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December 7, 2010
On its face, this might seem as if it was a big deal, because Reynolds is a big deal... well, OK, he was a big deal. Recently, even, before he bracketed his 2009 breakout for a .296 TAv with another season back down in the .260s. That's still useful production at third base, of course. But keep in mind, any prospective price tag for Reynolds in terms of talent was probably doubly punished by the shape of his performance—people fidgety over park factors might look at his disastrous 2010 away from his home bandbox (.181/.302/.341) and wonder what they'd get in their own digs, while an older generation might be struck by apoplexy over Reynolds' prodigious strikeout rates, or his batting below the Mendoza line last season.
However, in Reynolds' defense, while he has spent his career hitting with the benefit of getting to call a bandbox home, he has not derived an extraordinary benefit from hitting in Bankety-Bank Ballpark in Phoenix, picking up 20 points of slugging and 10 points of OBP—yes, he likes hitting there, but it's not like his production is entirely tied to his ability to bop in the ballpark formerly knowns as BOB. His strikeout rate on the road goes up a bit, from 32 percent to 35 percent... this is decidedly not a Coors-like effect as far as significant strikeout suppression.
The initial take on the trade is that it's a fairly straightforward exercise in supply and demand. The Orioles could afford to add a seven-figure salary, and decided they needed a starting third baseman, having already made a point of declaring Josh Bell unready and unworthy in 2011. Finding a good or even just a mediocre third baseman in this market borders on the impossible—there's Adrian Beltre, and then a lot of reasons to wish you'd had the money to sign Adrian Beltre. Reynolds was already tied down for $13 million through 2012 (or $23.5 million through 2013 on a club option)—perhaps more than you'd like to spend in the abstract, but when the selections are this limited, it's an understandable expense.
So, if you start with the argument they needed an established third baseman, the Orioles dealt from a position of relative strength, trading right-handed arms who were in the process of becoming less valuable than they were a year ago. Hernandez had already pitched his way out of the rotation picture because of his alarming tendency to get taken deep, while Mickolio's recurring health woes (last year it was groin and shoulder injuries) make him an interesting but uncertain thing. They're both promising, and they're both worth having, but they're also both replaceable, in terms of the talent they possess and as far as the near-term effective contributions the O's could reasonably expect.
If it's harder to find a third baseman than it is to find useful right-handed relievers, then getting one already inked to a deal he might not have signed if it was you on the other side of the table sounds like a great way of adapting to a restricted market.
There are the big-picture considerations, however. Does Reynolds really advance the Orioles' interests any closer to that all-important fourth-place finish in the AL East in the next two years? Maybe, but they could probably finish fourth with Bell at third base. Is finishing out of the basement even a worthwhile goal? Not especially, except insofar as the organization might want to try and placate a despairing, disgruntled fanbase by doing something more meaningful than last winter's vacuous Garrett Atkins signing.
I think the important thing to do with this deal is give it—and by extension, the Orioles' first offseason with Buck Showalter in the war room—an incomplete. In isolation, getting Reynolds is a good thing in itself, and it's sort of pointless to speculate about the haplessness of their lot in terms of geographical division perdition when we don't have a full winter's worth of activity to tell us how much change the Orioles are willing to make. If this winds up as their only really big move, it's a nice little pickup, but sort of pointless in that it won't significantly alter the AL East's balance of power over the life of Reynolds' deal.
Acquired RHPs David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio from the Orioles for 3B-R Mark Reynolds and future considerations; signed INF-R Melvin Mora to a one-year contract. [12/6]
It's easy to look at this deal and think of it as an overreaction to employing one of the worst bullpens of all time, one that echoes the Rays' horrific 2007 unit for its capacity for game-ending horror. Hernandez and Mickolio both throw hard, and both will be under club control for at least the next five years. And overriding all of that is the more fundamental economic issue—if the Snakes are as cash-starved as some have suggested, then they can't really go to the market for comprehensive, unit-wide solutions (and it's clear that the farm system has little on the way in the short term), any more than they really wanted to afford Reynolds' $23.5 million expense over the next three years.
The question I'm troubled by is that the Snakes may come away from this deal with not much more than salary relief—almost immediately redeployed to sign J.J. Putz, if the oft-injured former closer passes his physical—and inexpensive pre-arbitration relief talent. As much as I like the arms and upside of both Hernandez and Mickolio in the abstract, is a homer-boosting ballpark like the Snakes' home venue really where you want to employ an extreme fly-ball pitcher like Hernandez? That said, let's not overplay the cautionary note—Juan Cruz had a pretty nice run pitching in this park—but it's a reminder of the risks being run. Mickolio has the size that make some talent hounds drool, and he throws hard, but durability has been an issue over the full length of his career, and he wasn't acquired to provide a floater between the roster and the 60-day DL.
I guess I fundamentally question the necessity of this deal on a talent level. As noted yesterday, the world is well-stocked in guys who might be useful in the bullpen, and who will be signing for Crazy Eddie prices—for less and for not as long as Putz, certainly, and Putz's 2010 was not an unqualified success. But that just brings us back to the question of an overriding financial necessity as the major motivating factor. Signing cheap relievers for a million here or a million there is still more expensive than employing Hernandez and Mickolio for something in the vicinity of the minimum for the next couple of years, and signing cheap relievers doesn't get Reynolds' contract off the payroll over the next two or three years.
Since the expectations for what the immediate future will bring are set appropriately low, there's also the entertaining factoid that, in addition to getting away from Mr. Reynolds' salary, Mora's TAv was better than Reynolds', and Mora is not just happy for the opportunity to compete for the job, he's considerably cheaper. Overexposure—as well as moving back down from the best bandbox to a lesser bandbox—figures to deflate Mora's performance from 2010, but he's just one option among many placeholding alternatives: Geoff Blum, Ryan Roberts, or Tony Abreu. Throw them into a pit with knives, and seeing what ensues may as well be the team's M.O. at third and first base, because just as a battle between Brandon Allen and Juan Miranda will provide no lasting victory, at least turnover and change might resemble progress.