DALLAS -- "They don't want me there."
That was Jose Reyes' simple yet revealing answer Wednesday when asked why the Mets never even made a phone call to their homegrown shortstop after he officially became a free agent Nov. 3.
As for the Marlins, owner Jeffrey Loria and a Miami contingent flew to New York to meet with Reyes at the bar of the Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan's Upper East Side at 12:01 a.m. -- not a minute later than the rules allowed. And when Loria arrived, he took off his long overcoat to reveal a newly minted No. 7 Marlins jersey for Reyes, who was immediately smitten.
"That showed me something," Reyes said, wearing his new uniform top at the podium Wednesday. "That showed me they really wanted me here. The Mets didn't call, they didn't say anything, so that's why I'm here today. The Mets didn't make an offer."
So as the Marlins flew Reyes and his agents down to South Beach on Loria's private jet, dined him at Joe's Stone Crab (he had the fried chicken) and let him pick out his locker at the team's new retractable dome (it's the corner one, near the front door), the Mets barely touched base with his representative, Peter Greenberg.
"The Marlins were just so aggressive," Greenberg said. "It was like a one-horse race and they jumped out in front. The Marlins just overwhelmed Jose from the start."
On the eve of the winter meetings, after a month of wooing by the Marlins, Reyes agreed on a six-year, $106 million contract. Sandy Alderson checked in with Greenberg Sunday morning, but the conversation was more like a concession speech than any continuing negotiations.
Alderson was told the Mets' parameters for a potential offer, a five-year deal worth roughly $80 million that could climb to near $100 million with incentives and an additional vesting option, would not get it done. Wednesday, shortly after Reyes' introduction in the ballroom of the Hilton Anatole, Alderson was asked if the Mets should have matched Miami's recruitment efforts, if not the money.
"If you're asking if I should have sent him a box of chocolates, um, perhaps I should have done that," Alderson said. "But on the other hand, the box of chocolates wouldn't have cost $106 million, either."
With such a huge gap in guaranteed money, the Mets had no shot of keeping Reyes. The Wilpons' financial problems are well documented, and Miami pursued Reyes like a franchise that smelled blood in the water.
Reyes shed no tears at the news conference and made the rounds to every TV network's stage. He thanked the Mets for giving him the opportunity to play professional baseball -- they signed him as a 17-year-old -- but that was the only flattering mention of his former team. It is not a stretch to say he appeared happy to be done in Flushing.
"Right now, it's over," Reyes said. "I can't be crying about that because they didn't show me anything. They didn't push to have me there, so what should I be worried about? I don't know if it's because of the money or they don't want me there anymore. They want to move on with some other piece. I don't know because they never say anything."
The last time Reyes spoke to anyone from the Mets was on the final day of the season, when Terry Collins pulled him aside to express his "hopes and desires" as he headed to free agency. Collins had been optimistic that Reyes would return, but also understood the obstacles that stood in the Mets' way.
"Did we need to take him to dinner in New York? I don't think so," Collins said. "He knows how we feel about him. I think we did the best we could. I really do. And I know Jose understands that. I've heard he's really upset about some things and I hope he gets over it because that's not the way it should have ended."
Maybe in a perfect, non-Madoff world, Reyes would have stayed. But with the Marlins throwing cash at free agents as they prepare to open a stadium, Reyes has no regrets.
"It's time for me to move on," he said. "I spent my whole life playing in New York, so it's not an easy decision. But I'm with another team now. I can't worry about the New York Mets because I don't want to play with them -- I'm going to play against them. That's in the past."