A few days ago, we heard that the Tampa Bay Rays were interested in Mark Reynolds, and the reason why is pretty obvious: they need a first baseman and their options are starting to whittle away. Over at ESPN Rumor Central, though, A.J. Mass had something interesting to say:
"Earlier this week, the New York Yankeeswere believed to have had interest in bringing Reynolds back as part of a possible third base platoon. But the lure of an everyday job on the other side of the diamond (from the Rays) might end up having more appeal for the free agent."
Reynolds always made sense for the Rays, but is Mass correct that they would offer Reynolds their starting base job?
There are two things everyone in baseball knows about Mark Reynolds: his power and his strikeouts. Reynolds slammed 44 home runs in 2009 and 37 more in 2011, and even in a career-worst season in 2013, he still slammed 21 homers. The team that signs Reynolds will know they are getting good power, and if gets on hot streak, the results could be incredible. But no matter whether Reynolds has a breakout year or a horrific one, the strikeouts will come. Reynolds holds the record for most strikeouts in a single season with 223, and he actually occupies 3 of the top 6 spots on that list. When Reynolds is slumping, he can seemingly strike out every single time he comes to the plate. But do you live with Reynolds’ strikeouts in exchange for his power?
Considering 2013 was Mark Reynolds’ worst year in the major leagues, you really would expect his numbers to be worse than they were. He hit to a .220/.306/.393 line (96 OPS+) with 14 doubles, 21 homers, and 69 RBI in 506 plate appearances between the Cleveland Indians and the Yankees. Reynolds can frustrate you over the course of the season, but his power has prevented him from slipping below 20 home runs or a 96 OPS+ the last six years. 2013 also marked the first time that Reynolds’ OBP has ever dropped below .320 or his slugging percentage below .425–it is certainly not a stretch to expect him to get back to that level, and there is always the chance for more. He also does not have a major platoon split, managing a .777 OPS against right-handed pitchers and a .834 mark against lefties. Mark Reynolds is a boom-or-bust palyer at the plate, but that is not the case over the course of his career. He can be excellent, and even when he is not, there is only so far he can slip.
The problem with viewing Reynolds like that, though, is that we are forgetting about his defense. Reynolds was historically bad at third base (for once UZR, FRAA, and DRS are all in agreement), and has not been much better at first base. When he hits, you can deal with that, but when he is slumping and compounds the problems with his defense, that drives you insane. The good news for the Rays, though, is that they have at-bats available for him at designated hitter to help mitigate the damage from his defense.
Mark Reynolds is not going to be the Tampa Bay Rays’ primary first baseman in 2014, but he could receive 500 or more plate appearances between first, DH, and a handful of games at third base, and give the Rays a good amount of production. He made $6.5 million in 2013 but should be in line to make more like $3 or $4 million in 2014, and that is well within the Rays’ budget. But would the Rays actually give him that type of opportunity? It would not be the worst thing in the world, but with better all-around options like James Loney and Ike Davis still on the board, it should only happen as a Plan C or even a Plan D. If push comes to shove and Mark Reynolds becomes the Rays’ top choice, giving him the opportunity to be a regular could be enough to get him to sign. Rays fans have to hope, however, that we never get to the point where that is the reality.