It’s the time of the year when veteran baseball players are left to themselves, unmonitored and out of touch if they so choose. Most have earned that right. Workouts start in a few weeks. Spring training is still three and a half months away. The Colorado Rockies probably didn’t even know that Jose Reyes and his wife had gone to Hawaii. Really, it was none of their business. Do you have to tell your boss where you’ll be on your day(s) off?
So, in a nutshell, the Rockies are innocent victims of the poor decisions and potentially criminal actions taken by Reyes, the veteran shortstop they acquired from Toronto in the Troy Tulowitzki trade. On Halloween night, while the eyes of MLB were locked on World Series Game 4, Reyes was involved in an incident of alleged domestic assault involving his wife during a vacation in Hawaii. The Rockies and Major League Baseball are continuing to investigate. If found to be at fault, Reyes will face discipline from MLB and will likely miss significant playing time.
We can debate forever about whether or not the Rockies should have traded Reyes immediately after acquiring him at the trade deadline at the end of July – which they reportedly had a chance to do. Hindsight is 20/20. But short of dumping the four-time All-Star and eating the final two years of his annual $22 million contract, they’ve now got limited options.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the playing time that Reyes will likely miss (how much time is yet to be determined by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred) doesn’t involve a Colorado uniform. With the winter trading season already underway, the timing couldn’t be worse for a club looking to unload an overpriced piece they simply don’t need. The chances of making any kind of deal involving Reyes now seem remote.
This is foreign ground for the Colorado franchise. To their credit, during their two-plus decades of existence, the Rockies have had far fewer than their fair share of off the field issues. There was the Denny Neagle soliciting a prostitute incident in 2004 (he never played for the Rockies again after they cancelled the final year of his contract under a “morals” clause), Alex White’s “extreme DUI” in 2012, the much-ballyhooed Todd Helton DUI prior to Spring Training in 2013, and of course the issues with co-owner Charlie Monfort that resulted in his DUI in November of the same year. Helton wasn’t going anywhere and of course neither was the owner of the team. That’s four (make it five now) serious off-field incidents in 23 years. There are plenty of organizations that deal with that many off field distractions in a single offseason. As an organization, Colorado isn’t well-versed in dealing with this sort of thing (which is a good thing, actually.) While Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy will handle the short-term discipline, the Rockies will have to deal with the long-term ramifications.
Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million contract with the Miami Marlins in 2012. He and that contract were traded to Toronto and then to Colorado. It has those two remaining seasons and $48 million (including a $4 million buyout for 2018) left on it. It’s easy to see why it was going to be tough to trade Reyes – even before his arrest.
It’s all but a certainty that the Rockies look at doing the same thing they did with Neagle in 2004 – cancel the rest of contract under a morals clause – but that’s assuming Reyes and the Marlins put such a clause into the contract when they negotiated it in the first place. Plus, the new MLB domestic violence policy will actually make it harder for the team to take action against Reyes’ contract.
Could the Rockies handle this in the same way the Baltimore Ravens handled the Ray Rice situation? Simply cut him loose and say goodbye? Sure; but it would cost them $48 million to do so. Baseball contracts, unlike NFL deals, are guaranteed. It’s tough to see that happening. Some sort of buyout? Perhaps.
Absent of any legal means to wriggle out of what’s left on the Reyes deal, the Rockies would most likely have to grit their teeth and hope that with their support, Reyes can bounce back and have a good season in 2016. The better he plays and the more distance he can put between his play and the Hawaii incident, the better off both parties will be. Other players have actually excelled after being given a second chance. Perhaps Reyes will do so, too. If he can regain All-Star form, perhaps the Rockies can trade him down the road. Since this is his first such incident and appears at least to be a touch less severe (who am I to say, right? We don’t know many details), it doesn’t appear it will approach Rice or Greg Hardy status in terms of length of suspension (Rice hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2013 season and Hardy missed almost two full seasons). The final determination of the Hawaii justice system (assuming his wife presses charges) will come into play, too. It’s fair to speculate that Reyes will serve his punishment (something like 50 games maybe?) and then resume his career at some point in 2016. In a Rockies uniform.
How will he be treated? Fans will put up with some off the field stuff if the team is winning. But when it’s been a struggle in the standings, patience for the kind of thing Reyes is accused of, even for a first-time offender, wears thin fast. He’s going to hear about it… and he should. Still, for everyone’s sake, including Reyes, his wife and the Rockies players and management, he better be prepared to have his best season… ever.