The Miami Marlins, set to move into their new stadium next season, continued their on-the-field makeover late Sunday night, "stealing" -- an appropriate word, considering the player -- Jose Reyes from the division rival New York Mets. He agreed to a six-year, $106 million deal, including a $22 million option for 2017.
It's as if the Marlins are the "new guy" in your keeper fantasy baseball league, getting first dibs on the available free agents ranked highest on the 2011 Player Rater. Reyes, if you recall, finished 16th, and he did it despite missing 36 games, those primarily due to a hamstring injury.
Fantasy owners can tell the Marlins all they need to know about Reyes: That healthy Player Rater finish demonstrates his considerable upside, and his 338 stolen bases since 2005, his first season as a full-time big leaguer, rank second in the majors (Juan Pierre, 344). At the same time, that hamstring issue demonstrates his noticeable downside; he has made four trips to the disabled list and missed 191 games combined the past three seasons.
A healthy Reyes has been as reliable a source of steals, batting average and runs scored as anyone in the game, and, perhaps most importantly, he's a shortstop, arguably the thinnest position in our game. His relative value to that of his brethren is what makes him worthy of the health risk, but at the same time, he has made DL trips in each of the past three seasons and will turn 29 years old in June. To say that he'll never play 160-plus games again, as he did in both 2005 (161) and 2007 (160), isn't a stretch. A telling stat, courtesy of ESPN SweetSpot's David Schoenfield: Since 1961, only 13 shortstops have averaged 140-plus games per season from ages 29 to 34, and none of the 13 had Reyes' injury history.
The move south probably doesn't change Reyes' fantasy value much; he's a top-25-overall caliber fantasy player with potential first-round value, but his injury risk assures he'll go a round or two later. That said, at least in the short term, it can't be regarded as anything but a plus for him.
For one thing, Reyes' former team, the Mets, was shedding salary, meaning a weaker supporting cast by the day. The Marlins, in comparison, have obvious playoff aspirations, and let's not understate the potential boost to his run total should the team somehow also net Pujols. Imagine that top four: Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Pujols, Mike Stanton. Heck, even without Pujols, that's quite a trio.
It's Ramirez's value, however, that is affected most. After all, he manned shortstop for the Marlins for the past six seasons, starting 84.9 percent of the team's games and playing 82.8 percent of the team's innings at shortstop during that span. Now Ramirez will shift to third base, not unlike what Alex Rodriguez did when he joined the New York Yankees in 2004. Like A-Rod, Ramirez was a highly desirable commodity in fantasy baseball at the time, and the immediate reaction was, "That's great, because now he'll quickly earn multiposition eligibility in fantasy."
But is that truly a plus?
Although it's far from fair to directly compare Ramirez and A-Rod, it's worth pointing out that A-Rod did take a small step backward statistically in 2004 whether because of an adjustment to his new position, an adjustment to his new team or simply some degree of statistical variance. The shift might have contributed; changing positions is not something a player always does easily and overnight.
Ramirez will face two challenges come spring training. One is proving that the shoulder injury that ended his 2011 prematurely is no longer an issue. The other is adapting to the chores of third base. Without some positive buzz regarding each come spring, it's difficult to proclaim him a potential first-rounder.
Hittingwise, however, Reyes' arrival is a plus for Ramirez. It guarantees Ramirez the opportunity to permanently remain in either the No. 3 spot in the lineup, where he's a career .308/.378/.481 hitter (1,551 plate appearances), or the cleanup spot, where he's .304/.385/.500 (156), and it strengthens the upper third of the lineup. The Marlins, after all, managed a combined .324 on-base percentage from their Nos. 1 and 2 hitters in 2011, 14th in the majors, and keep in mind that was partly fueled by Emilio Bonifacio's career-best .360 mark, 54 points better than in his previous four seasons. Reyes' former team, the Mets, managed a .343 number, sixth-best. There's little doubt that a healthy Reyes means more RBI potential for Ramirez.
It also might signal the official end of Ramirez's elite base-stealing days, although fantasy owners already had accepted that might have been the case long ago. Now that the Marlins have both Reyes and Bonifacio to run freely on the basepaths and Ramirez locked into a run-producing lineup spot, they might continue to give Ramirez the green light less often, assuring no more than 25 steals per year.
Consider Ramirez, like his new teammate Reyes, a top-25 overall fantasy player based upon his past accomplishments and shortstop eligibility. Like Reyes, however, Ramirez is also a high-risk option in that group.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.