Jose Reyes, take note. All of the players to sign free agent contracts worth more than $100MM since the 2007-08 offseason capped their respective walk years with healthy, productive final months. If Reyes, who returned from a three-week stint on the disabled list tonight, hopes to sign a nine-figure deal (or, better yet, prove Fred Wilpon wrong and match Carl Crawford’s $142MM contract) it's in his best interest to finish the season in similarly strong fashion.
For Reyes to join Crawford in the $100MM club, he’ll probably have to show interested teams that he has recovered from the left hamstring issue that sidelined him for the past three weeks. No matter what Reyes does, he won’t silence questions about his ability to stay healthy for an entire season. But if the 28-year-old can finish 2011 with one more month of electrifying play, he’ll have a stronger case for a contract worth $100MM or more.
The most recent free agents to join the $100MM club wrapped up their walk years in style. Alex Rodriguez hit ten home runs after September 1st, 2007 before signing the biggest contract in MLB history. The next year, Mark Teixeira wrapped up his campaign with a .333/.417/.631 month that included five homers. His future teammate, C.C. Sabathia, posted a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings with a 43K/7BB ratio in Milwaukee that September, concluding a sensational three month stint with the playoff-bound Brewers.
The following year, it was Matt Holliday’s turn; the Scott Boras client finished his season with a .336/.405/.523 month that included five homers. Last year, Jayson Werth hit nine homers after September 1st for a monthly line of .300/.369/.600 while Crawford added four homers and posted a .360/.402/.588 line. And who could forget Cliff Lee, who posted a 1.93 ERA in September then contributed 35 2/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball in the postseason as the Rangers reached the World Series (he had a 47K/2BB playoff ratio).
This is not to say that these players have a direct impact on the Reyes negotiations and it’s certainly not to say that they signed nine-figure deals because they had impressive numbers for a month. Teixeira, for example, could have hit .200 with one homer in September, 2008 and still signed for well over $100MM. However, Reyes isn't a surefire $100MM player, as Mets owner Fred Wilpon explained in a memorable New Yorker article this spring.
Teams will acknowledge Reyes’ game-changing skills even if he slumps in September and they’ll question his ability to stay healthy even if he plays every inning of every game from here on. That much is certain, but, to some extent, Reyes can change the way others perceive him between now and September 28th, when the Mets play their final game. The other recent additions to the $100MM free agent club finished the year with dominant months. Reyes can join them if he takes advantage of the season's final four weeks to convince teams he’s worth a mega-deal of his own.