The Derek Jeter-Jose Reyes Debate Is Over

When I saw that the the Yankees were going to open the 2014 season in Houston, I penciled them in for a 3-0 start to the season. At worst they would open the year 2-1. After back-to-back disastrous games to open the season, the Yankees head to Toronto at 1-2 and with an offense that has looked like a continuation of last season despite the addition of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.

With the Yankees and Blue Jays meeting this weekend, I did an email exchange with Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter to talk about Jose Reyes and the Blue Jays since their November 2012 trade with the Marlins, the decision to trade prospects for R.A. Dickey and what it will be like for Blue Jays fans to no longer see Derek Jeter in the Yankees lineup.

Keefe: For nine years years in New York, I was forced to be involved in Derek Jeter-Jose Reyes debates, the same way I was forced into Derek Jeter-Nomar Garciaparra. Mets fans would cite Reyes’ abilities and excitement against Jeter’s accomplishments and championships. I would have to defend Jeter against fans who believed that the Yankees would have achieved the same success with Jose Reyes in the lineup over the years. But over time, the potential for Reyes was overshadowed by him becoming the face of everything that started to go wrong with the Mets after their 2006 NLCS Game 7 loss and has continued to go wrong since their September 2007 collapse. Like the Jeter-Garciaparra debate, it seems like the Jeter-Reyes debate has headed the same way.

Sure, when Reyes is healthy and playing, he is a dynamic and rare talent, especially for a shortstop. But “when he is healthy” isn’t something that happens that often. Since 2008, Reyes has played at least 133 games just once and after one inning this year, he’s back on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

What are your thoughts on Reyes and since I’m asking, what are/were your thoughts on that entire deal with the Marlins?

Dakers: I liked the trade, at the time, but then I figured Emilio Bonifacio would be able to play second base (boy was I wrong) and that Josh Johnson would become our ace (0-for-2). My least favorite excuse for a bad move by a general manager is “anyone would have done the same thing.” I want the GM that does moves that turn out better than anyone would have expected. For a team that prides itself on due diligence and scouting, I don’t know why they didn’t notice that Bonifacio wasn’t good with the glove or that Johnson’s arm was hanging by a thread. But then, we all make mistakes.

A season later and all we have to show for the trade is a mid-rotation innings eater (definitely not a bad thing to have, but not something that will put you in the playoffs) and an often injured shortstop who is entering his 30s who is owed a ton of money over the next four years. I think it is safe to say the trade didn’t work out.

Reyes, when healthy, has been a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle, two weeks into last season and when he came back he wasn’t 100 percent. Favoring the ankle slowed him, and it was very noticeable on defense. For a good part of the season he had the one step and a dive range, only he rarely dove.

This year it is a hamstring problem. I’m hoping it doesn’t keep him out long but I don’t think we are ever going to get a full season out of him.

Keefe: R.A. Dickey became one of my favorite non-Yankees (and there aren’t many of those) during the 2010 season when he put together an 11-9, 2.84 season for the Mets. And his season should have been even better considering he had seven starts where he pitched at least six innings and gave up two earned runs or less and lost or received a no-decision.

I was nervous about Dickey joining the AL East last season following his 2013 Cy Young campaign in 2012 because he had given the Yankees some trouble in the Subway Series in the past and you never want to add front-end starters to other teams in your division. Dickey wasn’t the same pitcher with the Blue Jays (14-13, 4.21) that he had been in the NL, though given the team’s performance and the stat conversions from the NL to AL, it’s not like he had an awful year. But to me at least, I wasn’t as scared of the knuckleball specialist I had been in the past and I think that has carried over into this year. Though I’m sure I will regret saying that when the Yankees face him on Saturday in Toronto.

What are your thoughts on Dickey as a Blue Jay? Were you for the team adding him to the rotation and do you trust him as a front-end starter?

Dakers: No, I wasn’t thrilled with the trade. Trading two of your very top prospects for a 38-year-old pitcher, even if he throws a knuckleball, just seemed wrong to me. The idea was to put the Jays over the top, and if it worked it would have been worth giving up Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, but it didn’t.

Dickey is 39 now and he isn’t the normal knuckleball pitcher. He throws a harder version of the pitch than most, so I’m not sure that he will age as well as most did. Last year the drop in velocity was blamed on a sore neck, sore back. This spring he says he’s 100 percent healthy, but he had a rough spring and his first start of the season didn’t exactly make Blue Jays fans think that he’s going to get his second Cy Young Award. Pitchers, even knuckleball pitchers, do lose something as they age, and maybe R.A. has lost a little bit too.

He did finish strong last year, he had a 3.57 ERA in the second half of the season, so I’m not without hope that he’ll be, maybe not the pitcher he was in 2012, but a good member of the rotation.

Keefe: After watching Vernon Wells for nearly a decade as a Blue Jay against the Yankees and then for another two years as an Angel, he became a Yankee in 2013 thanks to a ridiculous amount of injuries. I was actually optimistic about Wells joining the Yankees near the end of spring training last year and I fell into the same trap that the Angels must have when they traded for the backloaded $126 million man.

The Yankees needed Wells. They needed an experienced major leaguer who could provide power, even if his lowest batting average and on-base percentage went against everything the Yankees had been built upon since the mid-90s. But with Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson injured to start the year, the Yankees had to find depth somewhere. And at the time, paying $13.9 million of his remaining $42 million seemed like a bargain. I mean the Yankees have spent much more money on worse players.

