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A look at why the Red Sox might have been interested in Jose Reyes

One of the most interesting pieces of the Blue Jays/Marlins mega-deal fall-out is this: According to a baseball source, the Red Sox [1] had preliminary talks with the Marlins about potentially acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes [2] and/or pitcher Josh Johnson [3].

The interest in Johnson isn’€™t surprising. He fits the mold, controllable for one more year at just more than $13 million. At 28 years old, the righty was just two years removed from winning a National League [4] ERA title, and while 2012 represented a down year, he was good enough (31 starts, 3.81 ERA) to be a nice fit in any rotation.

But what about Reyes?

This is a player who is locked up through 2017 via a six-year, $106 million deal (with a $22 million club option for ‘€™18), with his all-important AAV (annual average value) coming in at $17.67 million.

The backloaded structure of his deal means that he will earn upwards of $20 million for each of the final three (or potentially four) years of his contract. Given the fact that his salary will go up as his production and health likely diminish as he nears his mid-30s, the Marlins likely traded him when his value was highest. The market for his services is more likely to narrow than increase down the road.

The remaining five years of his deal represent the type of commitment that many thought the Red Sox wouldn’€™t be diving back into for some time, or at least until the perfect player who was the perfect fit came along.

Could it be that the Red Sox viewed Reyes in such a light?

There are reasons the 29-year-old might be considered for such a commitment:

1. The Red Sox would welcome an upgrade at shortstop. Right now, Jose Iglesias [5] is slotted in as the starter, but there is some concern regarding how much support the team would have to possess throughout the rest of the lineup in order to make up for Iglesias’€™ deficiencies. Reyes would erase any such concerns.

2. Reyes is a legitimate leadoff hitter. While Jacoby Ellsbury [6] would seem to be able to fill that role in 2013, there’s a good chance he’ll depart via free agency after the season — if he’s not traded sooner. And even with Ellsbury in the lineup, the switch-hitting Reyes offers the kind of top-of-the-order flexibility that would the Red Sox drool over. Jackie Bradley Jr., an on-base machine, might represent an eventual homegrown replacement for Ellsbury atop the order, though whether the Sox will want Bradley to assume top-of-the-order responsibilities at the start of his career remains to be seen.

3. Reyes fits the style of play new manager John Farrell [7] wants to implement, having come off a 40-stolen base season. He’s one of the most impactful baserunners in the game.

4. Reyes’€™ plate discipline seemingly continues to get better with age. He garnered more walks (63) than strikeouts (56) in 2012 for his second straight season. This after striking out more than twice as much as he walked in ‘€™10.

5. He played in New York, taking out some of the concerns regarding any acclimation to the Boston baseball environment.

So, what would be the concerns?

1. The Red Sox seemingly have their shortstop of the future, Xander Bogaerts, slated for introduction into the big leagues by ‘€™14 (or ‘€™15, at the latest).

2. As Reyes gets into his 30s, he becomes less and less likely to be worth $22 million a year. Again, the backloaded nature of his deal means that he will get paid more to produce less as he ages.

3. Reyes has an injury history. Up until the ‘€™12 season, in which he played 160 games, the shortstop had missed considerable chunks of time, not playing more than 133 games in any of the three previous three seasons.

4. As is the case with Ellsbury, there is some concern that Reyes’€™ 11 season represents an outlier. The shortstop was spectacular in that (contract) season, winning the batting title (.337), while totaling an .877 OPS with 39 stolen bases in 126 games. But he has never approached such production before, or after. His career OPS+ is 107, only slightly better than league-average. As age diminishes his speed and defense, the competitive advantage he offers compared to shortstop peers will decline.

Worth a conversation, one which the Red Sox’€™ decision-makers were evidently participating in ‘€¦

Should the Red Sox have made a stronger play to acquire Jose Reyes?

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