A few weeks ago, I wrote about the potential scenarios to look for when Ryan Howard supposedly returns to the Phillies everyday lineup in 2014. One possibility, and I would argue the most effective solution, would be to platoon Howard with another player with better career splits against left-handed pitching. Howard has long had issues with lefties, never more apparent than in his most recent seasons. While I argued that Darin Ruf would prove the most logical platoon buddy for Howard at first base, another viable option exists.
When perusing the impending market of free agents for the 2013/2014 offseason, most fans might casually skip over Mark Reynolds’ name. Reynolds, an infielder with tons of power, subpar ability to reach base, and an incredible propensity for striking out, might not seem like the man for the job. In fact, Reynold’s profile bears a strong resemblance to Ryan Howard, except Reynolds does his work from the batter’s box on the other side of the plate.
So, why should the Phillies consider signing Mark Reynolds this offseason?
(1) Due in part to the last few years, Ryan Howard’s career wRC+ against left-handed pitching has fallen to below league average. Howard continues to struggle against southpaws, and while I am not advocating he give up trying to hit lefties, focusing on mashing against righties would benefit his team more. Given that Howard has become essentially one-dimensional at the plate, managers will not stop bringing in left-handed pitchers to face The Big Piece until he proves that he can consistently get on base, and more importantly hit for power, against southpaws.
Having a right-handed hitter who can easily substitute in defensively for Howard, and can start games against lefties, would
give manager Ryne Sandberg more flexibility, and more importantly, provide more potential for a positive outcome in as many plate appearances as possible. This season Reynolds put up a 106 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, and in his career that number is 120. Reynolds performs best at the plate when he doesn’t worry about striking out. His best seasons came in Arizona when he consistently hit for 30+ home runs, struck out 200+ times, while hitting in a hitter-friendly ball park. The same could be true of Reynolds in Philadelphia, aided by the fact that he would predominantly come up against lefties.
(2) Speaking of flexibility, Reynolds provides that as well. While Reynolds has never performed well in the field, he does have the potential to play multiple positions, which in itself adds utility. Reynolds has played third base, first base, and even some second base this season, to go along with a number of starts at DH. Unfortunately, Reynolds defines the term subpar defender as he has never shown a propensity to play any position on the field that well. His defensive runs saved and UZR numbers all come up negative no matter what season or position one examines. Remember though, the Phillies will have Ryan Howard, a subpar defender in his own right, playing first base, to go along with some lacking defenders in the corner outfield spots. Despite his lacking defense, the ability to play multiple positions has value, even if we have not yet quantified that value.
(3) With money coming off the books this offseason, the Phillies have the potential to sign a free agent or two. Ruben Amaro Jr. will most likely go after some more high-profile free agents, to go along with those puzzle pieces, every GM goes after the glue. In this case, Mark Reynolds represents the glue. Bringing him in on a 1-year deal with a team option for 2015 would provide the club with a cheap right-handed platoon first-baseman, sometimes pinch-hitter, and utility infielder. Moreover, at age thirty, Reynolds has the potential to return to a 30+ home run hitter, which would help maximize his value to the club.
Mark Reynolds isn’t flashy, and a team that overvalues him could snatch him off the free agent market far earlier than expected. There’s a downside to signing him in that he may get worse, or have a season just like he has in 2013. These are risks, but when weighing them against the potential rewards, I think Reynolds looks like a solid under-the-radar signing. Exactly who the Phillies target in free agency remains unknown, but no stone should go unturned, and every hypothetical decision should be considered with an open mind. That is one of the most important maxims to keep in mind when approaching free agency.