By Rich Coutinho
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I hear from Mets fans a lot. They all ask me the same thing via text messaging and Twitter: “Will Jose Reyes be back?”

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I haven’t wavered from my viewpoint earlier this year. My sense is he will be back. That being said, the process has barely begun and as with any business deal, a myriad of factors can either catalyze the process or slow it down.

For example, does Ryan Howard’s injury make it more or less likely the Phillies might take a run at Jose? From everything I’ve heard, the Phillies desperately want to keep Ryan Madsen, who will be a free agent. They have to deal with Jimmy Rollins as well. Those talks could have a big impact on any possible pursuit of Reyes — especially, for instance, if Rollins is less expensive than they thought or if Madsen costs more than they expected.

Then there’s the CC Factor. If he opts out of his contract with the Yankees, I would expect the Red Sox to enter the sweepstakes for the left-hander. That could preclude them from getting serious with Reyes.

My hunch is they will look for pitching first, even if CC is not on the open market. Carl Crawford’s seven-year deal might also make them reticent to tip their toes into the Reyes hunt.

As far as the Giants are concerned, sources tell me that San Francisco would rather re-sign Beltran than go for Reyes — for a few reasons. First of all, they traded away one of the top pitching prospects out there for Beltran. Secondly, on the heels of that trade, to then lose two draft picks to the Mets might make them skittish. They also have to think about re-upping Matt Cain at some point. I believe he’s a more important piece for the Giants, considering their team is built around pitching.

So I consider the Red Sox, Phillies, and Giants as long shots — but I do think the Mets will get competition from both the Nationals and Brewers.

I expect both teams to be serious bidders. In the case of the Nationals, they have some good young pitching both in the rotation and in the bullpen and could use another bat at the top of the order. Reyes could enhance their OBP, which was really poor last year.

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The only fly in the ointment here is the Jayson Werth contract. The Nationals were criticized heavily and he did not really perform up to expectations. If they do commit to huge dollars, it might be for a big RBI bat like Prince Fielder.

Which brings us to the Brewers.

Milwaukee had a great season, getting to the sport’s final four with improved pitching and a pair of absolute superstars in Fielder and Ryan Braun. Their payroll was around $93 million last year and I get the sense they might increase it to a little over $100 million this year. The big question is, will they commit that money to Fielder? Or more properly, do they have enough to foot the bill?

If not, they might enter the Reyes sweepstakes — especially if Fielder goes to the Nats. Now, in Fielder’s case there is always the chance a team like the Cubs might swoop in. That could keep Reyes in play for both the Nats and the Brewers.

The problem for guys like Fielder (and even Pujols to a certain extent) is first base is a position where most of the big-wheeling teams like the Phils, Red Sox and Yankees are set — and committed to heavy dollars.

I do see this as a game between the Brewers, Mets and Nationals, with the Red Sox, Giants and Phils as long shots. However, I firmly believe that the Mets are the favorites at this early stage.

I must warn you, it is still very early. Things in the offseason can move as quickly as a Jose Reyes triple.

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Which team do you think will land Reyes? Make your case in the comments below…