The offseason dynamic has changed quite a bit for the Yankees over the last 24 hours. They went from trying to dig up a utility infielder who could play 100 combined games between short and third next season to absolutely needing an infielder because Alex Rodriguez will have another hip surgery next month. The injury creates two holes as the Yankees lost their starting third baseman and primary source of right-handed power for potentially the entire first half.
The free agent market is light on quality third basemen and the trade market isn’t much better, so the Yankees are stuck picking from imperfect solutions. We know they don’t consider Kevin Youkilis, Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, and Marco Scutaro everyday options at the hot corner, narrowing the field of potential options even further. There’s always Eric Chavez, who played very well last season but doesn’t solve the right-handed power problem and is far from a safe bet to remain healthy. Eduardo Nunez is not an option and playing Jayson Nix everyday has Cody Ransom 2.0 written all over it.
The best free agent option may be a player who wasn’t even a free agent five days ago. The Orioles non-tendered Mark Reynolds last Friday after first declining his $11M club option for 2013. He remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player, but the club decided to cut ties rather than pay a projected $8.9M salary. At 29 years old, Reynolds is one of the few free agents on the right side of 30. Let’s see if the former Diamondback is a fit for New York’s new needs.
- Reynolds has some of the biggest right-handed power in the game. He joins Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Braun as the only righties to hit at least 23 homers in each of the last five seasons, and over the last three years he owns 92 homers and a .236 ISO. Those rank 12th and 14th in baseball regardless of handedness. Yankee Stadium usually doesn’t mix well with dead pull right-handed hitters, but Reynolds has the kind of power that will play anywhere.
- In addition to that power comes a whole lot of patience. Reynolds has drawn at least 70 walks in four straight seasons and his 13.2% walk rate over the last three years is the 14th highest in baseball. His average of 4.26 pitches per plate appearances since 2010 is Nick Swisher, Joe Mauer, and Youkilis territory.
- Guys like Reynolds are easy to typecast as platoon bats, but over the last three seasons he’s posted a .238 ISO with a 116 wRC+ against lefties to go along with a .236 ISO and 104 wRC+ against righties. He can play against everyone.
- Reynolds has been on the DL once as a big leaguer, missing a little more than two weeks with an oblique strain this season. Prior to that he had been good for 145-155 games played per year every year.
- All of that power and patience comes with a lot of strikeouts. Like a historic amount of strikeouts. Reynolds holds three of the five highest single-season strikeout totals in baseball history and has whiffed in 32.3% of his plate appearances over the last three years. Only Adam Dunn has been worse. If there’s anything good to note here, it’s that his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last two seasons, relatively speaking.
- Reynolds is a big time fly ball hitter (36.1% grounders since 2010), hence the power production, but fly balls also turn into outs rather easily. As a result, he owns a meager .268 BABIP and .213 AVG over the last three years. Over the last two seasons it’s a more palatable but still awful .221.
- His best position is probably DH, though he has shown the ability to fake first base these last two years. The various defensive stats rate Reynolds as well-below-average at the hot corner, as in 10 runs or more below-average annually. That’s Johnny Damon in left field bad.
Reynolds has the kind of power and patience the Yankees crave, and the fact that he swings from the right side and doesn’t need a platoon partner fits well with a lineup that is all but devoid of right-handed threats at the moment. He doesn’t hit for average though, which is a problem. A team can live with one low-average, high-walks, high-power hitter in the lineup, but the Yankees already have Curtis Granderson on the roster and squeezing two hitters like that into the regular lineup is less than ideal. Then again, the team is listening to offers for Granderson.
Given the dearth of power hitters and corner infielders on the free agent market, I do wonder if some team will step in and offer Reynolds a two-year contract. He figures to sign for less than the $8.9M the Orioles declined to offer him, but given how the market has played out so far I wouldn’t be completely surprised if some team floats a two-year, $12M offer. Something like that. The Yankees are fixated on one-year contracts and two years for a guy like Reynolds isn’t very advisable anyway.
The real question is whether he can actually man the hot corner on a regular enough basis to be a worthwhile pickup. He doesn’t need a traditional right/left platoon partner, but maybe a third base/DH platoon partner. The Yankees could bring back Chavez and have him and Reynolds split the load at the hot corner while the other plays DH on a given day. It sounds great in theory but is much tougher to actually pull off on the field. The Yankees are losing a considerable amount of offense this winter though, and Reynolds is one of the few available players who can make a real impact with the bat thanks to his power. Again, imperfect solutions.