2013 Statistics: 36 Games, .236/.325/.434, 6 2B, 6 HR, .330 wOBA, 105 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR.
2014 Contract Status: Free Agent
On August 8th the Cleveland Indians designated Mark Reynolds for assignment. He had gotten off to a torrid start in Cleveland, hitting eight home runs in the first month but went ice cold thereafter, eventually losing his starting third base job to Lonnie Chisenhall. After clearing waivers and turning down an assignment to the minors, Reynolds was unconditionally released on August 12th.
In the previous off-season, the Yankees and Reynolds had been discussing the slugger joining the club as a fill-in for Alex Rodriguez while he started the season on the DL. Instead, the Yankees paid twice as much as Cleveland paid for Reynolds to bring in Kevin Youkilis to try and fill that role. By mid-August the need had changed. Lyle Overbay was now the full-time first baseman with Mark Teixeira's season ending injury, and the Yankees were desperately looking to improve their punchless offense. Overbay had not matched up well against left-handed pitchers since 2007, and his career wRC+ split was 79/115 versus lefties/righties. Reynolds had a career split of wRC+ 119/103 versus lefties/righties. This appeared on paper to be a very viable way for the Yankees to finally bring some offensive pop back into the lineup with practically no cost to the long term outlook for the organization.
On August 16th, Reynolds played in his first game as a Yankee starting as the first baseman. In his first plate appearance in the top of the second inning, Reynolds took the Boston Red Sox left-handed starting pitcher Felix Doubront over the Monster for a two-run home run. This may have marked the pinnacle in a brief period of the Yankees 2013 season. For that short time the Yankees appeared to have the pieces in place to be a top tier offense down the stretch, and Reynolds playing first base and mashing lefties was a piece of that puzzle.
Unfortunately, the injuries just kept on coming, and the good plan to have Reynolds starting at first and pinch-hitting against left-handed relievers had to be scrapped. By the end of the season, Reynolds faced left and right-handed pitchers almost equally. He was called upon to play over 30% of his fielding innings at a position other than first base, and he even played nine innings at second base, a position which he had not fielded since 2007. He appeared in 14 games at third base when Rodriguez could not stay healthy enough to man the hot corner.
Despite the deviation from plan, Reynolds performed pretty much to his career norms as a Yankee. His 105 wRC+ is just a few points below his career 108 figure, and that might be just a bit of bad luck on his BABIP which was around 10 points below his recent trend. If you like to use WAR, then Reynolds performed at a rate that would match his career high of 3.2 over the course of a full season. Personally, I heavily discount the defensive metric component of WAR, and FanGraphs gave him a positive 1.9 figure for his tenure as a Yankee there. Considering he's a career negative (80.6) on that basis, I think you should chuck a bag of salt over your shoulder with that small of a sample. He wasn't able to get used in a manner that would have maximized his skill set, but he did fairly well given his higher rate of exposure to righties and playing positions other than first base in the field. While he wasn't close to the impact that Alfonso Soriano had this year with the Yankees, he did provide a marked improvement relative to the production coming from those spots in the lineup when he was called upon. I'm giving him a B- grade overall. I won't quibble if some chose to make it a C+, but given how bad the other Yankees' stop-gap measures worked out this year, Reynolds can be viewed as one of the few maneuvers that paid off better than planned.
Reynolds enters another off-season as a free agent. He might find it difficult next year to find a starting job at a corner position. He will turn 31 years old next summer, and he is now a couple of years removed from generating a significant offensive level of production over the course of an entire season. However, he should find a bench role somewhere. There is still reason to believe that he can be effective against left-handed pitchers, and going with young ballplayers can still be a ton of risk to a contending team. Reynolds lost his job in Cleveland to Chisenhall, who the organization thought had finally turned the proverbial corner. Chisenhall had a June and July producing wRC+ of 107 and 120, respectively. He then had a miserable August after Reynolds was released, producing a 76 wRC+ for the entirety of the second half of the season. The youngster is still struggling to translate his minor league performances to the major league level on a consistent basis. That keeps the door open for veterans such as Reynolds.
Should the Yankees bring him back? That depends a lot on what the organization does elsewhere this winter. You really don't want to use bench spots solely for players to backup the first baseman and pinch-hit against lefties. Reynolds can play third base, but he is better used when avoiding exposure to his throwing arm. What happens to Rodriguez and his availability for the 2014 season, could determine whether the Yankees are looking for another stop-gap like Reynolds, or more of a full-time replacement to man the position. In a weird way I kind of like Reynolds' play. He is not at all a player that you would strive to develop in this manner, but he has just accepted what he is and tries to make the best of it. He'll walk a bit, strike out a ton, and mixed in there he'll knock the snot out of the ball every 24 or so plate appearances.
If Reynolds doesn't return to the Yankees next year, then he can have one thing to hang his hat on for his pinstriped career: he homered in both his first and last at-bats. His last home run was also the game winning run in the last game of the season. I'm guessing a lot of you weren't watching that one, but you shouldn't be blamed for that.