It looks like Mark Reynolds is a keeper after all.
By now, everyone should be aware of what Reynolds is up to. Since July turned into August, the Baltimore Orioles' previously embattled first baseman has turned into a cross between Harmon Killebrew and the Incredible Hulk. He's swatted home runs left and right, and he's made the New York Yankees his personal whipping boy.
The numbers boggle one's mind. In 31 games since the first of August, Reynolds is hitting .301/.427/.716. That's a 1.143 OPS, garnished with 12 home runs and 26 RBI.
The Yankees have felt Reynolds' wrath more than any other team. In his last 14 at-bats against the Bombers, Reynolds has slammed six home runs.
That's the kind of production that angry Red Sox fans compile against the Yankees when they play video games. Numbers like that aren't supposed to materialize in real life.
So yeah, Reynolds is hot. So hot, in fact, that he's put himself in a position to earn a payday that he was probably going to be denied had he kept carrying on as he had been carrying on.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Reynolds to a three-year extension back in March of 2010, they tacked on an $11 million option for 2013. At the rate he was going (44 home runs in 2009), he would surely be worth that much money by the time 2013 season rolled around.
As recently as a few weeks ago, it was looking like that wasn't going to be the case. Reynolds entered August hitting a mere .208/.324/.367 with a .690 OPS and eight home runs in 79 games. He was on track to finish with fewer than 20 home runs for the first time since he first broke into the big leagues in 2007.
Even after Reynolds started to heat up in early August, it still looked highly doubtful that the Orioles would pick up the $11 million option that the Diamondbacks tacked onto Reynolds' contract. Mike Axisa of MLBTradeRumors.com wrote that Reynolds was a non-tender candidate, a decision that would have ended Reynolds' tenure in Baltimore for good.
It seems weird to think it now, but yes, there was a time a couple weeks ago when it looked like Reynolds was doomed to be cast aside like a broken toy.
It was either that, or the Orioles were going to decline to pick up Reynolds' $11 million option and try to work out a much cheaper deal with him. With less than six full years of major league service time under his belt, Reynolds is still technically under team control. Declining his option would not make him a free agent. Only declining it and non-tendering him would allow him to hit the open market.
This is all academic now. Reynolds has proven that he's more than worthy of being paid $11 million next season. O's general manager Dan Duquette shouldn't think twice about picking up Reynolds' option.
Yes, there's some risk in doing so. As hot as Reynolds is now, a month or so of excellent production won't necessarily lead to a full year's worth of excellent production in 2013. The possibility exists that the O's will pick up Reynolds' option and then watch him regress to the player he was in the first four months of this season.
And we're not just talking about a potential offensive regression. We're talking about a potential defensive regression, too. Reynolds has looked pretty good at first base recently, but it took a while for him to get comfortable there. It's not like he was playing first for the first time in his career, as he'd logged over 300 innings at first base in 2011 and had been playing there regularly this year since May. For whatever reason, he just looked out of his element.
Only Reynolds knows what he was going through both at the plate and in the field in the first four months of the season. But if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say that he just started the season in a funk and then let things snowball. It didn't help that he got hurt in May just when he seemed to be turning things around.
Reynolds has certainly turned things around lately, and that's another thing that only he can explain. From where I'm sitting, though, it looks like he's just gripping it and ripping it. And indeed, he's definitely been energized by the pennant-race atmosphere.
This energy is relevant to the idea of the Orioles picking up Reynolds' option. If the Orioles can carry the momentum they've established this season into 2013, Reynolds will conceivably be able to keep feeding on it. If so, the numbers will keep coming.
Just as important, the fans will keep coming if the Orioles keep up the momentum they've established this season. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was rocking on Thursday night like it hadn't been rocking in years (eons, maybe), and none of us should be too quick to think that the sudden explosion of Orioles fans is going to be a one-time thing. It was a baseball city before, and it shall be a baseball city again.
There's no reason the Orioles can't play in front of packed houses every night from here on out. As Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com pointed out on Thursday night, we know from what's gone on in Detroit, San Francisco and Texas in recent years that tons of wins and tons of excitement will lead to gaudy attendance figures. The Tigers, Giants and Rangers all rank in the top 10 in MLB in attendance, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That's where the Orioles are headed.
Why is this important as it pertains to Reynolds' $11 million option?
Because, shoot, what's $11 million to a team like the Orioles when they're playing in front of 40,000 people every night? For an Orioles team playing in front of 15,000 people every night, that's a lot of money. For an Orioles team playing in front of packed houses every night, that's chump change.
Furthermore, picking up Reynolds' option would be the ultimate show of good faith. If the Orioles are looking to keep Reynolds in Baltimore beyond the 2013 season, picking up his option will be the first step on the way to an extension.
That, too, is a risky proposition. Reynolds will be 30 years old next August, just a few years away from that Bermuda Triangle age span that has swallowed so many great hitters over the years.
But what the heck. The Orioles are finally in a position where they can take a few risks, and Reynolds has done more than enough to prove that he's worth taking a chance on.
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