Bryan Reynolds was one of the best players in baseball in 2021. He played under the shadow of a 101-loss Pittsburgh team, but it was clear that he’s elevated his game even beyond his breakout rookie campaign two years ago. Reynolds was never the top prospect like Wander Franco — he went to the Pirates in the 2018 Andrew McCutchen deal, when he was well past his prime.
Reynolds was an A-ball player then, but his star has risen quickly in the league. He was in the running for the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2019, and in just a couple of years he has now produced results similar to superstars across MLB. In fact, let’s take a look at how Reynolds looked at the plate compared to the Yankees’ own superstar, Aaron Judge:
Bryan Reynolds: .385 wOBA - 11.6 BB% - .345 BABIP
Aaron Judge: .387 wOBA - 11.8 BB% - .332 BABIP
Both players have a similar foundation with nearly identical walk percentages and high BABIP ultimately reaching around the same production (wOBA). Judge ultimately was a better hitter this year, but not by much and primarily because he hits for more power (.256 ISO over .220), however Reynolds hits for a better average and subsequently gets on base more often.
There’s been a ton of speculation surrounding the possibility of Pirates GM Ben Cherington moving his star center fielder in what would be the definition of a selling high move. Reynolds’ production has far outpaced the rest of his Pirates teammates, and a trade could bring in a host of talent for the organization to build around. Whether Pittsburgh can deliver on getting a haul for a potential Reynolds swap remains to be seen — they were reportedly asking for one of the top prospects in baseball, Julio Rodriguez, from the Mariners at the trade deadline — but there’s still a question of if Reynolds will be moved at all.
The Pirates have Reynolds under team control for four more years, and in today’s MLB young and cheap star players are worth their weight in gold. Even for a team that is far from contention like Pittsburgh, moving a player of Reynolds’ caliber before he even enters his arbitration years is a difficult task to accomplish — the asking price is simply too high for most teams to stomach. While they were asking for Rodriguez as a headliner, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was a host of other top-ranked prospects included in the Pirates’ discussions with the Mariners. That’s a haul that plenty of teams simply can’t even offer, because they don’t have the prospect pool to begin with.
From the Yankees’ perspective, they stand in-between being one of the teams that couldn’t stomach it and outright couldn’t do so. They have a true blue-chip prospect in Anthony Volpe, who is rapidly climbing the prospect rankings, but they have aspirations for him to join the major league club before long. Outside of Volpe, the team doesn’t have a comparable headliner, let alone the depth outside of that to discuss a deal.
The reality of the matter is that if you look at the history of the Yankees under Brian Cashman, whether it is going back as far as the Alex Rodriguez trade or a more recent period with the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees track record of acquiring star players via trade almost always involve the word opportunistic in some way. A-Rod and Stanton not only came with huge contracts, but those very large deals also severely limited their markets. At best a handful of teams “could” afford Rodriguez at the time, and after Stanton vetoed a couple of moves to the Giants and Cardinals his list of suitors had effectively shortened down to one team.
Trading for Reynolds means buying high in a way we just haven’t seen yet with Cashman. The argument to do it would be that it drastically improves a position of need while maintaining a certain level of financial flexibility to address other spots on the roster that also need help.
The counterpoint and ultimately the reason why this move might not be the best one from the Yankees perspective? For a team who has recently struggled to develop players, that has enough resources to go on the free agency market and fill multiple needs, it’d be unwise to deal its farm system a massive blow in order to acquire a player that for as great as he is and could be, doesn’t have the established track record of a perennial superstar yet.
Reynolds didn’t have a good 2020 season, although it was a shortened season. Before this year we didn’t know what to expect from him — he could now use this five fWAR season as a building block in a memorable career, he could regress a little bit. That little bit of uncertainty is not much, but it’s enough to not mortgage your house and entire future, which essentially is what it would take.
There might not be a Reynolds-caliber player on the market to play CF, however there are enough good options between Starling Marte, Chris Taylor and other outfielders probably more suited to play a corner position, to the point where it’d be better to go that route and keep that first tier of the farm system intact. As a general rule I’m always up for being aggressive, and if the Yankees made this move it would have plenty of upside, nonetheless it’s unlikely to go down barring unforeseen changes and there’s a pretty understandable reason behind it.