General Manager Chris Antonetti dipped into ownership’s pockets in the offseason and spent a good chunk of change on notable free agents such as Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers.
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In total, the Indians doled out $117 million in guaranteed money to sign those players, and to date the returns have been mostly favorable.
While Swisher’s four-year $56 million deal and Bourn’s four-year $48 million deal stole the offseason headlines, the one-year $6 million deal for Mark Reynolds is looking like a steal at the moment.
Reynolds, 29, is hitting .283 with 7 homers, 18 RBI, and 1.071 OPS in 17 games. He is tied for the American League lead in homers, tied for 4th in RBI, 4th in slugging percentage (.700), and 5th in OPS.
Those are some offensive fireworks that the Indians have not seen from the right side of the plate in years. Not since Juan Gonzalez in 2011 (when he hit .325 with 35 homers, 140 RBI, and .960 OPS) have the Indians had a serious power-hitting run-producing bat from the right side of the plate.
No one is saying Reynolds is the second coming of Juan Gonzalez, but he brings a dynamic that has been missing from the right side of the plate in the Indians lineup for quite some time. Ironically, Gonzalez was also signed to a one year deal that season, inking a one-year $10 million deal with the Indians after they lost out on Manny Ramirez to the Red Sox.
With such a hot start by Reynolds, several questions have cropped up with regard to his future this season and beyond: Can he keep up his good showing over the course of the season, or is he simply just going through a hot streak? Should the Indians consider offering him an extension? And, why didn’t they include an option year in his current deal?
First off, it is important to note that it is only April 23rd. Before we all fall in love with Reynolds’ great showing to date, let’s remember that last year at this time Derek Lowe was humming along and was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA as of May 15th. He eventually caved in and was released by the Indians in August with an 8-10 record and 5.52 ERA.
No one expects Reynolds to fall apart like Lowe, but the point is that it is very early in the season. He is a renowned streaky hitter as he will put together stretches like this where for a two or three week period he is right up there with the most feared right-handed hitters in the game, and then he will go through rough stretches that last a month where he piles up strikeouts and does not do much of anything.
The expectation at this point should not be for Reynolds to continue at his current pace, but to finish with numbers close to his career norms. According to Baseball-Reference.com his average season is 27 homers, 74 RBI, and .813 OPS, and if the Indians get that from him this season it would be a good win for them in free agency. Anything else is a bonus.
As far as an extension goes, that is something that should not at all be discussed based on 17 games of work. The Indians would be best served to see how things play out over the next two months and then potentially explore extension talks with him in late June or early July if he is still doing well.
Of course, it is a two-way street, so if Reynolds is going well, he probably would decline any extension and wish to test the free agent market in the offseason. It is tough to work out extensions for players on a one-year deal because a team wants to wait for a larger sample size to consider one. At the same time, as the player gets closer to free agency he is less inclined to sign a new deal.
This brings up the final question: why didn’t the Indians include an option clause with the one-year deal?
The Indians have included an option for an additional year in several one-year deals in the past, be it a player, team, or mutual option. Such was the case with pitcher Brett Myers when they signed him to a one-year $7 million deal in the offseason. That deal included a one-year $8 million club option for 2014.
But option clauses are not that cut and dry and as easy to include as people think. When a player lacks leverage in the negotiation process, they are unable to command the amount of years they want and sometimes have to agree to a club option to get the money they want on a one-year deal.
The difference with Reynolds is he was coming of a slightly down year and probably wanted to reestablish his market value, and hence opted to sign a one-year deal with no option included.
The Indians most definitely asked to include a club option for 2014. Had Reynolds been open to including a club option for 2014 at $7 to $8 million, they would have agreed to it in a heartbeat. This is all part of the negotiation process, and – for whatever reason – the Indians and Reynolds were unable to come to an agreement on its inclusion.
In any case, the fact we are even having this discussion wondering if Reynolds can keep up his pace or if the Indians should resign him is a good thing, and a sign that the Indians – at least at this point – made a wise offseason pickup adding his powerful bat to the lineup.