Part of being arguably the best bargain hunters in MLB also means that it’s an endless job, and for the Tampa Bay Rays, their latest triumph in value also means that they’re likely going to be back at square one at first base.
After all, who else but Andrew Friedman and co. could have gotten a career-best 2.7 fWAR from a James Loney that was a below-replacement level player just one season prior? And at the bargain price of $2 million? Talk about making good on a make-good deal. Unfortunately, the other part of that equation is that the 29-year old is also going to be making good with a new, considerably more lucrative contract — one that’s likely out of the Rays’ reach.
So the circle of baseball life moves on in Tampa Bay, where the lack of attendance continues to make life for the Rays an adventure in bargain-bin shopping.
Should they be unable to bring Loney back as widely expected, the team will be back on the hunt for a first baseman, with the additional challenges of likely having to trade away ace David Price and a payroll reduction to contend with. The former might actually serve to resolve the first base problem, but barring a team parting with a stud 1B as part of a significant package, it’s looking like the carousel will keep spinning for one more year.
Well … it’s a good thing that Mark Reynolds might just be looking for a short-term ride on baseball’s career-revitalizer then.
Okay, so that might be a little bit presumptuous, but it’s hard to ignore the fit there. After two below-replacement seasons thanks in no small part to his subpar defense, the strikeout virtuoso signed a make-good deal with the Cleveland Indians only to see his value further tumble with a .215/.307/.373 triple slash, giving the Tribe -0.3 fWAR worth of production over 99 games.
He did make a splash in the New York Yankees‘ last-ditch effort to stay alive in the playoff race towards the end of the season with a 0.7 fWAR, .755 OPS run in 36 games, but I think it’d be fair to say that he’s likely looking at a pay cut when his next contract is signed.
And that’s just fine by the Rays, who happens to be looking for an affordable first baseman likely for just one or two seasons while they figure out the next phase of their metamorphosis.
That will happen when super-utility man Ben Zobrist becomes a free agent at the end of 2015, meaning that as far as the longtime offensive duo of Evan Logoria and Zobrist is concerned, the window to compete might be somewhat limited. The addition of Reynolds would not only be affordable (perhaps one year at $4 million?), but it would immediately give them a dimension to the offense that Loney did not last season: power.
Yes, despite all of his flaws, Reynolds still does a couple of things pretty well, and that’s draw walks and hit home runs. He’s topped 20 homers in each of his last six seasons, and his late surge with the Bronx Bombers say him hit six bombs in just 120 PA. Now, if he could only play defense …
Even so, with the Rays needing a DH as well, you’d think that Joe Maddon would be able to find a way to maximize Reynolds strengths while limiting what damage he might do with the glove. In limited usage, Reynolds might even be able to play something of a utility role for Tampa Bay, being able to suit up at both first and third when Longoria might need a breather and have a day as the DH.
No, he won’t hit for much average, but it’s not like he’ll be asked to be a driving force in the offense here. With the emergence of Wil Myers as a bona fide middle-of-the-lineup stalwart, Reynolds is more of a facilitator, proving a home run threat in the lower part lineup so to give them team a bit of extra oomph. If anything else, he’s at least shown the ability to do that throughout his career, even if he might not end up having quite the resurgence that Loney had with the Rays.
And the ideal world upside? Well, 40-homer power might just change up a thing or two about the Rays’ offense, I suppose …