The Orioles are reportedly looking to trade “third baseman” Mark Reynolds and reliever Kevin Gregg. You think so, doctor? It would be strange if the team really waited until this late to start shopping these two veterans, who are rather pointless on a team that is at the beginning of what looks to be a long rebuilding process. To be fair, while the rumor is just coming out now, they may have been shopping these guys for a while. Gregg is a pretty generic reliever (other than having that oh-so-valuable “closer experience”), but Reynolds is an interesting case. His problems making contact with both the bat and glove make him a flawed player, but his monstrous power makes him playable in the right situation. But are there any teams on which that situation exists?
A rebuilding team probably should not be looking at Reynolds. He is 28, so he is not old, but there probably is not much age-based upside there, either (even if you dismiss the idea that Reynolds is going to age badly due to his skill set). In addition, while Reynolds is not terribly expensive relative to his projected performance at $8 million guaranteed ($7.5 million salary, with a $500,000 buyout on his $11 million club option for 2013), he is not cheap enough to really be a stopgap for a rebuilding team on a budget.
That eliminates a number of teams, so what contenders could use a… third baseman? At the moment Reynolds sits atop the Orioles “official” depth chart on the team web site, but that seems like something of a holdover from last season as well as a plan to keep marketing him as a third baseman. That sort of makes sense, but the truth is that few teams would be willing to tolerate Reynolds glove at third base.
The Orioles might be able to do so for a bit, since the two other “third basemen” they acquired — Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit — are, like Reynolds, third basemen in the same way that Bill James once said Bobby Bonilla was a third baseman. (James wrote something to the effect that Bonilla was a third basemen in the same way he would be an astronaut if you shot him into space.) You can look up the numbers yourself, and if you do not trust them, just watch Reynolds play third base. He might have passed for “below average” a couple of years ago, but at this point, most would say he is simply horrible there.
Now, some players can make for their limitations in the field with the bat, and Reynolds has done so in the past. In 2009, for example, he was about 25 runs above average on offense, which can make up for a lot of fielding problems. However, that season now looks like a BABIP-fueled career year. Reynolds has settled into being the extreme three true outcomes player he usually looks like, with a good walk rate, monster power, and many, many strikeouts. Strikeouts are not that much worse than regular outs, but when the ball does not get into play that often, there are not going to be that many singles and doubles, which limits a player’s ability to get on-base, even with good walk rate. Thus, despite having walk rates over 12 percent the last two seasons, Reynolds’ combination of an extreme fly ball rate (which lowers BABIP) and high strikeout rates (meaning there aren’t many balls in play to begin with) have kept his on-base percentage around .320. Reynolds hit 37 home runs in 2011, but still did not even manage a .350 wOBA.
So we have a contact-challenged power hitter who probably should not be playing third and is not dirt cheap, what use is he? ZiPS projects Reynolds for a .340 wOBA in 2012, while Steamer is more optimistic at .351. That may not be terribly exciting for a first baseman or DH, but teams have done worse. But at this point prior to the regular season, how many could actually use Reynolds if the Orioles marketed him as a first baseman/DH? Here is a brief and non-exhaustive group of possibilities, sticking with the American League (assuming a team would not want him at first base full-time, although that is another possibility):
The Rays might have made sense prior to signing Luke Scott and Carlos Pena to fill their first base and DH roles, but it is too late for that now. The Blue Jays might be considered a contender by some, but while Reynolds fits the power-hitting M.O. of the Toronto offense and would be an improvement over Adam Lind or Edwin Encarnacion with the bat, it would not be enough to justify the salary.
The Red Sox obviously have David Ortiz at DH, so they are out, but the Yankees made sense prior to signing Raul Ibanez, and might still make sense. If you think that Reynolds’ bat is not that great for a DH, you should check out Ibanez’s. ZiPS projects him for a .317 wOBA in 2012, which is below average, making him a replacement level DH. Ibanez does no even project that well as a platoon DH. Reynolds’ older “twin” Russell Branyan (both bad third basemen with lots of power, strikeouts, and defensive issues), with the Yankees on a minor-league deal, is probably a better option for the DH role than Ibanez at this point.
However, Reynolds is right-handed. While he is still likely a better hitter against righties than Ibanez, the Yankees already have a right-handed DH in Andruw Jones. New York might be better off with Reynolds as a full-time DH than splitting time between Ibanez and Jones, but the improvement would not be that great. It might have made sense earlier in the off-season, but not now.
Looking around the American League, there are not many other contenders that would fit for Reynolds. The Angels are overflowing with 1B/DH types. The Rangers might be able to stand for an improvement over Mitch Moreland at first base, and have the money, but DH is taken up with Michael Young’s salary, and despite the new cable money, the cash is not flowing. That might work, but they seem like they want to see if Moreland’s problems in 2011 were injury-related.
I first thought of bringing up the Tigers as as joke, with Reynolds the DH also backing up fellow defensive standouts Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder on the corners. However, the Tigers currently look like they are going to have Delmon Young as their starting DH. Yes, they have a pretty high payroll, but in for a dime, in for a dollar, right?
The snag here is that I suspect that the Tigers do plan on playing plenty of games with Cabrera or Fielder at DH, anyway. That that would put Brandon Inge back at third, where, without an elite glove, he is probably worse than his bizarro twin Reynolds. So it might sort of work, but with Young, Cabrera, and Young already all defensive disasters when they pay the field, the Tigers probably do not want to add a similarly-troubled player in Reynolds, which would force someone to don a glove more than they should.
The team that might make the most sense in the American League (budget permitting) might be the Minnesota Twins. They currently have Ryan “Doh Mitt” Doumit penciled in as their primary DH, and he is also expected to back up Joe Mauer at catcher and also Justin Morneau at first (assuming Morneau is ready to play this season). However, despite the shiny .360 wOBA in 2011, Doumit’s bat is probably not close to that good given the small sample of BABIP-heavy performance from last season and prior performance. Reynolds is a better hitter despite his problems, and if Morneau cannot go this season, the Twins, stuck in in a tough “all in” situation at the moment, do not need to be playing Doumit’s bat full time at first base or DH. Reynolds would be the better choice in either situation, even if Joe Mauer is getting time at first and DH, too.
The Twins might have a payroll issue with taking Reynolds, who would probably come relatively cheap in terms of talent given his limitations. However, they make as much or more sense than anyone. Still, even the Twins have all their roles filled, at least nominally. As I wrote at the beginning, it may be that the Orioles have been shopping Reynolds all winter. But if the waited until the start of the Spring, they have only made their reportedly desire to move Reynolds more difficult to fulfill, as teams who could use Reynolds have most of their positional and payroll decisions made… at least for now. There may be a Reynolds market later in the season if he hits will enough to convince teams he is worth playing at first or DH, but it is far from promising now.
Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.