Having until Friday to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, the Orioles are appearing more and more unlikely to do so with first base Mark Reynolds, meaning he could hit the open market by the end of the week.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette already declined an $11 million club option last month — for which Reynolds was paid a $500,000 buyout — and the Orioles appear to be lukewarm to the idea of taking the 29-year-old to arbitration where he could command somewhere in the neighborhood of $9 million. Reynolds made $7.5 million in 2012 and would likely receive a raise in arbitration despite hitting only 23 home runs — his lowest total since his rookie season — and posting a career-low .429 slugging percentage this year.
According to a MASN report, the Orioles are attempting to sign Reynolds to a new deal prior to Friday’s deadline, which would pay him a lower salary than the projected figure he’d be awarded in arbitration but would likely offer the first baseman more security with an extra year or two on a deal while coming off arguably the worst season of his career. Reynolds batted .221 with 23 home runs, 69 runs batted in, and a .335 on-base percentage in 538 plate appearances.
After committing six errors in 15 games at third base early last season, Reynolds moved to first base where he showed improved defense, even if fielding metrics suggest many have overrated his work at the new position. Despite the defensive concerns being alleviated last season, Reynolds drop in power was a major concern after he slugged 37 home runs in his first season with the Orioles.
Few would dispute the premise of the Orioles trying to upgrade at first base, but the limited options on the free-agent market make it difficult to swallow the idea of simply allowing Reynolds to hit the open market, where he would be viewed as one of the better options at first base. Aside from veteran Adam LaRoche, who will command much more money than Reynolds’ arbitration projection, other options at first base include Mike Napoli, Lance Berkman, James Loney, and Carlos Pena.
Of course, the Orioles could elect to move Chris Davis to first base if they’re unable to work out an agreement with Reynolds, but they would then have to address the designated hitter spot in addition to left field, where they are still hoping to re-sign Nate McLouth to an affordable contract.
Despite his flaws, Reynolds still might be the best of the realistic options available as he likely would be motivated to prove his down year was an aberration if he were playing on a one-year deal. It’s also important to remember the former third baseman shed 20 pounds in order to improve his agility at the hot corner last offseason, which might be a factor in explaining his decreased power numbers in 2012. Knowing he’s now viewed as a first baseman, Reynolds could elect to add extra bulk to his frame to help revitalize his power numbers.
Looking beyond the low batting average and high strikeout numbers that give traditional fans fits, Reynolds holds more value than most realize if his power numbers were to return to the 2011 level in which he finished fourth in home runs in the American League. In 2012, he led the club in walks (73) and had the second-best on-base percentage on the club behind Nick Markakis despite playing in only 135 games.
Even at a projected $9 million price tag in arbitration, a third season of Reynolds with no commitment beyond 2013 would appear to make sense with a final chance to evaluate whether he’s part of the long-term plans at first base, but it’s looking like the Orioles appear content to let him hit the open market where it will be more difficult to retain his services. It’s a bold move considering the few options out there and the limited commodities in the farm system to offer in a trade, so it will be interesting to see if the club ultimately allows Reynolds to walk if contract talks are unsuccessful and Duquette is forced into making a decision on Friday.
The Orioles have a total of 14 arbitration-eligible players this offseason, which include:
INF Alexi Casilla
DH/OF Chris Davis
P Jason Hammel
P Tommy Hunter
P Jim Johnson
P Brian Matusz
P Darren O’Day
P Troy Patton
OF Steve Pearce
INF Omar Quintanilla
OF Nolan Reimold
1B Mark Reynolds
C Taylor Teagarden
C Matt Wieters
Third-base coach options
With former third-base coach DeMarlo Hale officially leaving the Orioles to become the new bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, the club is now looking at several candidates to replace him on manager Buck Showalter’s staff.
Various outlets are reporting former Rockies third base coach and former Orioles second baseman Rich Dauer and former Indians and Rangers third base coach Steve Smith as the primary outside candidates to take Hale’s place. Dauer would be the sentimental favorite and has extensive coaching experience in the big leagues while Smith has familiarity with Showalter, serving as his third base coach in Texas.
Former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu would also be an intriguing candidate after he nearly became the Orioles bench coach a couple seasons ago. He served as Showalter’s bench coach in Texas but also has experience as a third-base coach.
As for internal candidates, coordinator of minor league instruction Brian Graham and minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson are reportedly on the short list.
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