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Why the Marlins are trying so hard to trade for Bryan Reynolds

The Pirates are not inclined to move their star outfielder right now. That reportedly hasn’t stopped the Marlins from asking over and over and over again.

Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts in front of Jose Devers #61 of the Miami Marlins after hitting a two-run double during the sixth inning at PNC Park Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It was always going to be difficult for the Marlins to replicate the production, dynamism and continuity of their pre-rebuild outfield. Although Miami’s 2014-2017 teams never came close to World Series contention, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna certainly pulled their weight. They ranked third, eighth and 16th, respectively, among MLB outfielders in FanGraphs’ wins above replacement during that span. Three very good, homegrown hitters on similar timelines with the defensive aptitude to co-exist in left, center and right? That was special.

Marlins fans will never take that for granted again after enduring the last four seasons of outfield impotence. From Jorge Alfaro to Jonathan Villar, the club has churned through 32 different outfielders since 2018. Only one of those 32—Starling Marte—performed at a Stanton/Yelich/Ozuna level during his (brief) tenure. Lewis Brinson (301 games) has been far and away the most-used outfielder of the Bruce Sherman era. Enough said.

There have been brief glimpses of high-quality Marlins outfield play as recently as August 2021. However, I was never convinced of its sustainability, and based on what has reportedly transpired since then, neither was the Fish front office.

The Marlins botched the Marte saga, lowballing the pending free agent during midseason extension negotiations, as detailed in Craig Mish’s reporting. They revived contract talks with him when he reached the open market in November, but predictably got outbid by the deep-pocketed Mets.

Frustrating as that was, the Marlins did address one outfield spot prior to the MLB lockout by inking Avisaíl García. He’s an interesting floor-raiser for their lineup. Between his impressive batted ball quality and raw production, García bears some resemblance to Ozuna. His four-year, $53 million deal includes a fifth-year club option.

Fish Stripes original GIF

As of Monday morning, we’re just awaiting official word from the Marlins regarding their widely reported agreement with Jorge Soler. The $36 million pact includes opt-outs after both the 2022 and 2023 seasons, though I think there’s a solid chance of him staying for all three years.

How about Soler as Stanton 2.0?!

Uhhhhh...no. You can squint and see comparable marketing potential for the Cuban slugger. On the field itself, the Marlins are betting that his home run frequency and tendency to work deep counts can mask his limitations in other areas enough to justify everyday playing time.

Despite those expenditures and four years of a revamped Marlins player development system, the center field spot is completely unsettled.

García is only an emergency option in center and even that would be a lot to ask if he potentially loses half a step in his early 30s. Soler has been exclusively a right fielder for the past half-decade and a shaky one at that—on days when he’s in the field rather than DH’ing, it becomes all the more important to flank him with a rangy defender. This spring, various young, offensive-minded outfielders (Jesús Sánchez, Bryan De La Cruz, JJ Bleday and Peyton Burdick) are getting reps in center, but each of them previously spent most of their professional careers in the corners. Their bats would need to be extraordinary to offset below-average CF glovework.

For a Marlins team attempting to make the leap from a 67-95 record last season to a 2022 postseason contender, it’s understandable that they would want clarity about their center field situation before Opening Day. That’s why “they have tried and tried,” per Craig Mish on Twitter, “so very hard” to trade for Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates. If the Fish are going to acquire a bonafide center fielder from outside the organization during the final weeks of spring training, it “feels like Reynolds or bust,” Mish adds.

Simply put, Reynolds would be the best hitter on the Marlins and fill their position of greatest need. And he’d be under club control for four years of arbitration eligibility, earning far below his market value during that period.

Reynolds is the type of player who the Marlins would never get via free agency. His stats from the 2019-2021 seasons (.290/.368/.490, 127 wRC+, 8.7 fWAR in 348 G) were practically identical to Kris Bryant’s (.266/.360/.485, 123 wRC+, 8.7 fWAR in 325 G). Bryant recently signed a deal with the Rockies for $182 million guaranteed.

