What Should The Orioles Do With Mark Reynolds?
Each week, two PressBox baseball writers weigh in with their thoughts on a different question.
With the season almost a month old, Mark Reynolds has zero home runs, a paltry .143 batting average and he's struggled defensively at third. He's played 10 games at third base, eight as a DH and one at first base. Stan "The Fan" Charles and Jim Henneman discuss what the Orioles should do.
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
The good news about Mark Reynolds is that the Orioles' commitment to him ends after Oct. 3, the final day of the 2012 regular season. Although one can sense he probably isn't exactly a favorite of general manager Dan Duquette or manager Buck Showalter, Reynolds has been throughout his previous five major league seasons a quirky, albeit formidable offensive force.
Point of fact is that during his previous four full-time seasons, he knocked in 97, 102, 85 and 86 runs, while hammering 28, 44, 32 and 37 home runs. Sure, his strikeout totals during those same four years have been off the hook, with 204, 223, 211 and 196, while the batting averages have clearly stamped him as a problem child: .239, .260, .198 and .221.
But what Reynolds hadn't shown until 2011 was how inconsistent a defensive performer he was, making 26 errors during only 111 games started at third base, and an additional five during 43 starts at first base.
To most witnesses, his defense at first base was exceptional in 2011, but the combination of Chris Davis' shoulder issues and a personal plea Reynolds made to manager Buck Showalter won the day. Reynolds went on an offseason program to slim down and gain some agility at the hot corner.
While Reynolds was successful at losing close to 20 pounds, the same can't be said for improving his play at third base. To date, he has made three errors during 10 games started, and it seems that manager Buck Showalter is uncomfortable with him as his everyday third baseman.
All of that wouldn't amount to a hill of beans if Reynolds were producing at the plate. After all, his offensive numbers are his eraser for his now subpar defense and his huge number of punch-outs. But after going hitless -- with two strikeouts -- against the Yankees April 30, he has a .143 batting average, no home runs, three RBIs and 30 strikeouts. Without power numbers, what does he have to offer to the club?
So, what are a GM and manager to do? Most of the fans in town want him traded, but the reality is nobody would give the Orioles a plug nickel for him today.
When the Orioles opted to not invite an aging Vladimir Guerrero back as a designated hitter, it seemed the O's brass wanted some flexibility in using Matt Wieters, Chris Davis or Brian Roberts (had he been healthy) there. But for the time being, Showalter is simply sliding Reynolds around to designated hitter, first base and third base, in hopes that he will find his swing, and at the same time not find too many balls coming his way.
By Jim Henneman
Without knowing what, if any, trade options the Orioles might have, I'm dismissing that possibility and concentrating on how best to use Reynolds -- and what he might reasonably be able to produce. Making trades from this end is an inexact science at best, because the ones you would make in a heartbeat are never the ones that are available.
Having made that conclusion, my instincts are that Reynolds is best suited for the role he's been in most of the first month -- alternating between third base and designated hitter, most likely rotating with Wilson Betemit. At this point, there is no reason to disrupt Chris Davis, who has given at least some indication that he can live up to the promise his minor league numbers indicate. Any thought of him returning to third base, where he played a good bit last year, can be easily dismissed.
But at the same time, don't expect Betemit to be an upgrade defensively, because we've already seen that won't be the case. Ryan Flaherty would be an upgrade, but it's hardly worth sacrificing the offensive potential to make that kind of move. One thing about third base is that errors tend to be glaring -- but total chances are relatively minimal.
Brooks Robinson might have been the best to ever play the position, but as great as he was, he averaged only 3.2 chances during the 2,870 games he played. Some of those were potential doubles that were turned into double plays, but the fact remains third base is the infield position with the fewest chances, which magnifies errors even more.
If it were my call, I'd keep Reynolds in the lineup on a regular basis until I was convinced he should be elsewhere, which means at least the next two months. This is the weakest first month of his career, and 28 strikeouts during his first 70 plate appearances are alarming, but the track record shows that what you see from Reynolds by the end of June is what you get for the long haul. On May 1 last year, he had two home runs and 14 runs batted in and was hitting .169, with a .313 slugging percentage and .566 OPS through 25 games. Even those numbers look monstrous in comparison with this year's paltry figures (which encompass 19 games).
By the end of June last year, Reynolds' numbers (.225 BA, .462 SLG, .824 OPS) were remarkably close to those at the end of the season (.221, .483, .806). Given the makeup of the O's roster, which includes a lot of potential strikeout victims, there doesn't appear to be any choice. Defense and strikeouts are the tradeoff for the potential of 30 home runs and 80-90 runs batted in.
If the numbers don't reflect that potential by July 1, then it'll be time for Plan B, but right now, there isn't one.
Posted May 1, 2012