The curious case of Mark Reynolds

If you would have asked me in May if there were any chance of Mark Reynolds returning to the Orioles in 2013, it would have been a short conversation.

"Nope," would have been the answer.


Honestly, as late as July, there was a sense that the Orioles were kicking around the idea of releasing Reynolds and eating his remaining 2012 salary.

Isn't it crazy how things work out?

It's now October. And Reynolds, a butcher at third base, worked his way into becoming a pretty darn good first baseman. He also cut down on his strikeouts this year (from 1 per every 2.72 at-bats to 1 per every 2.87 at-bats). He fanned 159 times, his lowest since his rookie year in 2007.

And now I am writing about whether the Orioles can afford Reynolds next year – and if they can afford to let him go.

The Orioles have an $11 million option on Reynolds for 2013.

If they exercised it, Reynolds, who hit just 23 homers and also had his lowest RBI total and slugging percentage since 2007, would be the second highest paid player on the roster for next season, behind only Nick Markakis (Adam Jones doesn't top the $11 million mark until 2014).

Relatively speaking, Reynolds isn't worth $11 million. So the Orioles can buy out that option for $500,000 and he would still be under contract with the club because he has one year of arbitration remaining.

However, because he made $7.5 million last year, and still had 20+ homers, led the team in walks and played good defense, he's likely to get a solid raise through arbitration, perhaps putting him in the $9 million or so range. So the Orioles aren't saving much money by going that route.

The most sensible thing is to buy out the option, non-tender him a contract and negotiate at a lower salary on a one-year deal, maybe with an option for 2014.

But there is a danger in that. The first-base, free-agent class is exceptionally weak. Carlos Lee, 36, Carlos Pena, 34, and James Loney, 28, are the headliners. Washington's Adam LaRoche, 33, could be thrown into that group if he and the Nationals can't work something out (the assumption is he declines the $10 million mutual option after a career season and they agree on a multi-year deal).

Reynolds, given his comparative youth and durability, is arguably less of a risk than the above players. He is one of the toughest to wear an Orioles uniform in the past decade. He fits into the Orioles' calm, congenial clubhouse. And he wants to be here.

"I'd definitely like to come back. This is the most fun I've ever had playing baseball, this group of guys," Reynolds said after the club's loss in Game 5 of the ALDS. "There's a bunch of ballplayers in this room. No prima donnas, nobody for themselves. Just ballplayers who pull for each other. And who wouldn't want to be in that environment?"

The Orioles have Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit as potential replacements at first if Reynolds leaves. Joe Mahoney is an option in the minors. And it wouldn't be a surprise if at some point right fielder Nick Markakis was asked to experiment at first to increase position flexibility.

But none – including Davis, who has a reputation as a good first baseman but struggled earlier this year at the position – could match Reynolds defensively in 2012. And that was a key to the Orioles' rise this season.


It's a real interesting dilemma.

What do you do?
Cut Reynolds loose? Attempt to negotiate with him at a lower salary while taking the risk that he'll go elsewhere? Or pick up his option and keep your fingers crossed that he can get his full power stroke back?

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