On May 15, Wells hit his 10th home run and had 23 RBIs in just 38 games and 143 at-bats, and was boasting a .301/.357/.538 and the Yankees were rolling. I thought Wells had revived his career at the age of 34 by putting on the pinstripes and it seemed like the Yankees’ latest reclamation project was working. The problem was the Yankees’ entire 2013 team became a reclamation project, eventually failing, and this included Wells as he would hit just one more home run with 27 RBIs over the rest of the year in 281 at-bats, hitting .199/.243/.253.

Wells didn’t work out with the Yankees the same way he didn’t work out with the Angels after not working out with the Blue Jays following his big contract. What happened to Vernon Wells after signing the $126 million in his prime? For Blue Jays fans, what was it like to watch his career fall apart after his success from 2002-2006?

Dakers: What was it like? Sad. Just sad.

Vernon was a favorite of mine. It really isn’t his fault that the team offered him way too much money. He really was the sort of player every fan says he wants on their team. Runs out every grounder hard, always hustles, good teammate, and all around good guy. Unfortunately, he also tended to pick of little nagging injuries, hamstring problems and wrist problems. He also tried to play through these too often. We do like guys to be tough, but sometimes it’s best to take some time off to heal.

The nice part was that Alex Anthopoulos was able to trade him before his salary went up through the roof. His last season with us he was paid just over $15.5 million, and he had a pretty good season, the next season he was paid just over $26 million. It was the prefect moment to trade him, especially since the Angels took almost all of his contract.

Keefe: On Opening Day 2003 in Toronto, Derek Jeter went down with a shoulder injury when he collided with catcher Ken Huckaby at third base. That was on March 31 and he didn’t return to the Yankees until May 13.

Before breaking his ankle in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS and missing the rest of that series and nearly all of the 2014 season, that shoulder injury in Toronto was the closest I had ever come to not having Jeter in my baseball life. He has been the Yankees shortstop since I was in fourth grade and I have grown up with him as a staple in the Yankees lineup and my life every spring, summer and fall.

Since this is Jeter’s last season, what has been like for Blue Jays fans watching him against your team all of these years? I always get the Yankees fan perspective on experiencing Jeter for all of these years, but you never hear about what it’s like watching him from the outside. The ovations and ceremonies on the road during the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour are one thing, but will it be weird for Blue Jays fans to not see him in the Yankees lineup when they play starting next year?

Dakers: Well, playing against the Yankees has changed so much, over the last few years. Jorge Posada is gone, Mariano Rivera is gone and Alex Rodriguez has been mostly gone. With Jeter missing last year and not really being the same player he was in the past. And now Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson gone it doesn’t seem like the same Yankees as in the past.

An infield made up of an old Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan and Yangervis Solarte (who?) doesn’t really exactly strike fear in our hearts.

Yeah it will be weird not seeing Jeter out there. He’s been around for so long. He’s the last link to the great Yankees teams of the 90s. Last year, without him, they just weren’t the same team (though we still couldn’t win against them). It will be interesting to see if the Yankees can come up with a new “face of the franchise.”

Keefe: Entering the season, I was confident about the 2014 Yankees because of their free-agent signings and because of their revamped rotation and because I knew there couldn’t be the same series of devastating injuries of last year. I expected them to take care of business in Houston to open the season and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Yankees scored just seven runs in three games and without the Yangervis Solarte you asked about and Ichiro, who has become the Yankees’ fifth outfielder, they might have left Houston 0-3. But even 1-2 is pretty disheartening considering the Astros lost 111 games last year.

As for the Blue Jays, after their franchise-changing trade with the Marlins, they became the team to pick to win the division and contend for the playoffs. But like the Yankees, injuries and underachievers ruined last year for them and now they seem to be forgotten in the AL East.

What are your expectations for the Blue Jays this year?

Dakers: Honestly? This has been the most frustrating offseason of my life as a Blue Jays fan. Last year the team was ‘all in’, making huge trades, signing free agents, building a buzz about the team. This year, nothing.

Last season everything that could go wrong did. Injuries? Damn near everyone on the team dealt with some sort of injury. Three members of the season opening starting rotation went down with major injuries. On offense Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus all spent time on the disabled list. Most of them for long stretches of time. Other players had their baseball skills seemingly removed. It was just an awful season.

Going into this offseason, the team had three vital needs: improving the starting rotation, finding a major league second baseman and getting a catcher that could get on base more than once a week. Of the three, the only move the team made was to let J.P. Arencibia leave and sign free agent Dioner Navarro. Oh, and they let Josh Johnson go, in a addition by subtraction move.

So we end up with a rotation made of up R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and three guys who had a collective 10 major league starts last year: Brandon Morrow (who missed most of last year with a nerve problem in his pitching arm), Drew Hutchison (missed all of last year coming off Tommy John surgery) and Dustin McGowan (who has made a total of four starts over the last five years, because of various arm problems). It isn’t a rotation that should fill one with confidence, but odds are they have to be better than last year.

Personally, I see a .500 team. The Injury Gods almost have to be nicer to the Jays. There is a ton of talent there. A great offense (when healthy), a great bullpen and a starting rotation that has a little more depth than last year, even if we didn’t make a big free agent signing. If the team finishes more than five games above or below .500 I’ll be surprised.

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Neil Keefe is the founder and editor-in-chief of Keefe To The City along with writing columns and hosting podcasts. He has written for WFAN.com and CBSNewYork.com since February 2010.

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