Now, the graph above has its problems. For example, the Orioles' performance is a weighted mix of Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis' total production, but I do think the above graph is a useful rough estimate of worth. The green bars are what I would consider to be first division production. The red bars are what I would think is lower tier production. A key thing to understand is that if you are planning for a team to be a playoff contender than you want your players to be at least in that middle tier and you will need several on the team to be in that first division range. This is not a hard fast rule. The Rangers and Braves had third tier production from first. The Tigers, Reds, Yankees, Nationals, Athletics, and Cardinals all had first division production.
Two concerns with Mark Reynolds is how well will he hit and how well will he field at first. This gives us the following table (on left hand side wRC+ and defense across the top):
For offensive production, wRC+ for a first basemen needs to be at least 110 for adequate production from first base. That is not elite performance, but it a level of performance that you would at least feel comfortable having at first. Last year Reynolds had a 108 wRC+ mark. Over his career, he had put up 109, 97, 127, 96, 117, and 108. Those years range from poor production (96 wRC+) to very good production (127 wRC+).
-10 -5 Average 5 10 120 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 110 0.7 1.2 1.7 2.2 2.7 100 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 90 -0.8 -0.3 0.2 0.7 1.2 80 -1.6 -1.1 -0.6 -0.1 0.4
Where Reynolds' offense may not be incredibly dependable or, perhaps, even sufficient for first, his defense would need to pick up. As we have discussed in our podcasts and in an article or two, Reynolds has developed this narrative where he has risen like a great phoenix from the ashes of third base to become a gold glove first baseman. This call has come from television announcers as well as at level one former GM in Dan Evans. BIS mentioned that Reynolds led the league in Good Fielding Plays, which are plays that are assumed to plays where the typical 1B would not be expected to make them. Good or great glove play would be excellent for his value because it would enable him to produce near his worse season long production and still be considered a threshold quality first division first baseman.
However, I have some concerns with Reynolds' play at first. Before I looked at his statistics at first, I was taking in the wondrous time of Orioles playoff baseball. During that time, I would laugh whenever anyone said anything glowing about Reynolds' first base play. It was not just me. Actual scouts (I cannot say all scouts, I know awfully few) saw the same thing. It seemed so readily apparent to me. Great hands, nothing else.
Let us take a step back. What made Reynolds fail at third base? The most apparent thing he failed at was his arm. His is plenty strong, but his accuracy was awful. What hurt him often with his arm, and really any hit ball, is that he has horrible reaction time. What he benefits from are excellent hands. This would and has played well at first base. He dives and falls and keeps his glove on the ball. It looks Sportscenter good, but when you compare him to a truly elite defensive first baseman like Mark Teixeira...you truly see how slow Reynolds' first step is. I see a first baseman who is below average. Not awful, but clearly below average.
Looking at stats other than the aforementioned Good Fielding Plays, they seem to match that last sentence. With the Defensive Runs Saved Model, it converts runs saved from Good Fieldng Plays to 4 runs saved. Its Plus/Minus system (looks at both range and errors), has him at -6. Add them together and you have a first baseman who cost you two runs over the course of his 957 innings at first. Over a full season at first base, you are looking at maybe three runs. It is a small sample size and it maybe not properly view any growth in competence at first, but this is what one would call a below average first baseman. UZR pretty much agrees with a -3.8 runs for range, 0 runs for errors, and 0.6 runs saved for turning doubles plays. UZR puts Reynolds at -3.2 runs for last year and -5.9 if you extrapolate that over a full season.
So this takes us back to the box above. For Reynolds to be useful as a first baseman with below average defense, he needs to hit on par with his first season with the Orioles (his second best season ever). Anything less than that would put him more in a stop gap roll until you, hopefully quickly, find someone else to play first base.
A basic estimate this year is that on the free agent market, a win will be worth about 5 MM. It is a no brainer to opt out of Reynolds' contract and go to arbitration. That saves 1.5 MM. Is Reynolds worth 9 MM? That would have him as a 1.8 WAR player. I have him more as a 1.2 WAR or 6MM player. I would expect him to earn roughly 8-10 MM on the free agent market because it seems that some really believe in his defensive abilities.
What would I do? I would let him go and ride with the following platoon:
This setup saves the team roughly 9 MM to be spent in other areas. Against right handed starters, there will be issues later in games as Betemit could walk up to the plate armed with a soup ladle against a southpaw reliever and do just as well as he does with a bat. This would need to be resolved with a bench bat that could play first and handle lefty relievers. Nolan Reimold would fit that role incredibly well.
SP Player Games Offense Defense WAR RHP Wilson Betemit 118 133 wRC+ Awful 1.8 LHP Chris Davis 44 112 wRC+ Poor 0.3 Total 2.1
Using the Reynolds money and a few thousand more Benjamins, the team may be able to sign a legitimate left fielder in the mold of Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, or Angel Pagan.