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The Mark Reynolds Trade: Baltimore’s End

Perhaps addicted to the buzz surrounding him during the Justin Upton trade rumor bonanza, Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers continued to put his stamp on the team today by trading a guy who strikes out even more often than Upton: slugging third baseman Mark Reynolds. Baltimore is sending back young relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to acquire Reynolds, who hit below the Mendoza line last season. How does this move fit in with where the Orioles are, and where they want to end up?

As ugly as Reynolds’ .198/.320/.433 line for 2010 looks, he did manage to increase his walk rate to go along with his 32 home runs, and his wOBA was about .328, which, when adjusted for park, made him about a league-average hitter. When the Diamondbacks extended him after his monstrous 2009 season at the plate (.260/.349/.543, 44 home runs), they thought they were getting a much better player than that. Still, at three years and $14.5 million dollars, the Diamondbacks still came out better than even last season. The Orioles are getting Reynolds with two years guaranteed left on the deal — $12.5 million plus a $0.5 million buyout on Reynold’s 2013 club option — so $13 million dollars over two seasons guaranteed. At five million dollars a win (earlier I thought that was optimistic, now it might be low; at this point it’s pretty much a guess), and assuming a very conservative 7% annual league salary inflation rate, that is paying Reynolds like he’s not quite a 1.5 WAR player.

Since the Orioles did give up cost-controlled assets to acquire Reynolds, they need him to be better than that (how much better is something I’ll discuss a bit below). Even last season, he was, at 2.4 WAR, and in his wonderful 2009, he was worth 3.6 WAR. Reynolds is 27, so his true talent is probably “as good as it gets” right now. But what is his true talent? He’s probably a better hitter than he seemed to be in 2010. Even if his strikeout rate continues at around 40%, his walk rate is increasing, something you’d expect from a player as he ages. Power wasn’t the problem this past season, either. While strikeouts and contact are always going to be a big issue for Reynolds, in 2010 his main issue was that on the rare occasions when he did put a ball into play it became an out more often than usual — thus his .257 BABIP. His career BABIP is .323. While he was probably hitting a fair bit “over his head” overall in 2009, it’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t a bit unfortunate in 2010. Something around .240/.340/.480 (with a ~.355 wOBA, around 15-20 runs above average over a full season) seems about right for 2011 if he stayed in Arizona.

Of course, he won’t be in Arizona. Although Camden Yards is a hitter-friendly park, it isn’t as favorable to right-handed hitters as Arizona, which, although it doesn’t usually assist fly balls from righties as much as Camden, greatly inflates their doubles and triples. Moreover, Reynolds will be facing American League pitchers in the toughest division in baseball. If he would have been a +15-20 hitter in Arizona, he’s probably closer to +10 in Baltimore. As for Reynolds’ defense at third, despite an apparent rebound in 2010, he’s generally considered a poor defender, although not bad enough that he would gain value by being moved to first if the Orioles want to give Josh Bell another chance at third. All things considered (including attrition). Reynolds is probably something like a 2-2.5 WAR player in 2011.

That is better than what the Orioles are paying him, and as a stopgap it’s certainly better than another Garrett Atkins experiment. Whether it’s the right move for the Orioles is open to debate. Hernandez couldn’t cut it as a starter, and if you’re going to move young talent, make it a reliever or two. Only the best relievers in the league come close to 2.5 WAR in a season, and I don’t think Hernandez or Mickolio are close to that yet, although Hernandez, at least, looks like he might do well (all those fly balls will be scary in the desert, though). There is something to be said for the Orioles just having a non-horrible presence at third (or first, if that’s what they decide to do, although Reynolds’ overall offense is much less impressive there). Unless one of the traded relievers turns into another Joakim Soria, this probably won’t hurt them too badly in the long-term (when they might be able to contend in the AL East), either, although Reynolds himself isn’t likely to be much help then. Overall, this looks like a fair trade for both sides that fills a need for the Orioles for the next couple of seasons.