ATLANTA — The Mets once gave Jose Reyes his first break, signing him as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic. Now, 17 years later, they have given the embattled veteran a second chance.
Despite a domestic violence arrest that tarnished his reputation and further derailed his seemingly waning career, Reyes officially returned to the organization that made him a star.
The Mets announced Saturday afternoon that Reyes signed a minor-league deal. He’ll report to Class-A Brooklyn on Sunday to play third base against Hudson Valley, his first step before moving on to either Double-A Binghamton or Triple-A Las Vegas.
“I do believe he is a good person at heart, a good person that made a huge mistake, and a good person who deserves a second chance with conditions,” general manager Sandy Alderson said.
In explaining the controversial decision to bring Reyes back, Alderson likened the Mets to a “surrogate family” to the former batting champ and four-time All-Star, one that was uniquely positioned to give him a chance at redemption. It comes on the heels of a 52-game suspension stemming from his October arrest in Hawaii.
Reyes, 33, has agreed to ongoing domestic violence counseling.
While Alderson emphasized the seriousness of the incident, and the fallout from the public, he insisted that Reyes “doesn’t deserve to be ostracized.”
As for backlash with the signing, Alderson said “we expect that, we respect that.” But the GM said he came away from a one-hour meeting with Reyes convinced that the former star took responsibility and felt remorse for the domestic violence incident involving his wife.
The Mets weighed that potential baggage and moved forward, quickly deciding that Reyes’ presence would help to brace a roster that has been ravaged by injury.
“Jose was a member of the Mets organization for 12 years,” Alderson said. “He was signed at 16 years of age. He was a solid citizen for all of that time.”
In a statement released by the Mets, Reyes said, “As I have expressed in the past, I deeply regret the incident that occurred and remain remorseful and apologetic to my family. I have completed the counseling required by MLB, have been in ongoing therapy, and will continue with counseling going forward. I appreciate the Mets organization for believing in me and providing the opportunity to come back home to New York.”
Blessed with speed and grace at shortstop, he established himself as one of the most dynamic players in the history of the franchise. His tenure culminated in the 2011 season, the year Reyes won the NL batting title with a .337 average, which led to a six-year, $106-million deal with the Marlins.
Because he was released, the Rockies will be on the hook for the $41 million left on Reyes’ deal, with the Mets paying only a portion of the big league minimum. It is a low-risk move, at least financially.
Reyes in many ways maintained his long-standing connection to the Mets. He even kept his offseason home on Long Island. Reyes will spend roughly 7-10 days in the minors, enough time to get acclimated to positions other than shortstop, which Alderson said he will not play in his second go-around with the Mets.
Instead, Reyes will play third base, but could also play in left or perhaps centerfield. He has expressed a willingness to play anywhere the Mets ask.
“I still thought he could be an everyday guy at second base or possibly outfield,” said one AL talent evaluator. “Still does enough with the bat and on the basepaths to provide value to a team but his rang in the infield was limited from where it had been and I didn’t think he could play shortstop anymore.”
Indeed, Reyes may still bring ability, but he is also not the same player he was during his first tenure with the Mets. Barring a brief minor league rehab stint with the Rockies, Reyes has not played since last season, a result of the domestic violence suspension stemming from his Oct. 31 arrest.
“The consensus is he can still play with diminished ability,” one rival executive said. “That being said, he hasn’t played in forever and to expect difference-making impact is not reality.”
Either way, the Mets are willing to find out.
“He’s some kind of excited to be back here,” said manager Terry Collins, who hinted that Reyes could find himself leading off. “He brings something to the table, something to our team, that we obviously don’t have.”
Indeed, Reyes’ speed and athleticism would diversify a lineup that has been heavily dependent on the home run. Of course, he returns to New York in a different time and place.
A career .290 hitter with 479 steals, Reyes is no longer in his prime. With the exception of Collins — whom he affectionally referred to as “bro” during their conversation on Saturday — Reyes no longer has the same familiarity with the Mets clubhouse.
Yet enough goodwill remained for a reunion that comes with baggage.
“I don’t think we would be able to find a player who is more determined, more highly motivated to perform than Jose is today,” Alderson said. “Part of that is coming home, part of that is looking for vindication, part of that’s probably hoping to get past all of the problems he’s faced since the offseason, problems he deserved to face. But we are confident that we’re going to get the best possible version of today’s Jose Reyes.”