Could a blockbuster trade be on the horizon for the Toronto Blue Jays? Perhaps, especially if the right deal presents itself.
In most cases, pursuing a top player with lots of team control can prove to be quite expensive, but when it comes to Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, paying a premium could be very beneficial for this team.
As things currently stand, this franchise’s starting outfield is expected to consist of Teoscar Hernandez, George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. next season, with Randal Grichuk serving as the lone back-up. While serviceable, this group could still vastly improve once the transaction freeze is lifted at the conclusion of this MLB-imposed lockout.
Sure, there are a couple of quality targets on the free-agent market, including Michael Conforto and Seiya Suzuki. Though either of those outfielders would be fine candidates and could each provide upside for Toronto, management would be hard-pressed finding someone who perfectly fits their current mould more than Reynolds.
At 27-years-old, the switch-hitting outfielder features four more seasons of team control and won’t become eligible for free agency until after 2025. By then, the former second-round selection of the San Francisco Giants – who dealt him to Pittsburgh as part of the Andrew McCutchen trade in 2018 – will be entering his age-31 season.
Adding to his value, the 6’3″ hitter is coming off a breakout performance, which was also just his third season in the majors. Despite receiving very little support, he served as the rebuilding Pirates’ most productive contributor, where he excelled within the middle of their batting order.
Over his 646 plate appearances, Reynolds registered new career-highs in home runs (24), RBIs (90), ISO (.220), wOBA (.385), wRC+ (142) and slashed an impressive .302/.390/.522 across 159 games.
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
In particular, one of his strongest offensive skills is being able to put balls in play consistently. Proving as such in ’21, the emerging star posted a career-best .439 xwOBAcon and a .345 BABIP, which finished tied for sixth-highest in the majors among all qualified outfielders, according to FanGraphs.com
For years, most scouts didn’t believe Reynolds would develop into a reliable power threat at the major league level, and yet, that’s exactly what transpired last season. Along with surpassing his previous career marks in home runs, isolated power and slugging percentage, he also backed those metrics up with a solid .522 xSLG.
Making himself even more appealing, the 2021 National League All-Star possesses incredible plate discipline and reached a new level in that department during his most recent showing. In turn, his 11.6 per cent walk rate ranked in the 83rd percentile
, whereas his career-best 18.4 per cent strikeout rate finished in the 70th percentile.
Better yet, Reynolds also reduced his chase rate by 3.0 per cent last season (27.7-24.7), placing it in the 68th percentile.
When it comes to his splits, unlike some switch-hitters, the Vanderbilt standout didn’t experience a major difference between his success against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Regardless of which side of the plate he stood on, the former top prospect made a significant impact with his offence.
Granted, Reynolds earned 227 more plate appearances as a right-hander last season, nevertheless, he still served as a difference-maker while hitting from both sides of the dish.
From a defensive standpoint, the Baltimore native can play all three outfield positions and has spent the majority of his time in centre, compiling 1,451.0 career innings at that location. Despite producing a -2 DRS during that span, he’s fared much better in terms of OAA, registering a +10 rating since ’19.
If acquired by the Blue Jays, not only could Reynolds provide quality defence, but also some additional flexibility in the outfield, which is an aspect this organization prioritizes heavily. As a result, his experience in centre field would allow Springer to spend more time in right, especially during late-game situations.
Not to mention, with sparse outfield prospects at their disposal, making this move would likely act as a long-term solution, as well as a short-term one.
Presuming a satisfying offer came around, the Pirates are reportedly open to dealing Reynolds this winter, however, doing so wouldn’t be cheap. Since he’s four seasons away from potentially reaching free agency and is coming off an all-star showing, prying the outfielder away from the “Bucs” is expected to require a substantial package to be sent the other way.
Even though Toronto’s prospect system isn’t as highly regarded as it once was, it still features plenty of talent and enough to entice Pittsburgh to part ways with Reynolds. Obviously, catcher Gabriel Moreno would likely be atop of any team’s wish list, however, he’s probably as close to untouchable as it gets in this case.
Still, the front office could centre a trade package around another highly-skilled backstop, Alejandro Kirk. After moving veteran Jacob Stallings to the Miami Marlins earlier this off-season, the Pirates could pair the offensive-first catcher with their own top-catching prospect, Henry Davis.
In addition to Kirk, management would also probably need to include additional top-rated pieces, perhaps infielder Orelvis Martinez, Otto Lopez and outfielder Will Robertson. Together, these four players would further strengthen Pittsburgh’s already deep farm system and help them immediately at the major league level, too.
On the other hand, by acquiring Reynolds, Toronto could make Gurriel Jr. expendable and potentially utilize the 28-year-old as a trade chip to address other areas of its roster. With holes still remaining in the starting rotation, bullpen and infield, any of these avenues could be explored and improved by making the Cuban native available.
Given Gurriel Jr.’s past defensive struggles, swapping him out for Reynolds would undoubtedly improve this club’s run prevention – an aspect management has been striving to resolve over the previous few seasons.
By the end of the winter, aside from thinning their prospect system, the Blue Jays will have dramatically improved their overall roster, likely increasing their chances of qualifying for the 2022 post-season. Additionally, on a macro level, making these moves could also help this franchise maintain its current competitive window over the next several seasons.
With a core position player group of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Hernandez, Springer – eventually Moreno – and Reynolds, this team would be well aligned to remain a legitimate threat in the American League for many seasons to come. Also, a pitching rotation led by Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah and Hyun Jin Ryu would be a key factor, as well.
Understandably, tough decisions are never easy to make, however, in this instance, hoarding top prospects rather than seriously pursuing Reynolds probably wouldn’t be smart business for Toronto.
If there’s an opportunity to acquire an emerging superstar, they should take it.