The Pirates probably won’t grab too many headlines of note in free agency once the lockout lifts, but the majority of Pittsburgh fans hope they’ll make another transaction of note: a long-term deal for All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds. Likewise, fans from just about every outfield-needy club around the league are hoping the Pirates move the 27-year-old Reynolds in exchange for what would figure to be a major haul of prospect talent. It’s not an either-or proposition, as Pittsburgh could just hang onto Reynolds and control him another four years via arbitration, even without an extension. Whatever path the team is planning, Reynolds himself tells Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he “didn’t hear anything” regarding his future from the team before MLB halted Major League transactions and barred players from communicating with their teams.
Reynolds was a focal point of the 2021 trade deadline, reportedly drawing sizable offers from the Braves and Brewers. The Mariners, Marlins and Yankees have each shown interest in Reynolds as well, and his market undoubtedly spans a good bit wider than just that handful of publicly known suitors.
It’s hardly a surprise that Reynolds has become such a coveted player. He followed a Rookie of the Year-caliber 2019 season with a rough campaign in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but Reynolds bounced back better than ever in 2021 and made that 2020 downturn look like an aberration. Reynolds has played three seasons in the Majors and, in the two full campaigns, has hit better than .300 with a near-.400 OBP and well above-average power. He made his first All-Star team in 2021 — a season that saw him finish out the year with a hearty .302/.390/.522 batting line. Reynolds belted a career-best 24 long balls, racked up 35 doubles and logged a career-high (and league-leading) eight triples as well. On the whole, the switch-hitter owns a .290/.368/.490 line in an even 1400 plate appearances.
Defensively, Reynolds has stepped up as the Pirates’ primary center fielder, although publicly available metrics provide lukewarm reviews of his glovework there. He registered +2 Outs Above Average this past season, per Statcast, but Reynolds also checked in with -5 Defensive Runs Saved and a -5 Ultimate Zone Rating. His overall defense in center rates closer to average when factoring in his entire career, but it’s also worth noting that Reynolds has 10 Defensive Runs Saved in the corners. Scouting reports based on the eye test surely provide a similar range of opinions, but it’s unlikely anyone views Reynolds as a major liability with the glove.
Reynolds is controlled through the 2025 season but will reach arbitration as a Super Two player this year, as he enters the season with two years and 163 days of service time (just nine days shy in that rookie season of reaching a full year). He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn a $4.5MM salary for the coming season, and he’ll be in line for three more raises based on that first-time arbitration salary.
Historically speaking, there’s a wide swath of possible extension outcomes for players with between two and three years of MLB service time. Mike Trout (six years, $144MM) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years, $341MM) are clear outliers that needn’t enter the conversation when trying to gauge a theoretical price point for Reynolds, but as can be seen in MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, there have been quite a few outfielders to sign long-term while in this service bracket — including a few who were Super Two players themselves.
Back in 2015-16, it was common for outfielders in this position to sign in the range of $25-30MM over a five-year period, as evidenced by deals for Adam Eaton, Ender Inciarte and Odubel Herrera. All of those deals included at least one club option. Minnesota’s Max Kepler moved the needle forward a bit further with his 2019 extension — a five-year deal worth a guaranteed $35MM, plus a club option for a sixth season. Kepler, like Reynolds, was a Super Two player, and his $3.2MM projected 2019 salary was a good bit lower than that of Reynolds. Kepler’s deal paid him $25.5MM for his four arbitration seasons, guaranteed him $9.5MM for one would-be free-agent year and also gave the Twins a $10MM option for a sixth season. Reynolds has a superior track record to this point in his career, so it seems fair to expect that he’d topple that Kepler mark by a fair bit.
The other potential comparable for Reynolds, and one that his reps at CAA likely prefer as a target to surpass, is the six-year, $53.5MM deal signed by Kevin Kiermaier in 2017. Kiermaier was also a Super Two center fielder with above-average power. His defensive accolades had already begun to pile up — Kiermaier won Gold Gloves in 2015-16 and a Platinum Glove in 2015 — but he hadn’t made anywhere near the same level of offensive impact as Reynolds has. He’d tallied 1313 career plate appearances at the time of his extension and owned a .258/.313/.425 line that’s a good bit shy of Reynolds’ career numbers. There’s also the simple fact that Kiermaier’s deal — which paid him $27.5MM for his arbitration years, bought out two free agent campaigns at a combined $26MM and contained a $13MM club option for a seventh season — is now five years old, making for a slightly dated comparison point.
The possibility of a long-term deal for Reynolds is complicated by the Pirates’ organizational spending habits. The Bucs have rather remarkably never topped a $60MM guarantee on any player, and that contract was handed out to Jason Kendall more than two decades ago. Even by the Pirates’ consistent low-spending ways, the long-term financial outlook is wide open. They don’t have a single dollar committed beyond next season, and Reynolds is the only player on the roster who’d be likely to command a significant arbitration payout in 2023. There looks to be opportunity for the Pirates to build around Reynolds as a franchise player, but it may require the single biggest expenditure the organization has made — at least since Bob Nutting took over principal ownership of the franchise in 2007.
A good portion of the fanbase would be in favor of such a move, with Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes expected to be part of a long-term core for the Pirates as they continue with a massive rebuild. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic wrote over the summer that the Bucs weren’t inclined to trade Reynolds, instead “(intending) to build around him.” That might result in the front office opening talks whenever they’re again allowed to make MLB transactions, but that process apparently hasn’t yet begun.