Bryan Reynolds and the Pirates’ Next Competitor – Pirates Prospects
Let’s paint a scenario:
The Pittsburgh Pirates have an outfielder who achieved a WAR 3+ in his rookie season and a WAR 5+ in his third season.
The Pirates, at the same time, were one of the worst teams in baseball. This outfielder represented one of their rare glimmers of hope that a competing team might one day soon loom on the horizon.
Unfortunately, this outfielder is under control for the remaining four seasons, after his WAR 5+ in another losing season. In order to deal with this outfielder, the Pirates needed to either extend him or trade him to add players who will be in the mix when it comes to a contender.
Would you have traded Andrew McCutchen before the 2012 season?
That’s who I’m talking about today, even though the storyline above depicts both McCutchen and Bryan Reynolds.
The Pirates did not trade McCutchen. They kept him, he had an MVP-quality season in their losing season in 2012, won the MVP award as the Pirates returned to the playoffs in 2013, and fueled their run in contention for two more seasons. McCutchen declined after 2015, and the Pirates eventually traded him for…
Reynolds made his debut in 2019, a year after being acquired for McCutchen. It was the last year of Neal Huntington’s tenure as GM, and Reynolds emerged as one of his key players going forward with a WAR 3.2.
In 2020, Reynolds regressed to replacement-level performance during the COVID-shortened season. A year ago today, we wondered what kind of impact, if any, Reynolds would have on the majors in the long run.
Then Reynolds set up a 5.5 WAR season.
Now all we hear are Bryan Reynolds trade rumours, confirmation that the Pirates haven’t discussed an extension with him and the reminder that they only have four years to face him. .
The irony is that Reynolds and McCutchen are on nearly identical paths with the same team, ten years apart, even though McCutchen was a few years younger. I wouldn’t call them similar players, although the values matched in years one and three.
This makes it easy to imagine what hackers should do when thinking back to a similar scenario and seeing how it played out.
The Pirates could extend Reynolds and opt for the same type of 2023-25 concurrent window, ideally keeping this one open longer than last time.
Or, they could trade it, boost this current rebuild, and maybe just push the contending window back to 2024, with more hope that it stays open longer with the additional prospects.
Much of the talk surrounding Reynolds is clouded by the fact that the Pirates are a small market team and very frugal with their money, making it likely that Reynolds will be gone before 2025 without overtime. For today, I’m going to discuss Reynolds’ situation in a vacuum, separate from what the Pirates might do, and instead focus on what an MLB team trying to struggle in the near future should do.
When will the pirates clash?
The first question we have to ask ourselves is when will the Pirates face off?
I can see that happening in 2023. That would require good results from young prospects heading to the majors this year, a good offseason next year fueled by the money they’re certainly not spending now , and of course Reynolds still being on the team.
If you don’t see the Pirates fighting in 2023, then it makes perfect sense to trade Reynolds now. If the window opens in 2024, whether Reynolds is in the team or not, it doesn’t make much sense to keep him for two more losing seasons, just to have him for two winning seasons. The likely outcome is that any small market team would trade him before this final season, if not extended.
This is an all-in or all-out situation.
If the Pirates are keeping Reynolds, they need to focus on winning as soon as possible or keeping him as long as possible. Either way, that maximizes the number of years the Pirates have Bryan Reynolds on a contending team.
If the Pirates don’t win in 2023, it would make sense to trade Reynolds now and bolster this future squad.
The value of Bryan Reynolds
One factor in all of this is the Reynolds value.
Is he rated as a 5+ WAR player?
What concern does this 2020 season bring?
I can find reason to back Reynolds’ 2021 season as legitimate. His BABIP was at career level, so the .302 average seems legit. Strikeouts were down and walks up slightly, but still within his normal range. This supports .390 OBP. His power output was up, which can be explained by more contact from lowered strikeouts, as well as an increase in his line drive rate in favor of a reduction in his ground balls. Defensively he can handle center field, but he’s probably more valuable from a corner once a better defender comes along.
There has been enough commercial interest that it seems teams also think his 2021 season was legit. There could be some risk involved, as is the case with any player who hosts a 5+ WAR season once. The risk is that you buy high on a player whose value will fall back to Earth. The reward comes if its value does not decrease, or if it increases in future years as we saw with McCutchen.
Will Reynolds step back, hold or step forward?
An extension of Bryan Reynolds
Reynolds is 27 and the Pirates have him under control throughout his 30-year-old season.
Even if Reynolds maintains his output or steps forward in the next few years, the odds of him being a 5+ WAR player in his 31 seasons and beyond are much lower than in his 27-30 seasons.
The Pirates would buy his 31 seasons and beyond.
It’s a similar situation again at McCutchen at the end of his overtime. There have been talks over whether the Pirates should extend him again which would have bought his age of 32 and beyond seasons. As we’ve seen now, that would have been an overpayment had it been purchased based on its 2015 production.
The Pirates control Reynolds during his early years. That makes him valuable in a trade and valuable to them if they plan to wrestle for at least half of those years.
It doesn’t make much sense to extend it, since history tells us that the Pirates would pay for the drop in production during the costly years of the extension. That said, they extended McCutchen, he declined those years, and they were still able to trade him for Bryan Reynolds.
Keep Reynolds all the time
This is where we remove the Pirates completely, and ask what a competent team would do.
Reynolds is under the control of the team until 2025. The widely held assumption – and this is also the case for me – is that the Pirates would trade Reynolds before that point.
What if they kept it?
What if today they treated Reynolds as a four-year free agent from then on, aiming to help the Pirates struggle through those seasons?
Again, it all really depends on whether they fight it out in 2023. If not, the discussion keeps Reynolds up to free agency so you can have his 29-30 seasons on a contender. The decision to keep him would be better if he was aged between 28 and 30 over three consecutive seasons. The 27-28 seasons will be the most productive, and the Pirates could face off in one of those years.
The sad reality of this discussion is that Pirates fans have been conditioned on one specific type of value: Prospect value.
Each business return comes with $X worth of leads to Reynolds. Pirates fans have focused on this aspect of value primarily because they have perpetually followed a rebuilding team that has won four seasons over the past three decades.
There is value on the other side of a deal. The value Reynolds would provide in those years to a competitor.
When did the Pirates start targeting MLB player value, rather than prospect future value?
Can they start with Bryan Reynolds?
The obvious answer is that they should target MLB value over prospect value when they are in a position to contend.
I think they should trade Reynolds now if that window starts in 2024. I think there’s a case to be made for keeping him and building around him if the year is 2023.
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