Bryan Reynolds, like any sensible human being, does not want to play for the current iteration of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With extension talks between him and the Pirates front office breaking down, he has reportedly requested a trade. As much as I would hate to take away a potentially good teammate from beloved Carlos Santana, I would love nothing more than to see Reynolds in Cleveland.
There is, of course, a chance that he does want to play for the Pirates and this is all a leverage tactic. Having your agent leak to the press that you want to be traded is a time-honored tradition among players getting all they can out of their respective owners. Personally, I don’t know why he would want to play for the Pirates — but some people also root for the Browns every week, humans are weird and unpredictable. For the sake of something to write about, I’m going to assume he genuinely wants out. And if he doesn’t, well enjoy some free leverage, I guess.
Reynolds had a bit of a dip last season, coming down from a peak 141 wRC+ he put up in 2021. He did hit a career-high 27 home runs last year, but struck out a bit more (23% strikeout rate in 2022, compared to 18.4% in 2021), and walked a bit less (9.1% to 11.6%). As a result, his on-base percentage dropped a full .45 points down from its 2021 peak of .390.
Luck may have played a bit of a factor in his breakout, and it may have hurt him in the opposite direction last year. He finished with an xwOBA of .288 last season, compared to a .271 wOBA, meaning the quality of his contact didn’t result in the hits it usually might. That was just a small part of the issue, however. His biggest problem was pitch recognition. He swung on pitches out of the zone just 28.4% of the time in 2021 — among the best in baseball — but that rate rose to 35.6% last season.
From the Pirates' perspective, if they do want to trade him, they might want to wait and see if he puts up the same kind of All-Star numbers he did in the first half of 2021 and flip him at the trade deadline. To their credit, the Pirates don’t sound like they have any interest in trading him right now based on a statement they put out after the news of the request broke.
It would have been smartest for the Pirates to trade him last offseason after his breakout year — something I wanted the Guardians to be in on at the time, and something I want them to do even more now as it’s a bit of a “buy low” proposition. Despite the slippage last year, he’s still only 27 years old and without an obvious malady causing the inconsistency last year. His xwOBA was starting to improve over his last 100 PA of the season last year, so maybe he was on the path of correcting his slow start.
So, about that fit with the Guardians. For the same reason I liked the idea of taking a flyer on Cody Bellinger as a buy-low free agent, I want Reynolds in right field to shift Oscar Gonzalez to designated hitter as needed. Unlike the left-handed Bellinger, Reynolds is a switch-hitter who hits better from the left side, but is still well above average against lefties as a right-handed batter, which the Guardians sorely need. For his career, he has a 117 wRC+ against lefties and a 130 wRC+ against righties. At his best in 2021 he was dead even with a 141 wRC+ against both, and last year he had a 120 wRC+ against lefties and a 127 wRC+ against righties.
For what it’s worth, Steamer projects him to finish with a 125 wRC+ again in 2023, with 24 home runs and a .267/.349/.458 slash. His projected 4.0 wins would have him as the best Guardians outfielder in 2023 and tied with Andrés Giménez for the second-best position player. Given how conservative Steamer projections are by design, I have no issue seeing him reaching, or even exceeding, this.
Reynolds isn’t arbitration eligible until 2024 and could be in Cleveland through the 2026 season without an extension, but he clearly wants one so he could potentially be around longer. With a bit of a bounceback, he has the power Cleveland needs to inject into the lineup to take the next step, without completely sacrificing the contact ability that they love so much.
If the Pirates are forced to talk about trading their star, they are already pretty familiar with the Guardians. Mostly the two teams have made smaller deals, such as Yu Chang for cash earlier this year, but the Guards also plucked Jordan Luplow from them for Erik Gonzalez and three others back in 2018.
I’m not saying the Guardians have some great mandate to get Reynolds or their offseason is a bust, but if the Pirates come calling, they should pick up the phone.