Orioles did themselves right by refusing Reynolds’ contract option

October 31, 2012 | Drew Forrester

So, the opening shot in the Mark Reynolds saga has been fired.

And, credit to the Orioles here, it’s the right one.

The Orioles today informed their first baseman the club would not be exercising an $11 million option for 2013, effectively making him a free agent if the Orioles also decline to offer him arbitration prior to November 30.

The Reynolds situation is, by far, the most complex off-season issue the Orioles face.  As a third baseman, Reynolds was a flop.  But late in 2011 and throughout most of 2012, he transformed from woeful to wonderful at first base, which is clearly where his future lies as far as defense goes.

And that’s precisely why cutting him loose and not paying the $11 million was the right thing for the Orioles to do.

It makes little sense at all to offer him arbitration, since it’s likely he’ll be awarded upwards of $9 million or more based on his numbers over the last two seasons in Baltimore and his emergence as a solid defensive player at first.  If you play the arbritation game and he gets $9 million THIS season, what happens if he comes back with a banner offensive and defensive season in 2013?  He might be a $13 million player at that point.

Arbitration makes no sense from the Orioles standpoint.

What they could do — if they want Reynolds back — is sign him to a multi-year deal in the $5-$8 million per-year range right now.

The question, of course:  What’s his true market value to the Orioles?

Reynolds would likely balk at anything under $7 million a year, which makes it even more reasonable to not renew his $11 million option.  Is he an $8 million per-year player?  $9 million?

Here’s how the Orioles should play this now:  Let him go out and see what his value is on the open market.

That’s the best way to handle this situation, particularly given that you’ve already basically told him “We don’t think you’re worth $11 million a year.”

If Reynolds thinks he can get someone to pony up $25 or $30 million over three years, he should try and find that team on his own and then, if he wants, give the Orioles a chance to match the offer.

There’s definitely a thought that this Mark Reynolds, the one who saw his power numbers drop in 2013, would be an easy player to evaluate if he were still letting grounders go through his legs at third base.  He’d be worth little, if anything, to a team like the Orioles who are now in the “really trying to get better” mode.

But the new Mark Reynolds — the one who is competent at first base — is much harder to judge from a salary and contract standpoint.  Is this the best offense the Orioles are going to get from him…25 HRs and 75 RBI and a .231 batting average?  Is that his ceiling?  If so, you have to find someone better than that to patrol first base sometime soon.

I say this:  Let Mark Reynolds and his agent get on the phone and talk to some teams and see what they can get (again, assuming the Orioles aren’t going to offer him arbitration on Nov. 30).  The worst case scenario is that Reynolds gets some dumb team out there to cough up $32 million for 3 years.  You can then either give him $32 million (assuming he’ll do the whole “right of first refusal” thing) or tell him to hit the road and enjoy his new team.  The best case scenario is that he goes out on the free market and – like Ray Lewis a few years ago – gets his feelings hurt when no one offers him a real contract.

Either way, the Orioles don’t have to set the market for a player that, honestly, they’d have a tough time truly evaluating based on a short sample size of work at first base and a down year offensively.

The worst part of all?  There aren’t many quality first base options in free agency this winter.   Replacing Reynolds with someone dramatically better will be difficult unless they can make a trade.