On April 18, 1955, the Orioles released third baseman Vern “Junior” Stephens. In earlier seasons, Stephens had finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times. As a shortstop, he had thrice led the American League in RBIs, totaling as many as 144. His career .286/.355/.460 rates were among the most robust in history for a shortstop prior to the age of Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and other modern-day greats. Now, though, he was done, and though the White Sox gave him a contract in early May, he would be released again in July.
The ’55 Orioles were in the midst of a 57-97 season, and like this year’s team were a
congeries of ill-fitting parts, players that didn’t have a future in the organization that was trying to build to .500 and beyond (they would get to the first part in ’57 and the beyond part beginning in ’60). Today’s team has a few ill-fitting parts of its own.
One of those is Mark Reynolds, the strikeout king.
Reynolds’ strikeouts are actually a red herring. Reynolds can’t make contact, but he walks 75 times a year and is good for 30-plus home runs, so he’s still reasonably productive in spite of his .200 average. He even manages to hit a few sacrifice flies, which shows he can choke up when the situation demands it, and his double-play percentage is typically in the single digits, which is to say he has hit into as many double plays in a six-season career as Derek Jeter has every two seasons. That is not to say that he’s a very good offensive player; if he can give you a .225 batting average, he’s above average. At .190, he’s a little below average. Say this, though: He’s probably the best .190 hitter in baseball.
The problem for the Orioles is that Reynolds is a miserable defender, so what value you get from him on offense he gives back on defense. The total is barely worthy of the replacement level. Thus, you either have to use him as a DH or, well, not use him. The Orioles have thus far been reluctant to embrace that option, playing him there only about half the time so far.
The good news is that Reynolds is in the last year of his contract. The Orioles own an $11 million club option that requires only $500,000 to be bought out. This is, as the French say, a no-brainer. At that price, he could have value to a contender looking to add a little power at the trading deadline, if not sooner, but any player with future value is worth a deal. They won’t get much back given that he would be a rental. The Orioles don’t have a great deal of use for Reynolds at the moment, but they don’t need to do a Stephens on him, not when they might get something for him.