Despite three seasons until he hits free agency, the Pirates find themselves at a crossroads with Bryan Reynolds. Pittsburgh has a 30-year history of sending out veterans as they approach lucrative paydays, and as the team’s young(ish) star with the most service time, it’s no surprise that Reynolds would be the subject of constant rumors, swirling. He and the Piers talked about an extension, but nothing came of it; looking for a little more clarity, the 2021 All-Star requested a trade. Fortunately, unlike the Gerrit Cole situation, a definitive break between player and organization has not occurred, and Reynolds remains open to discussing an extension. But what extension is realistic for Reynolds, and will the Pirates be able to make a contender while they have him?
Per The Athletic, the Pirates and Reynolds were about $50 million apart in their extension talks. Since this $50 million is not, say, the difference between $300 and $350 million, it is a significant separation. Pittsburgh’s offer was six years and $75 million, which covered a few years of free agency; that’s the biggest contract in team history, but it’s more indicative of the Bucs’ ultra-thrifty approach, not some of their downsides. Compared to the eight-year, $70 million contract Ke’Bryan Hayes signed, it seems pitiful, considering how far Hayes was even from arbitration at the time.
Reynolds had a significant decline in play from 2021 to ’22, going from .302/.390/.522, 6.1 WAR to .262/.345/.461, 2.9 WAR, but much of the drop was expected that. given the pattern of what happens to players after career-best seasons. And in any case, there was no chance that the Pirates were really going to offer him a contract in accordance with the notion that he was a winning player, because then you are entering the territory of Juan Soto. But as a player with three or four wins and a few years of arbitration left, he’s close enough to make a deal believable.
So let’s run the numbers. The current contract, a two-year contract to avoid arbitration, already covers the 2023 season, so we’ll focus on the projection as an extension down this season.
ZiPS Projection – Bryan Reynolds
With discounts built in for the two remaining arbitration seasons, ZiPS recommends a six-year, $95 million contract for Reynolds. That’s less than many people would think a player of his worth could get, but it’s a case of bad timing in baseball’s salary structure. Reynolds is a great player, but he’s unlikely to be a star by the time he hits free agency, and his first season with a new team will be at age 31. 31 didn’t stop Aaron Judge from getting a monster contract, but He’s also coming off a season in which Reynolds is worth more than double his regular season value. While it’s disappointing given Pittsburgh’s history and its best players, the cold hard logic behind it all can be seen; His arbitration years already cover the projected three remaining WAR seasons of his career, so why pay triple the free agency values of a WAR player in his declining years?
Making Reynolds three years younger shows how much money this will cost him:
ZiPS Cast – Bryan Reynolds (Born 1998)
Keeping the extension at six years, ZiPS would like to give this a theoretical version of Reynolds $159 million, even including the lower dollar take figures due to arbitration salaries.
Going back to the original projection, there are reasons to argue that Reynolds is worth more than that $95 million contract that ZiPS would happily sign. Defense in ZiPS is mostly based on OAA these days (if available), but still mixes in a dose of DRS and UZR (this model predicts OAA better than OAA alone). There is a notable disparity among defensive measures regarding Reynolds in center: OAA pegs him at +4 for his career, but he is negative at UZR (-7) and DRS (-16 rather dismal). If we use only OAA in the projections, it adds another $25 million to the projection, getting Reynolds to $120 million. That turns out to be, according to The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel, exactly what the Reynolds camp was hoping to get.
“I’ve been pretty open over the last few years that my No. 1 goal is to sign an extension,” Reynolds said. “I want that to be fair to both sides. Not a crazy (friendly) player, not a crazy (friendly) team move.”
According to a source close to the situation, the Pirates pushed to extend Reynolds near the end of the 2022 season with an offer of $75 million over six years. The counteroffer from the Reynolds camp was about $120 million.
I don’t think the Pirates are going to come close to $120 million for a couple of reasons. For one, we’re talking about a nearly 75% increase on the biggest contract the team has ever signed. With most of the good years already under contract, there isn’t much to push the Pirates to extend Reynolds except on extremely team-friendly terms. While $120 million isn’t obviously unreasonable for a team, it’s a tough hill to convince the Pirates, and they’re unlikely to even be a contender for three years.
To get a rough idea of Pittsburgh’s trajectory, I simulated the 2024 and ’25 seasons using only players under contract or under control of their teams. ZiPS projects the Pirates at 68 wins and a 1.3% chance to make the playoffs in 2022. The general uncertainty and expectations of the team only improve these projections to 72 wins and 4.5% in 2024 and 76 wins and 8.1 % in ’25. No, these years are not written in stone, but the path on which they are promised is not; the team is unlikely to fill the gap between these projections and the Cardinals/Brewers/Cubs in free agency.
The relationship between the team and the fans in Pittsburgh has broken down to the point where I’m not sure Reynolds even maintains an interest in the team. The fans may not be in the room where it happens, but they sure know how the sausage is made, and even Reynolds signing the extension his camp is asking for wasn’t enough to make up for 30 years of bad feelings. deletion. From the Pirates’ perspective, I think a trade is finally what really happens, despite signs that Reynolds is open to negotiations. And there are a lot of teams that could use it. Looking at the contenders alone, ZiPS estimates that at least a win would improve the center field situation of several of them: the Phillies, Rangers, Astros, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers, to name a few. The only center fielder with a better projection than soon-to-be free agent Reynolds is Harrison Bader, and I can’t imagine the Yankees shopping him unless something goes wrong wrong for the Bombers this season. In other words, many houses are plausible for Reynolds’ services.
Decision day for Reynolds is fast approaching, and as with stars before, I expect the Pirates to opt to send him out of town. Changing this storyline, unfortunately, will require a massive change in the way the team thinks, and new ownership as well. Dawn stays far away for the Steel City.