Bryan Reynolds has reached that annoying stage in terms of becoming a potential impact player.
It’s that time when a player becomes so good, so early in his team-control years that we start hearing ridiculous trade rumors. The latest surrounding Reynolds is that the Pirates asked for top prospect Julio Rodriguez from the Seattle Mariners.
This type of deal is unlikely to happen. But, it fuels trade fodder during the offseason to discuss how much Reynolds is worth.
The truth is that, we don’t really know what he’s worth.
Reynolds emerged as an MVP candidate in 2021, hitting for a .302/.390/.522 line in 646 plate appearances, with 24 home runs. This production came while he transitioned to center field, where he didn’t provide positive value, but didn’t look bad.
Digging deeper below those numbers, Reynolds saw the best walk rate of his career, the lowest strikeout rate, and a respectable BABIP that makes his .302 average look legit.
The overall numbers from Reynolds look similar to his rookie campaign in 2019, when he hit for a .314/.377/.503 line. However, that year saw a lower walk rate (8.4% vs 11.6%), a higher strikeout rate (22.2% vs 18.4%), and a much higher BABIP (.387 vs .345). The numbers from Reynolds in 2021 look far more sustainable.
That should hold off any concerns about another down year, which Reynolds saw in 2020, sandwiched between his debut in 2019 and his breakout season in 2021.
The Future With Reynolds
The Pirates have Reynolds under team control for the next four seasons, and should be targeting to contend with him on the team. His performance this season shows a player they can build around.
Reynolds ranked first overall in fWAR among center fielders in 2021, with his 5.5 WAR edging out Starling Marte’s 5.4. Among all position players in the game, he tied with two other players for ninth overall, matching production with Aaron Judge and Brandon Crawford.
If the Pirates did trade Reynolds, it would signal that they didn’t expect to contend with him on the roster, which isn’t a good signal to send for a guy with several years of control remaining. They could try to extend him, although what is Reynolds worth? Do you pay for the MVP season, expecting more to come? Or, do you wait and see if he can do it again, while still having three years of control remaining at this point next year?
One factor with the future of Reynolds is age. There have been some rumblings that MLB could switch from the current system of six years of team control to a system where a player becomes a free agent after the season where he turns 29.5 years old.
If that rule change happens, it would impact Reynolds. He would only have three years of team control remaining under that scenario. By comparison, Julio Rodriguez turns 21 years old in December, and wouldn’t be a free agent under that system until 2030. Rodriguez is also one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and could arrive in the majors next year. He’d also align better with the Pirates’ current building process, giving them a convergence of age 21-23 players reaching the majors all at the same time.
I’m skeptical that this type of deal would happen. And that scenario above only takes place if MLB radically changes their free agency eligibility structure.
That said, if you buy the 2021 season from Reynolds, then there’s no reason to think at this point that he’s worth less than Rodriguez, under any structure.
The Pirates can’t go wrong either way.
They can build around Reynolds, keeping him on the roster for 3-4 years, or more if they extend him.
They could trade him at a high point, and add the final boost to their building process.
At some point, that build needs to lead to a contending team. That should be sooner than later if they keep Reynolds around.
Center Field Prospects
For potential short- or long-term replacements for Reynolds, check out my article over at Pirates Prospects, breaking down the best center field prospects in the Pirates system.