The Cleveland Indians made their first major signing of the offseason Sunday night, signing free agent corner infielder Mark Reynolds to a one-year, $6 million contract (plus $1.5 million in incentives). Reynolds, 29, might seem a bit of a letdown as the Tribe’s first big signing of the winter after last week’s rumors surrounding Shane Victorino and Nick Swisher, but this deal looks like a very solid opening move for the Indians.
First off, Reynolds is a solid player. His penchant for strikeouts hampers his value—when you strike out once every three plate appearances it limits the amount of good you can do with your bat—but he’s still a good hitter. He racked up 23 homers and 69 RBI in 135 games last year, and despite hitting just .221 he was eight percent better than a league-average MLB hitter according to wRC+; in his six-year career he’s averaged 34 homers and 95 RBI per 162 games. Using Bill James’ 2013 projections and the Simple WAR Calculator, even a conservative assessment of Reynolds’ defensive prowess (and there are those who love his glove at first base) would make him about a league-average player.
Reynolds is also a spectacular fit for the Tribe’s current roster. He’s a right-handed hitter with terrific power who can immediately step in at first base or designated hitter, also known as the two biggest holes Cleveland has. Reynolds is a streaky hitter, but in the aggregate you can count on him to carry his weight; the Indians don’t have any other internal options at first base about whom that can be said. As Justin Lada so eloquently said: “What did everyone clamor for last year? RHH w/ POWER.”
On top of that, the price was right. Assuming Reynolds has a typical season and that the Indians don’t let him play third base, he should be good for around two wins above replacement in 2013. Player acquisition isn’t as simple as just adding talent—there is the opportunity cost of denying playing time to whoever else would otherwise get it—but given the Tribe’s current crop of alternatives the typical “replacement-level” definition seems an appropriate fit. Last year, FanGraphs put the value of a win at around $4.5 million, which would make a 2.0-WAR performance worth $9 million, and in this winter’s crazy free agent market it’s definitely higher. If you prefer Mark Shapiro’s estimate that a single win costs as much as $9 million, this signing looks like an absolute steal.
The Reynolds deal looks even more reasonable when compared to the likely alternative. Many observers saw the Indians as likely to sign one of Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis to fill their hole at first base. Cleveland allegedly offered Youkilis a two-year deal worth $18 million (or maybe even more), an incredibly risky investment for a small-market team to make in a declining player who’s well past his prime. Apparently Youkilis is still an option for the Tribe (presumably he would play first base and Reynolds would DH), but it’s much harder to see the Indians overpaying for the Greek God of Walks now that they have Reynolds in the fold.
Finally, if things don’t go as planned, the Indians don’t have much to lose. Unlike their offer to Youkilis they gave Reynolds only one year, so even in the worst-case scenario he’ll be off the books by 2014; it would be like the Grady Sizemore deal last year, not the Travis Hafner extension. Plus he’ll almost certainly inspire some trade interest come June or July—surely a couple contenders will be looking to add some power for the stretch run.
In signing Reynolds, the Indians shored up their biggest weakness at an affordable price while still (presumably) saving enough money to sign Nick Swisher. Kudos to Chris Antonetti & Co. for finding a way to make the team significantly better without breaking the bank.