There was a time when first base at Jacobs Field was manned by a country plowboy, a superman among mortals, the great Jim Thome. Since Jim left, the Indians have had Ben Broussard, Jose Hernandez, Lou Merloni, Eduardo Perez, Ryan Garko, Andy Gonzalez, Michael Aubrey, Andy Marte, Russell Branyan, and Casey Kotchman. (I might have missed some, but you get the idea.) The replacement search hasn’t exactly been kind.
But it’s Winter Meeting time, and that means trying to find a kernel in the chaff, a nice piece who will fill that a need and maybe win you a couple games. The Indians have been in pursuit of a first baseman, and it looks like the market for them is topped by Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis. Let’s say in a rare swing of too much good fortune they’re both down to sign with the Tribe. What then? Who gets to suit up for Cleveland in 2013?
Both Reynolds and Youkilis bring something to the table (otherwise why covet?) but they’re far from similar. Different, you might say. Youk is sometimes known as the Greek God of Walks, and with a career .384 OBP why not? Heck, outside of a dreadful 40-game stretch last year in Boston it’s never been below .346. The guy gets on base even as he looks funky doing it. For comparison’s sake, Casey Kotchman’s OBP was .280 last year, and didn’t help any by being a punchless left-handed hitter. (We could discuss Youk’s strange build and what that would bring to the team, but that’s a story for another day.)
Mark is a different beast, a bit of a poor man’s Adam Dunn at times. He just loves to swing the bat. He led the league in strikeouts for three years and even after a “down year” in 2012 (only 159) he still averages 213 whiffs per 162 games. Whether that drop last year was a result of Buck Showalter threats, adjustments at the plate or simply playing less is something the Tribe will have to think about. Reynolds is no slouch on the OBP front though, with .332 career mark. And when he does make contact it just goes and goes. And goes.
There lies the heart of the dilemma. At his peak Youkilis was good for 20 or so homers a year, peaking at 29 in 2008. The problem is, he’s nowhere near his peak anymore (he hit 19 in 2012 with a 99 OPS+, though that was dragged down by that terrible end to his time in Boston). How much of a boost playing in U.S. Cellular Field had for his power numbers (along with getting to face Indians, Twins and Royals pitching for most of the season) is a fair question, but he still did it. Reynolds blasted 23 bombs with a 107 OPS+, playing in 135 games to Youk’s 122. That works out to a homer every 26.7 plate appearances for Youkilis and 23.4 HR/PA for Reynolds. This was an Indians team that didn’t exactly pack a punch—136 balls left the park for the Tribe last year, good for 12th in the league. They need a power threat, and on that alone the younger, stronger Reynolds leads the way.
Looking deeper though, there’s a glaring reason why Youkilis might be the better choice. In 2012 he was good for 1.3 rWAR, while Reynolds was actually harmful to his team at -0.1 WAR. It’s amazing what a couple dozen on-base points will do for a guy’s value, despite a home run deficiency. Reynolds is plainly a power threat, but Youkilis has a lot going for him despite his five extra years on Earth.
Reynolds was at first for much of 2012—his first season playing any substantial playing time not as a third baseman—and he was no Youkilis. The sabermetric stats weren’t a fan of Reynolds’ glove, and in his six MLB seasons he has committed 130 errors, including 16 in 186 games at first. By comparison, Youkils has committed only 50 errors in nine seasons, including 13 in 607 games at first. Errors don’t tell the whole story, but committing three more of them in about a quarter of the games is not a good way to endear yourself.
A Good Glove at first is important, especially for Cleveland. The Indians have a young third baseman in Lonne Chisenhall who’s still adjusting, a young second baseman in Jason Kipnis who converted from the outfield and a decent shortstop, whoever that may be. Were it me, I’d want the better glove at first. It’s not a defensively demanding position by any means, but Reynolds was a bit of a trainwreck in the field while Youkilis is good. I like good players, and you probably do, too.
Regardless of who the Indians sign, it’s not going to be a super long-term deal. It can’t be if they have a long-term plan. They tried that with Hafner and it bit them in the ass, and anyway neither Reynolds or Youkilis are franchise-changing players. Great role players with a nice dose of veterancy, sure. But they’re not here to completely change the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians. Youkilis is probably looking for or at least going to receive a two- or three-year deal and will probably be alright through it. Reynolds is 29 so he likely wants something a bit more, maybe four or five years on the outside, though he probably won’t get it. You have to wonder about a team that would give him that though. He’s decent, but not five-year-commitment decent.
The length of the contract would be a big question mark. After all, we don’t want to be tied down with a strikeout-happy mess at first any more than we would want to be stuck with a crumbling, effort giving walk artist with no power. In an ideal world we’d be hoping for one-year deals to continue to build through the system. We won’t get that though—these are human beings and businessmen and they’ll be wanting assurances. Looking back at the Josh Willingham contract and how an extra year bit the Indians in the behind, I’m rather willing to go that extra year. Neither of these guys is Willingham, but they’ll be valuable in some way or other.
After all this, we have to all be thinking Youkilis, right? He gets on base at a nice clip, he can hit it out of the park in at least double digits, he plays hard and brings a lot to the clubhouse. But Reynolds is a fine player and maybe he’s found a home at first, but his 44-homer season in ‘09 is a bit of a ruse as he played in Arizona, a fabulous hitters park, along with a handful of games at Coors Field. In Progressive Field, his saving grace may end up being a mirage.
Reports say Antonetti has been talking to just about everyone about every possible deal under the sun, and with the added power of Terry Francona being able to woo his old player, it stands to reason (Tribe fan reason, but still reason) that Youk could be in Cleveland in 2013. Of course, the Yankees are reportedly in on him, and the Indians’ home opener is against them. So either way we’ll see him on Opening Day—it’s just a question of who he’s playing for.
Who should the Indians sign?
- Kevin Youkilis (53%, 37 Votes)
- Mark Reynolds (27%, 19 Votes)
- Neither (20%, 14 Votes)
Total Voters: 70