I feel like Pirates fans should have been referring to Bryan Reynolds home runs as “Reynolds Wraps” all along.
Unfortunately, it seems that idea was foiled.
Were you just thinking fresh start after that bad pun about the Pirates’ best player? Cool, me too.
Way back in time, before there was ever such a thing as “a bridge to the future”, the Pirates had a star player. His name was Andrew McCutchen.
And you know what? He was referred to with the “Cutch-22” phrase, so I’m going to double-down on my “Reynolds Wrap” home run idea in a heavy duty way. This should be a thing.
McCutchen was a star. He averaged almost 7 WAR over a five year stretch from 2011-2015. It’s almost unfair to compare any other player to McCutchen, since he set such a high bar.
For example, Reynolds had a 3.1 WAR in his rookie season in 2019. He currently has a 3.2 WAR halfway through the 2021 season. The recent performance raises the possibility of him ending up with 6+ WAR by the end of the season. Even with this, it doesn’t seem right to compare him to McCutchen, in a way that is unfair to Reynolds.
If Reynolds didn’t end up with McCutchen numbers, and *only* became a perpetual 4+ WAR player for the rest of his career, he’d still be one of the best Pirates position players in the last few decades.
When McCutchen was starting his career, he didn’t look like a for sure MVP. He had the tools, and there was hope he could get there. In his first two seasons he had a .286/.365/.459 line in 1146 plate appearances. Reynolds is currently at .288/.362/.484 in his first 1091 plate appearances.
A key difference is that McCutchen had just finished his age 23 season at that point, while Reynolds is in his age 26 season. That said, McCutchen didn’t put up “Reynolds Age 26” numbers until his age 25 season, when he had a 7.3 WAR.
One of the saving graces of the final months of this season will be watching Reynolds to see how he finishes his year. Is he a top hitter in the game? Is he going to come down to Earth? Where will he settle in between 3 WAR and star level player?
His performance over a full season should give an idea of how the Pirates should approach him in the future.
I doubt they would trade him this year, and it would be a bit of a shock if they dealt him this offseason. He has four years of control remaining, putting him with the team through the 2025 season. I don’t expect the Pirates to contend in 2022, but they could in 2023 or beyond with the right moves. Does Reynolds’ team control include two or three seasons where the Pirates can contend?
If the Pirates don’t think they can win in 2023, they should probably deal Reynolds early, assuming they can’t extend him.
The upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement should bring a lot of changes to the game. I doubt the Pirates or Reynolds would agree to a long-term deal until that is in place. Reynolds will be arbitration eligible after this season, for his first of four years. That provides a perfect time to reach a deal, which could buy out an additional two or three years of team control.
Under that timeline, the Pirates would have Reynolds under control through his age 32-33 seasons. Those wouldn’t project to be the best years of his career, but would keep him on the team for what should be additional contending seasons for the Pirates.
The timeline here is tricky.
If you project the Pirates contending in 2023-24, then you’ve got Reynolds on the team for 2-3 contending seasons.
I think we can reasonably assume that the Pirates would trade him a year or two before he hits free agency. I doubt the next CBA will drastically change the aspect of the game that prevents small market teams from keeping their best players.
If they did deal Reynolds early, then realistically you’re looking at 1-2 years of Reynolds on a contending team. If they extended him, you’ve got maybe 3-4 years of him on a contender.
The catch there is that the extra years would come during his decline. Reynolds is very athletic, and doesn’t project to have a rapid decline. Then again, I’m sure I said the same thing about McCutchen at one point, and he rapidly declined after age 30.
Is Reynolds part of the next contending team in Pittsburgh? Or, is he going to bring in some of the key pieces for that team?
The safe approach with this would be keeping Reynolds and expecting his 3, 4, 5+ WAR during the few contending years he’s on the team. The bold move would be dealing him early, going all-in on the rebuild, and lining up the farm system so that there doesn’t have to be another version of the “bridge to the future” in a few years.
I’d be surprised if that bold move happens at the upcoming trade deadline. I think Reynolds has far more value at the end of the season, and after the next CBA is official. From that point, if it doesn’t look like the Pirates are going to be winning in the immediate future, it would make sense to deal him.
Reynolds helps strengthen the opening of the window for a short period. A trade that would send him away might help prolong the window being open. The question is: Can the window to contend open without Bryan Reynolds on the team in the future?