Having just passed the four-year anniversary of the Christian Yelich trade, the 2022 offseason is the perfect time for the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire another underappreciated outfielder from a small-market club. Reports last summer indicated Milwaukee made a “big-time offer” to the Pittsburgh Pirates for All-Star Bryan Reynolds - so that should be explored once again - with the Brewers upping the ante even more.
The Brewers have a World Series pitching staff led by an other-worldly top of the rotation. They could be looking at two more seasons before having to shed salary by moving those stud arms, so now is the time to strike. But this isn’t an all-in move for 2022 and 2023. As you’ll see, Bringing Reynolds in now helps both the present and the future.
Much like Yelich prior to the 2018 season, Reynolds would be a terrific fit for a lineup that needs a well-rounded bat to solidify the offense. Reynolds, a 27-year-old switch-hitter, owns a .368 OBP and 128 OPS+ across 1400 plate appearances in his three seasons. Last season, Reynolds was phenomenal with a .302/.390/.522/.912 slash line that included 24 HR, 35 doubles, 93 runs and 90 RBI for the National League’s worst offense.
How does Reynolds compare to all MLB outfielders since 2019? Probably better than most people would think, and often ahead of guys like Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos and Starling Marte:
- 9th in fWAR (8.7)
- 9th in wOBA (.364)
- 9th in OBP (.368)
- 10th in wRC+ (127)
- 14th in SLG (.490)
Reynolds’ OBP and switch-hitting ability would be huge additions to the lineup. Manager Craig Counsell could utilize him in a variety of spots in the order depending on the matchups for the day - a valuable weapon. On top of his on-base skill, Reynolds has some pop in his bat with a likely power increase traveling with him in a move from PNC Park to American Family Field. Over the last three seasons, PNC Park has been the 3rd-worst park for hitting home runs, while Milwaukee’s ballpark is 11th, about 6% above MLB average.
Some may see it as odd to address the outfield when most have been looking at first base (or even third) as a position to improve upon. Not much has been said about the outfield, which seemingly appears filled with Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Hunter Renfroe and Tyrone Taylor. That was the same argument against acquiring Yelich a few years back as the Brewers had Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana coming off a 30 HR season, Keon Broxton and a rising Brett Phillips. Things can quickly change and players don’t develop how you envision.
Looking at 2022, the Brewers have to be concerned with Yelich’s back (and iffy defense), Cain’s age/injuries, Renfroe’s issues vs. righties (.272 career OBP), and Taylor’s lack of experience. Rotating players and maximizing their ability through rest and matchup optimization gets Milwaukee the best results. Plus, with the DH likely coming to the NL, it gives the Brewers an extra spot to keep bats in the lineup, but off the field.
As an outfielder, Reynolds is serviceable in center field and would once again be aided by a move to American Family Field where the gaps aren’t as spacious. With Cain mostly manning center in 2022, Reynolds would be a strong option to run down balls in either corner. Reynolds ranks 8th in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) among outfielders the last three years, but just 22nd in Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150). His -3.2 UZR/150 puts him slightly below average (zero), depending on how much you trust defensive metrics.
Also like Yelich, the beauty of a Reynolds deal is multiple years of team control with a club-friendly price tag in his first year of arbitration, projected at $4.5 million in 2022. So if the Brewers see a two-year window with the pitching they have, they could still flip Reynolds to acquire more youth down the road if salary or talent becomes an issue. If they’re still competing at the top in half a decade, Reynolds could remain with the Crew until after the 2025 season, especially with Cain’s contract expiring after this year, wiping $18 million off the books. Transaction options are plentiful for Milwaukee with Reynolds on the roster.
Some may wonder why the Pirates would trade away a young, controllable star in the making. The truth is, Pittsburgh’s “rebuild” isn’t progressing very quickly. In fact, they actually lost more games in 2021 (101) than they had in 2019 (93), the last full MLB season. It isn’t obvious when the big league club will be ready to compete, meaning Reynolds will be fast approaching free agency and a larger price tag by the time Pittsburgh might be ready. Trading Reynolds now will get the Pirates the most high-level, at or near MLB-ready prospects to start turning this thing around.
That brings us to the cost in a trade. What does David Stearns have to give up in order to convince the Pirates to move Reynolds, especially within the division?
It all starts with Aaron Ashby. Pittsburgh is desperate for elite-talent prospects in the rotation. Ashby’s stuff is electric with a mid-90’s fastball, nasty slider, and an evolving changeup with fantastic movement. Despite last being ranked as the 8th prospect in Milwaukee’s system, he proved in 2021 he can handle many situations at the big league level and made many believers in his All-Star potential. Giving Ashby a guaranteed rotation spot for a full season in PNC Park could lift Ashby to another level quickly.
It wouldn’t be an easy decision to watch Ashby’s potential reached from afar, but the way Milwaukee has been churning out and developing arms, the sting would be weaker than in the past. They haven’t had the same success with young bats, so it makes sense from that perspective, too.
After Ashby, they’re still going to want multiple, higher-end pieces - of course, similar to what the Miami Marlins received for Yelich (not that is has worked out too well for Miami). I’d think it likely takes top prospect Garret Mitchell, as well (51st in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects). Many fans are excited to see Mitchell in The Show soon, but prospects are no guarantee and most “experts” see him as an above-average player. At 23 years old with that meh label - it’s worth trading him for a guy like Reynolds when you’re a legitimate contender for title.
Which two other pieces would Pittsburgh want in a 4-for-1 swap? Would they have interest in Milwaukee’s number three prospect, shortstop Brice Turang? He doesn’t appear to have high-ceiling status any longer (in my opinion), but Pittsburgh may be intrigued. Likely another pitcher (or two) would be of interest. The Brewers have plenty of arms in the system with upside (e.g. Antoine Kelly), meaning they should be willing to appease Pittsburgh a bit while still feeling good about the rest of the pitchers they keep.
Is this trade likely to happen? Probably not. There are challenges including the hesitation of divisional deals, public opinion in Pittsburgh if Reynolds is gone, and how much the Pirates would really want...and can Milwaukee stomach the losses? I’ve always been one to believe you deal for “sure things,” even if you’re giving up top prospects. That’s mostly because even the best prospects miss quite frequently.
If you’re Stearns and the Brewers, remember that “fortune favors the bold.” Milwaukee’s elite pitching has them at the big boy table, but if they want a shot at a World Series crown, a stud bat is needed in the recipe.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference