We are now into January and into 2022, which is important for baseball fans as reports indicated that, at this point, the league and players are finally expected to start talking about important economic issues, hopefully getting us closer to the end of this lockout. Obviously I won’t be holding my breath considering how any negotiations between these two sides have gone in the recent past, but hopefully we can start to gear up for transactions to start up again at some point in the foreseeable future.
Whenever that time does come, we of course know the Boston Red Sox will be connected to any and every outfielder on the market. After trading Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers minutes before the lockout went into effect, Boston now boasts a big hole in their outfield, and they presumably are not prepared to give that job to Jackie Bradley Jr. on a full-time basis. Some of the big free agents remaining on the board make a ton of sense for the team, and they only cost money, but there’s a major splash to be made on the trade market as well if they called up the Pittsburgh Pirates about Bryan Reynolds.
Because the Pirates have consistently been one of the worst teams in the league for nearly all of my 30 years on this Earth, it’s easy for their players to sneak under the radar, but Reynolds is a legitimate star talent. A former San Francisco Giants second round pick who was part of the return that sent Andrew McCutchen out of Pittsburgh, Reynolds has emerged as the Pirates clear best player. He made his debut back in 2019 and did so with a bang, playing in 134 games and hitting .314/.377/.503 for a 130 wRC+. That was a big rookie year that opened some eyes, but he followed it up with a rough 2020 in which he finished with a well below average 72 wRC+.
Now, we know the 2020 season was a weird one for a litany of reasons, but for someone like Reynolds who was a good but not great prospect coming into that 2019 season, it was reasonable to be skeptical of that production after what he did in 2020. Well, he put those concerns to rest in 2021 when he was quietly one of the very best players in the National League. Now the focal point of the Pittsburgh lineup, he played nearly every day and finished the year hitting .302/.390/.522 for a 142 wRC+, completing his season worth 5.5 fWAR. He seemed to put everything together, and at this point has been one of the very best hitters in the game in the last two full seasons we’ve seen.
Offensively, he has everything you want to see from a guy who would be acquired to be something of a lineup anchor. He took a big step forward with his approach last season, cutting his strikeout rate way down to 18 percent with his walk rate jumping to nearly 12 percent, and that was backed up by a dip in his chase rate and an increase in his swing rate on pitches in the zone.
And when Reynolds makes contact, he’s barreled the baseball (by Baseball Savant’s definition) at an above-average rate every year of his career. He’s probably not going to be a consistent 30-homer hitter, but he hit 24 last season and his line drive hitting style along with good speed on the bases means he could be an extra base hit machine at Fenway Park, especially as a switch hitter with little in the way of splits between the two sides of the plate.
Defensively, he could also open a number of possibilities for the Red Sox. Most recently he was manning center field for the Pirates, where he was fine, if unspectacular. If the Red Sox wanted to, they could keep Reynolds in center field, shifting Enrique Hernández to second base and look for another corner outfielder elsewhere. More likely, and what I would advocate, would be to put Reynolds in right field, where he should be able to handle the tough position at Fenway. With Hernández in center and Alex Verdugo in left, that would be a formidable defensive outfield, in addition to the production Reynolds would bring with the bat.
What makes Reynolds so appealing in addition to the straight-up talent evaluations is the fact that he is just entering his prime and should be a big-time producer for a long time, all while under team control as well. Reynolds only turns 27 at the end of this month, isn’t a free agent until after 2025 (under the previous CBA’s rules, at least), and on top of that he is only projected to make $4.5 million in arbitration next season, leaving plenty of financial room to make another move on top of this in free agency.
Of course, all of that also combines to make him an extremely appealing trade target for a whole lot of teams and the Pirates will be justified in asking for a huge return. Old friend Ben Cherington is trying to rebuild a bad team, and Reynolds is his best trade chip. If he’s going to deal him this winter, it’ll be for a haul, and for the Red Sox that means starting with one of their top two prospects in Triston Casas or Marcelo Mayer. In all practicality, it seems unlikely the Red Sox would go that route, especially with free agents like Kyle Schwarber and Seiya Suzuki being available for just money and appearing as great fits in their own right.
That said, if the Red Sox are confident what they saw from Bobby Dalbec in the second half then all of a sudden maybe it makes sense to start thinking about trading Casas if the return is right. A player like Reynolds, who has every chance of being a lineup anchor for the next five-to-ten years, would seem to fit that bill.
Ultimately, I’m not a big enough believer in Dalbec to feel like this would be the right move for the Red Sox, especially with someone like Suzuki seeming to check all of the boxes on the free agent market. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued, though. It’s great watching top players come up through the system and success with the Red Sox at the highest level, but at the same time part of building up a farm system is to use it in trade for established stars. Reynolds is an under-the-radar star at a position of need, and Chaim Bloom wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t at least consider the merits of a package to acquire that kind of player.