Bryan Reynolds’ MLB career batting stats
Bryan Reynolds’ MLB career batting stats
Baseball Reference

At the very least, Reynolds provides adequate center field defense—he has accrued minus-2 Defensive Runs Saved at the position in 179 career games. Statcast’s Outs Above Average is far more bullish on him (plus-11 OAA in CF). The Marlins’ assessment of him would seem to align more closely with OAA considering they remain interested after already clogging up their corner outfield spots with the García and Soler contracts.

Reynolds is represented by CAA, just like many current Marlins players including Sandy Alcantara. The Marlins were able to extend Alcantara entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, adding three more years of club control in the process. Doing something similar with the 27-year-old switch-hitter coming off a durable season of elite production would cost far more than Alcantara’s $56 million deal, but perhaps that’s in the back of their minds as a possibility. Mish reports that Reynolds twice declined long-term extension offers from the Pirates in 2021.


Is Reynolds actually available though?

General Manager Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins looks on during the game against the Washington Nationals at loanDepot park Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

He shouldn’t be! Austin Bechtold of Bucs Dugout recently discussed why the Pirates would be better off locking up Reynolds themselves. Pittsburgh’s farm system strength is comparable to Miami’s (if not slightly better), so the urgency to sell him at his peak trade value does not exist.

As mentioned earlier, Reynolds is four full seasons away from free agency. Hitters of his caliber rarely get traded when they’re in the primes of their careers with that much club control left and aren’t weighed down by massive contracts yet. There have been two notable exceptions in recent years: Josh Donaldson (Athletics) and Christian Yelich (Marlins). In both cases, their former teams got eviscerated, helplessly watching Donaldson and Yelich win MVP awards while being stuck with marginal players who failed to make an impact.

If the Marlins actually mapped out the post-lockout portion of their offseason expecting the Pirates to slip on that banana peel, then they seriously miscalculated. I believe Mish and Joe Frisaro of Man On Second Baseball when they suggest that the Pirates are entertaining offers on Reynolds—that does not mean a trade is anywhere close to materializing.

The Pirates reside in a weak NL Central division and have other promising young players emerging in The Show to take some of the burden off of Reynolds’ shoulders. In the first season of a 12-team playoff format, they owe it to themselves to retain their brightest star and find out how far they are from relevance. Maybe by July, they conclude that “nope, we’re screwed!” That is a realistic best-case scenario for the Marlins: bidding for Reynolds at the trade deadline once it’s more evident that he does not fit into Pittsburgh’s competitive window. They can lean on their unconventional internal center field options in the meantime.

In a related report, Mish describes Marlins top prospect Eury Pérez as “untouchable” in any trade. On the heels of a mesmerizing minor league debut season, the soon-to-be 19-year-old right-hander is throwing even harder this spring, according to Aram Leighton of Just Baseball. I personally would not hesitate to make Pérez the headliner of a Reynolds trade, but the internal enthusiasm for him is justified.

With that mind, here is a hypothetical July 2022 proposal: Bryan Reynolds for INF Kahlil Watson, RHP Max Meyer, LHP Jake Eder and OF Bryan De La Cruz.

This comes with a few caveats from the Pirates’ perspective:

  1. Max Meyer showing an improved changeup at Triple-A and getting his feet wet in the big leagues
  2. Jake Eder progressing on schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and being several months into a throwing program
  3. Bryan De La Cruz holding his own in his first full big league campaign (not necessarily matching his 2021 results, but something in that ballpark)

There are certain to be Marlins fans out there who will be checking Pirates box scores and MLB.TV streams on a regular basis from Opening Day onward. I don’t blame you. Throughout their history, the Marlins have been reluctant to give up long-term potential and flexibility to acquire a surefire difference-maker. Reynolds has the kind of talent to justify that gamble.

Poll

Bryan Reynolds for Kahlil Watson, Max Meyer, Jake Eder and Bryan De La Cruz. Who says no?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Marlins say no
    (160 votes)
  • 25%
    Pirates say no
    (86 votes)
  • 9%
    Both teams say no
    (33 votes)
  • 16%
    Fair deal
    (56 votes)
335 votes total Vote Now