Before We Discover Where Bryan Reynolds Is Going, We Must Discover What He Is

Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The one constant this offseason is that Bryan Reynolds is probably going to get traded. We all knew this, because he’s a good player on a bad team that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Players like that get traded, or at least they get talked about as trade candidates. In December, Reynolds turned circumstantial evidence into an actual news story by requesting a trade.

A month and a half later, there’s still no movement, which isn’t really a surprise. Reynolds is under team control through 2025, and the Pirates — if they decide to move on from Reynolds at all — shouldn’t be in any rush to get rid of their best player. A couple weeks ago, Jon Heyman cited a rival executive who compared Pittsburgh’s ask for Reynolds to what the Padres gave up for Juan Soto last August.

If you’ve been around baseball, followed it, watched it, or even become generally aware that there’s a sport behind cultural idioms like “ballpark figure” and “getting to second base,” you know how this dance goes. Player requests a trade, team negotiates with rivals both privately and through leaks to reporters, a price is eventually agreed upon, and the trade is executed.

But I find this process particularly intriguing for Reynolds, because it involves determining a public consensus over how good he actually is.

Full disclosure, I am a huge Bryan Reynolds hipster. You know your friend (or your friend’s mom or dad — I might be dating myself) who saw The National in 2000 at some venue in the basement of a Queens stereo store and won’t shut up about it now? “You know that guy who made Taylor Swift sound divorced on her last three records? I’ve been listening to his music forever.” Yeah, I’m that for Reynolds.

In 2014, my first season writing about baseball full-time, I covered the last couple rounds of the College World Series. Reynold was a freshman at Vanderbilt that year, and I was astonished by how little hype he was getting as a future pro. He wasn’t an explosive athlete like his teammate Dansby Swanson, or even Virginia’s Derek Fisher, but he ran and threw well enough and could hit anything. Two years later, I was even more astonished that this switch-hitting center fielder who’d spent three seasons destroying SEC pitching had dropped to the second round.

Sure enough, Reynolds raked in A-ball. He raked in Double-A, and during a brief stop in Triple-A, and eventually in the majors, where he hit .314/.377/.503 as a rookie and finished fourth in a loaded NL Rookie of the Year class. (Pete Alonso, Mike Soroka, and Fernando Tatis Jr. finished ahead of him.) Here’s a complete list of seasons in which Reynolds failed to hit .300 across any number of games, dating back to high school: 2018 Arizona Fall League (18 games); 2020 (55 games, odd year for the entire world); and 2022. And even in this “down” year, Reynolds hit .262/.345/.461 with 27 home runs, a 125 wRC+, and 2.9 WAR. He’s a really good player.

So let’s engage with the most absurd interpretation of Heyman’s rival exec. In real life, he’s not saying the Pirates think Reynolds is as valuable as Soto. And in all likelihood, the ask is not literally what the Nats wanted for Soto — there’s probably some hyperbole in there to get his point across.


Soto was an offense-first All-Star outfielder with about three seasons of team control left. And within that offensive skill set, Soto is more of an on-base guy than a 40-homer power guy. Reynolds is an offense-first outfielder with three seasons of team control left. And within that offensive skill set, his ability to get on base is greater than his raw power.

This is sophistry, of course. Reynolds is not only the best part of four years older than Soto, his career .281/.361/.481 batting line — while excellent compared to most other players — suffers by comparison to Soto’s .287/.424/.526.

But why shouldn’t the Pirates make that case? First of all, the Nationals got fleeced in the Soto deal partially because — and this leads into point no. 2 — they got the trade done in a matter of weeks when they had two years to divine Soto’s true trade value and/or wait for a trade partner to get truly desperate. Maybe there isn’t a team that considers Reynolds worthy of that kind of trade package. But if Ben Cherington thinks one might emerge before next season’s trade deadline, it’d be worth hanging on to Reynolds until then.

Doing so, of course, carries both risk and the potential for reward. The upside is if Reynolds starts hitting like he did in 2021, the Pirates would look quite reasonable if they asked for… okay, maybe not the Soto deal but something like that. In 2021, Reynolds was a six-win player. Only seven outfielders have put up a 6.0 WAR or better season in the past two seasons. And while it was an outlier performance compared to the rest of Reynolds’ career, it wasn’t a fluke:

Bryan Reynolds vs. Statcast, 2021
.302 .294 .522 .523 .385 .386
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

In 2022, Reynolds — despite hitting the ball hard more frequently — hit it on the ground more, losing 39 points off his BABIP and 44 points off his xBA. Combined with a decrease in his walk rate and an increase in his strikeout rate, his overall wRC+ dropped to 125.

So one of two questions about Reynolds has to do with whether he’s the hitter from 2021 or 2022. A 141 wRC+ is Mookie Betts territory, while last year’s 125 left him tied for 15th among qualified outfielders with Randy Arozarena.

The other question about Reynolds is whether he’s a center fielder long-term. Here again, there’s an enormous statistical discrepancy from 2021, when he was +11 by Outs Above Average and a -5 according to DRS, and 2022, when he had -7 OAA and -14 DRS. Maybe, given Reynolds’ above-average speed and arm strength, he’d fare much better if moved to a corner. Or maybe his defense, already marginal in center, would not improve much in left or right.

It feels odd to express such uncertainty about a player with such a well-rounded game. Everything he does (except, apparently, defense in center field) he’s either average or above-average at. But he’s rarely exceptional. And the environment — a Pirates team that gets little national attention and has few quality big leaguers to compare Reynolds to — makes it easy to ignore Reynolds’ accomplishments and hard to trust them when viewed only in highlight form. He’s undoubtedly a good player, and I believe an underrated one.

But is he a competent center fielder who can post a 140 wRC+? Or is he a 120 wRC+ hitter who needs to play in a corner? The difference between the two, for perspective, is something like the difference between George Springer and Mitch Haniger. And even a trade partner that thinks Reynolds is the former will try to get him for the price of the latter. It seems like Reynolds won’t get traded until it’s clear which one he is.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic,, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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Trevor May Care Attitude
1 year ago

In my head, I’m hearing the title of this article in Jim Breuer’s voice from Half Baked.