Funny, there wasn’t much hint of head-first sliding being a big issue in Ben Shpigel’s piece on Jose Reyes last week. But perhaps his sources aren’t nearly as impeccable as those of the Bergen Record/ESPN’s Bob Klapisch (link swiped from Baseball Think Factory).

Of all the players the Mets are counting on, it’s Reyes who’ll most greatly influence the franchise’s course in 2008. Not Pedro, not Beltran, not even Wright can match Reyes’ game-changing skills. The shortstop’s combination of speed, defense and gap power made him one of the five best players in the National League at certain times, yet he batted .156 (5-for-32) while the Mets were being caught and passed by the Phillies.

The company line is that Reyes’ collapse was merely a “slump at the wrong time,” says Minaya. The shortstop says he was tired after playing 160 of 162 games, and finishing second in the NL in plate appearances. But Reyes’ exhaustion bled into a bizarre moodiness. The 24-year-old shortstop gave away enough at-bats down the stretch that he, too, was booed by Met fans. The normally effervescent Reyes was so out of sync he ended up in a fistfight with the Marlins’ Miguel Olivio on the second-to-last day of the season.

One major league executive believes Reyes is paying the price for his headfirst slides as his stolen-base total keeps skyrocketing. After 234 swipes in five seasons, including a major league-best 78 last year, “You have to wonder if all that punishment got to him,” the executive said. A strained relationship with Willie Randolph didn’t help, either. Reyes started distancing himself soon after the manager removed him from a game in July for failing to run out a ground ball. Now, says Minaya, “It’s Willie’s job” to rehabilitate Reyes’ spirit.

Ricky Henderson, as you might as expect, wasn’t asked to comment.

Congratulations to Captain Red Ass on signing a new deal with the Washington Nationals.  If at some point during the 2007 season Boogie Shoes disappears and is not heard from again, just keep in mind there’s a lot guys working for the Pentagon and CIA with teenage daughters.