WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.
Mention stealing bases to Jose Reyes and his eyes light up, the internal engine revving. It’s like turning the ignition key in a Ferrari. And when asked Thursday if he can get 30 this season, Reyes didn’t blink.
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
That number still may feel like a layup to him, but to the Mets, it’s hardly an annual occurrence. Reyes — the franchise’s all-time leader in stolen bases with 379 — was the last Met to do it when he swiped 39 in 2011. Then he bolted to the Marlins in free agency.
Now that Reyes is back, from Opening Day this time, is it reasonable to expect the Mets to have that speed threat atop the lineup again? And with so much power behind him, do they want Reyes to be as aggressive as he was in his younger days?
Another significant number to consider in this equation is 34, the age Reyes turns in June. He has a history of hamstring and other leg-related issues. But after playing only 60 games last season, and a welcome 1 1⁄2-year reprieve from the Rogers Centre artificial turf, the recharged Reyes believes he’s in considerably better running shape.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “I had a bunch of problems with my hamstrings in Toronto. It’s not only tough on your legs, but your back and other stuff, too. Even when I got traded to Colorado, there was a big difference. My legs felt so loose.
“When you play on the turf, you get up the next morning and your body is tight and sore. It’s crazy. But as a player, you have to find a way to stay out there.”
Reyes always has displayed a confidence that borders on cockiness, a familiar trait among the base-stealing fraternity. No player can outrace Father Time, though, and Reyes — who was 9-for-11 in stolen-base attempts last season — admitted Thursday that he’s lost a tick or two since those years of flying around Shea Stadium and Citi Field, bubbling with youthful energy.
Sure he’s older, but Reyes is more experienced, too. Back in his burner days, he didn’t even bother studying pitchers all that much. If he wanted to run, he ran, and in a four-year span from 2005-08, the Mets’ leadoff man averaged 64 stolen bases, leadng the National League three times.
The process has become a little more involved since then. Reyes now sits at a laptop, searching for the “tells” in a pitcher’s delivery, anything that tips his hand.
“Before, I didn’t even look at a computer,” said Reyes, whose single-season best is the 78 he stole in 2007, “because I relied so much on my speed. Now I’m a little bit smarter.”
And a critical element of that is exercising good judgment on the basepaths. Having the green light, as Reyes does, is not a license for reckless behavior. The Mets can put four potential 30-homer bats behind him, so he has to balance the goal of getting into scoring position with the risk of sabotaging a big inning.
“Terry [Collins] knows that I’m not going to be running out there crazy like I used to,” Reyes said. “I know the kind of lineup that we have. When I go, I need to make sure that I’m going to make it. My body feels good. I’ve got the green light. But I don’t want to be giving away outs. It’s not going to happen that way.”
Sandy Alderson has built these Mets into a World Series contender with power arms and power bats, but he’s not opposed to letting Reyes run. The general manager’s concern is that Reyes can’t steal first base. As the leadoff hitter, his primary goal needs to be getting on, and his career .338 OPS is on the light side.
His best is .384, the year he won the batting title in ’11, and he was at .326 last season with the Mets. With his time divided between the WBC and Grapefruit League in spring training this year, Reyes gets an incomplete for now.
“I have no problem with the green light — once he’s on,” Alderson said. “My desire is that he’s on a lot more often than he’s not. That’s the thing we’ve been trying to emphasize. Once that happens, be my guest.”
For Reyes, that means buckle up. Should be an entertaining ride.