Baltimore Orioles: Should Mark Reynolds Play First or Third Base Moving Forward?

Corey HanleyContributor IIIDecember 1, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 04:  Mark Reynolds #12 of the Baltimore Orioles throws to first during a game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on August 4, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Kansas City Royals won 9-4. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Mark Reynolds has really defined his career with three statistics: home runs, strikeouts and errors. Unfortunately, only one of those is positive stat.

Reynolds' defense can be described as anything from frustrating to infuriating, and it's clear that the Orioles would be better off with him not playing the hot corner in the future, after he lead the American League in errors in 2011 with 26.

When Derrek Lee was traded in July, and his replacement, Chris Davis, soon afterward got hurt, Reynolds flipped sides on the field and took over at first base. What came was an entirely new man.

The guy who had trouble not just with fielding but also throwing accurately was making all of the picks, scoops and stretches necessary to be a quality first baseman. He's not going to crack the top three in the division among defensive first baseman (although how could he, with all three Gold Glove finalists playing in the division in 2011). But Reynolds is good enough to play there every day.

Although the sample size is much larger with Reynolds playing third, even the offensive numbers show that Reynolds may be a better fit at first. Reynolds hit .250 when starting at first, compared to a terrible .210 average at third base. His OPS was a respectable .766 at third, but it skyrocketed to .911 at first base.

This case seems like it's extremely easy. Reynolds' offense and defense are better at first, so why wouldn't Buck Showalter start him there? Unfortunately, the market makes the decision very difficult.

This year's free agents at third base are pretty weak. The only player that is a sure starter at the position is Aramis Ramirez, but he is likely out of the Orioles' price range. Conversely, the market for first basemen is full of talent.

Beyond franchise cornerstones, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, are two defensive stars, Carlos Peña and Casey Kotchman. Peña is an all-or-nothing player like Reynolds, but has a Gold Glove at first base. Kotchman doesn't have much power, but he hits for average and has an equally impressive resume at first with an MLB record of 2,379 consecutive chances without an error at first base. Michael Cuddyer, a Virginia native, could also be an option at first base but likely not third.

It seems that Reynolds' only chance at first is with Chris Davis, Robert Andino or Ramirez at third. Signing any of the terrific first base options could mean another year full of errors at third.

Should the Orioles start Reynolds at first base? Definitely, but that will be decided by the rest of the offseason. If the market allows the Orioles to get someone cheap, the Orioles should absolutely jump at the chance, even if Reynolds must play third base.