Franmil Reyes Gets a Fresh Start With the Cubs

Franmil Reyes
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs added a source of potential power Monday afternoon, claiming designated hitter Franmil Reyes off waivers from the Guardians. After hitting a solid .254/.324/.522 for Cleveland in 2021, his second season eclipsing 30 homers, Reyes has had a disaster of a 2022, with an OPS barely above .600, easily his worst professional season.

If you had told me at the start of the season that Cleveland would be in a real fight for the AL Central title, I’d have assumed that Reyes would be one of the reasons. The Guardians would probably feel similarly about him, a fixture in the middle of the lineup since his acquisition from the Padres in that 2019 three-way trade that included Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig.

It would be inaccurate to call Reyes a well-rounded player. He’s not fast, doesn’t hit for contact, isn’t particularly selective at the plate, and his defense can best be described as “adventurous.” But what Reyes does very well is weaponizing aggression at the plate into hitting baseballs a very, very long way. Even in an age during which we heavily scrutinize the more scientific aspects of batter versus pitcher confrontations, a big dude crushing pitches a mile is a delicacy that should never completely fall off the menu. Of Cleveland’s 14 homers of at least 450 feet since the start of 2019, Reyes owns five of them.

Reyes’ raw physical tools were why the Padres were so interested in signing him as a 16-year-old for $700,000 in 2012, and while it took four years for him to break out in the minors and turn his physicality into performance, the team didn’t mind being patient. The power eventually came, though without the universal designated hitter in the National League, his weaknesses with the glove diminished his value in San Diego.

It’s Cleveland’s very real playoff hopes that made being patient with Reyes difficult. With Nolan Jones now in the majors, solidifying an outfield of him, Steven Kwan, and Myles Straw, the team’s depth at designated hitter suddenly improved. Even if you’re confident that Reyes will eventually bounce back to a degree and be a better long-term hitter than Oscar Gonzalez, it’s hard to bench someone in the middle of a divisional race for someone with an OPS 150 points lighter. And if he’s not the DH, Reyes has limited value as a role player, given the lack of defensive contributions.

ZiPS is, for quite obvious reasons, a great deal less optimistic about Reyes than at the start of the season. Prior to 2022, it saw him continuing to put up wRC+ numbers in the high 120s for several years before starting a fairly quick decline around age 29/30. And while ZiPS does see a significantly better 2023 ahead, it still represents a significant lessening of expectations:

ZiPS Projection – Franmil Reyes
2023 .252 .313 .501 433 53 109 16 1 30 81 39 165 1 112 0 1.8
2024 .250 .311 .512 412 52 103 16 1 30 79 38 157 1 114 0 1.8

Those are the numbers of a roughly average designated hitter, and since average players have value, getting one who has two years of cost control remaining on a waiver wire claim is a solid move, especially for a team like the Cubs who are rebuilding.

Now, there’s the problem of the baseballs, an unanswered question that nobody outside of baseball’s central “brain trust” seems to know, with even front offices not really knowing what the equipment will be like a year from now. The issues Reyes has involving selectivity at the plate and contact go far beyond dead baseballs, but I suspect they have to be a contributing factor to the collapse in his numbers. His skill in trade is pummeling fly balls into the stands, and anything that makes baseballs less likely to go over the fence is going to have greater consequences here than with a more varied type of hitter. Despite no collapse in his exit velocity numbers or weird alterations in his launch angle, his flyballs are only going an average of 328 feet this year, compared to 351 last season.

I’m also not convinced it’s his plate discipline that’s the cause of the problems. He’s never going to be Juan Soto or Barry Bonds in terms of pitch selection, but his out-of-zone swing percentage was not unusual for him in the early part of the season, floating around 30% as usual. His tendency to chase things has only gone out of control fairly recently, long after he had already established that he was having a wretched season. I suspect some have gotten the causality arrow backwards; he may be reacting to his struggles as a power hitter who suddenly isn’t hitting like a major leaguer.

Can the Cubs fix Reyes? I’m not sure, but he’s shown enough that he’s worth the risk, and nothing ventured, nothing gained. In the worst-case scenario, if they don’t think they can help him turn it around, there’s no more investment than two months of salary before a non-tender in the fall. But if he shows some glimmer of a turnaround, he may be Chicago’s primary DH in 2023 and ’24. Hopefully by next year, La Mole will be feasting on pitchers’ mistakes once again.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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3 months ago

Obviously the Cubs have nothing to lose, but even with the power he has a defined low ceiling as a low OBP DH

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

I don’t think the Cubs are looking at keeping him, necessarily. The idea is probably “get him right, then flip him for a prospect”. He doesn’t need to be more than his usual to get an interesting lottery ticket or two.

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

But a ceiling that is still quite a bit higher than Frank Schwindel’s.

'Tungsten Arm" O'Doyle
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

And a lot of entertainment value for a rebuilding club.