shortstops, while his 27.9 WAR through age-28 (2011) was still higher than eight of them, including four (Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith, and Luke Appling) elected by the BBWAA. His 36.9 WAR though age 31 (2014) was ahead of seven of them, including all but Reese from that BBWAA-elected group. Those players had staying power at shortstop, something Reyes couldn’t really do given his defensive decline. Via DRS, he was 55 runs below average from 2011–15, before his fall from grace, costing his team more than a win per year, and 29 below average as a utilityman in his final three seasons while his offense crumbled.

Moreso than Chapman, who was never beloved by a fan base and was defiant if not unrepentant upon returning from his suspension, Reyes forced the public to confront its own expectations as to how a player suspended under the new domestic violence policy was supposed to proceed with his career, particularly given experts cautioning against a zero-tolerance approach because it further endangers victims. That’s a complicated legacy for a player to leave, but it’s what Reyes has.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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David Klein
4 months ago

He was electrifying to watch in his first run as a Met and was at one time was one of my favs, but his off the field actions, which he pretty much admitted to made his return a sour one to many though he got pretty wildly cheered by most Mets fans at games even after that. The Wilpons happily brought him back after the Rockies dumped him because he was cheap and much of the fanbase still really loved him I for one had issues rooting for him as did others. He was pretty good in half a season in 2016 but it wasn’t pretty the last few years as he was a complete embarrassment in 2018 and yet he played more than he should(and really should have been dfa’d), but Jeff Wilpon though people came to see Reyes play even in 2018 which was a ridiculous. Reyes had a terrific career and like many speed and athleticism guys he didn’t age very well and was done by his early 30’s.

Last edited 4 months ago by David Klein
Handsome Wes
4 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

(Mets fan here)
I don’t really remember “wildly cheering” him in his second run. Personally, David Wright’s comments summed it up for me when he said something like “what he did was horrible, there’s no way around that. he’s done everything he’s can to deserve a second chance, and if he is going to get one, this is the best place for it – but what he did was horrible.”

Even when he was taken out of his last game as a Met, the general feeling was more like “all right, whatever — yay, I suppose. Clap clap.”

(Also, I think that the reason why Reyes was kept on the roster in 2018 was for the sole purpose that David Wright could take the field one last time with his longtime homegrown teammate)

Last edited 4 months ago by Handsome Wes
David Klein
4 months ago
Reply to  Handsome Wes

I was in the ballpark when fans were still doing the Jose Jose Jose sing song and after Reyes first game back here the daily news ran a back page headline of cheers for a wife beater.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
4 months ago
Reply to  Handsome Wes

FWIW this description fits better with my recollection as well. I recall nothing like the “hero’s welcome” mentioned in the article. Some fans were obviously more enthusiastic than others (or than I was) to welcome him back.