Welcome to Baltimore, Mark Reynolds. It looks as though the Arizona third baseman will be traded to the Orioles in return for once-starter, possible future closer David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. Reynolds, one of the many high-strikeout power-hitting corner infielders available, will come to Baltimore with 104 home runs over his past three seasons, along with 638 strikeouts. In the AL East, he will be whiffing even more but certainly will have his fun in Camden Yards and at the new Yankee Stadium. But was this a good deal?
It is very difficult for me to get excited about this deal. Reynolds is a player who, if he was a free agent, could be acquired for probably a one or two year deal. Yes, he hits a lot of home runs, but I imagine a lot of players could hit home runs if they were content with a .198 average and a .320 on base percentage. Over his 4 year career, Reynolds has accumulated 260 walks to 767 strikeouts, and while he is still relatively young (27 years old), he shows no sign of learning better plate discipline. These aren’t growing pains, they are who he is. To put this in perspective, in 2010 Reynolds struck out in 42% of his at-bats. Josh Bell, who was absolutely skewered for his lack of plate discipline, struck out just 33% of the time. The difference is Reynolds does draw a decent amount of walks which has inflated his on base percentage. He isn’t a classic clean-up hitter, but he is the best the Orioles are going to do in this market- or perhaps are willing to do.
David Hernandez has been a starter, was a solid arm in the bullpen, and has the potential to become a great closer down the line. I am not certain about the wisdom in giving up such a prospect when Orioles fans instead get to hope for a 35 year-old with a bad injury history to keep that role (Uehara) or for one of the available free agent arms to take his place. A closer is worth more now than ever, and to trade him before he has reached the apex of his value seems a bit shortsighted. However, that is what other teams were demanding, and after the Orioles “struck out” on Martinez, Dunn, Konerko, and likely Pena, they had few options remaining.
Mickolio is another potential closer, though his development took a major step back last season as he was unable to make the leap to the majors. So far in his career his dominance of AAA hitting has stood in stark contrast to his major league performance, in which he survived just 3.2 innings this past year after being the standout pitcher of spring training. He will get his opportunities in Arizona- let’s just hope the Orioles haven’t just handed away 2 future closers in the same deal.
Baltimore fans will get a few months to rationalize this move, talk about the work Reynolds is doing with Jim Presley, the new hitting coach, and how Reynolds will provide stability for the heart of the order. There is a reason players like Pena, Reynolds and others are pushed out the door despite their high home run totals- they aren’t worth it without a strong lineup around them that can afford all the other sagging statistics at the plate.
For my part, I have been very patient with Andy MacPhail, waiting for him to pull the trigger and make a big splash this offseason. Seeing Jayson Werth sign with the Nationals (be it for an over-market deal) reminds me of what the Orioles have to do to sign decent players- overpay. MacPhail has his principles, and only believes in paying a player what he is worth. That is a great principle, and if you are fielding a contender you can afford to have such principles. Watching this front office miss on their first, second, and third options just underscores the fact that while management certainly would like to have one of the premier free agents, they are unwilling to do what their competitors will. Thus, the Orioles wind up with Mark Reynolds, and the Nationals have Jayson Werth, the Tigers have Victor Martinez, and the White Sox have Adam Dunn in the fold.
Mind you, Mark Reynolds is not a bad player, and I am sure he could find a role on many teams. He may very well have his best years ahead of him. But so did David Hernandez, and the cost of losing an arm like his (and Mickolio’s) just doesn’t seem worth it, not given the free agent options. And if the free agent options are about as good as Reynolds (it certainly seems that way), then it comes down to the fact that the free agents cost more. Reynolds made just $833K last season, a bargain for any major league hitter. With $10 million per year deals being handed out left and right to free agents, the front office certainly accomplished that goal.
So exactly how much money was David Hernandez worth? How many millions are being saved by dumping him rather than signing a free agent? It depends what happens from here. But buying into MacPhail’s approach this offseason is becoming even more expensive than a free agent corner infielder.