Should the Rays Pursue Mark Reynolds?
By Robbie Knopf
The Rays have major needs on their team at first base and designated hitter. Luckily, after Friday’s non-tender deadline added a bevy of players to the free agent market, their options are more diverse as they try to find the right fits. One player they could target was someone who they considered an enemy in 2012: former Orioles corner infielder Mark Reynolds. Could we see Reynolds in a Rays uniform next season?
Reynolds, who turned 29 in August, has clear flaws in his game that you simply have to live with if he’s on your team. He strikes out like there’s no tomorrow, possessing the big league record for strikeouts in a season with 223 in 2009 and also checking in at third, fifth, and tenth on that list. That’s even more of an issue because he doesn’t walk all that much either, never managing a strikeout to walk ratio as low as 2-to-1. Reynolds’ defense is also more than sub-par. The good news is that he’s horrific at third base (-47.0 UZR, -11.5 UZR/150), a place where the Rays will never consider playing him, and while he’s bad at first base as well (-14.6 UZR, -14.2 UZR/150), he has improved in every full season there and only had a -3.2 UZR (-5.9 UZR/150) in 2012 so he won’t be the worst first baseman you’ve ever seen. The Rays also have plenty of DH at-bats to offer him as well to mitigate his defensive damage. The bottom line in Reynolds is that he’s going to strike out like crazy, hit for a low average, and play terrible defense. What does he provide in return? Power.
Reynolds’ 23 homers in 2012 were the lowest of his career for a full season, but he has proven to be better in odds years for what it’s worth, slamming 37 homers in 2011 and 44 in 2009. That’s probably chance variation, but there’s a real chance that Reynolds could slam 35 homers next season. In 2012, Reynolds posted a .221/.335/.429 line (107 OPS+) with 26 doubles, 23 homers, 69 RBI, and 159 strikeouts versus 73 walks in 135 games and 538 plate appearances. Reynolds’ strikeout rate (29.6%) and strikeout to walk ratio (2.18-to-1) were actually the best of his career, but his HR/OFB, the percentage of his flyballs to the outfield that went for home runs, was 14.6%, his lowest mark since 2008 and his groundout to airout ratio of 0.96 was the highest of his career as his power was not nearly as impactful as it had been a previous years. What was the difference between 2012 and other seasons for Reynolds? He had one of his trademark hot streaks but got just about nothing the rest of the season. In 2009, Reynolds slammed 15 homers in a 28-game span between July and August. In 2011, Reynolds slammed 13 homers in a 27-game span between June and July. In 2012, he also had a 13-homers in 27-game stretch, from August to September. But Reynolds’ next-best 27-game stretch was just 5 homers. Reynolds had an 11 homers in 26 games before his big streak in 2012 and a 10 homers in 30 games stretch even after he cooled off in 2011. Reynolds is an extremely streaky player. Sometimes he’s locked in and slams home run after home run and even smacks some opposite-field singles. At other times, you throw a halfway-decent fastball and he’ll swing right through it as he sells out for power and fails miserably. When at the end of the year you can say “whatever, he gave us 35 homers when it was all said and done,” that’s fine. When he’s down to 25, that’s another story. Take out Reynolds’ hot streak in 2012 and he had a .196/.303/.366 line on the year (94 OPS+) with just 10 homers and 43 RBi, not doing much of anything at the plate and playing horrible defense, and that just doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about 108 games and 430 plate appearances out of the 135 games and 538 PA’s that Reynolds had all year.
If the Rays sign Reynolds, there will be a stretch in the season where he absolutely carries the team by homering every other game. There were also be times when he looks hopelessly lost at the plate and you wonder why Joe Maddon is still penciling him into the lineup. If you’re willing to live with that, then there’s the money factor- Reynolds made 7.5 million dollars in 2012. He won’t make that next season, but still could reasonably expect to make 4 or 5 million dollars next year. Is he worth it? At the end of the day, Reynolds is far from ideal and the Rays will try to look elsewhere. However, if Reynolds is still around in a few months and willing to take less money, expect the Rays to give him a chance. Rumors will likely continue to link Reynolds to the Rays as the offseason progresses. But even if it happens, don’t expect it to materialize soon as the Rays will look for better options and will only settle for Reynolds if they think he’s the best value they can find.