Latest On Pirates, Bryan Reynolds

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Perhaps the biggest offseason storyline in Pittsburgh has been the saga involving center fielder Bryan Reynolds. The All-Star outfielder requested a trade after extension talks between his camp and the Bucs fizzled out in December. Reports suggested the Pirates had offered more than the $70MM they guaranteed Ke’Bryan Hayes but the specific numbers under discussion had been unclear.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post now reports Pittsburgh had put forth a six-year offer that would’ve guaranteed $76MM. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last month the sides had been roughly $50MM apart in negotiations, suggesting Reynolds’ camp was seeking somewhere around $126MM.

The 28-year-old Reynolds has between three and four years of big league service. He’s set to make $6.75MM for the upcoming season and will be eligible for arbitration twice more before qualifying for free agency after the 2025 campaign. Sean Murphy, who’s also 28 and in the same service bucket, inked a six-year, $73MM extension with the Braves in December. Pittsburgh’s offer was right in that range, making for an interesting comparison point.

It’s fair to debate which of Murphy or Reynolds is the better player. The Atlanta catcher is coming off a .250/.332/.426 line in a pitcher-friendly environment in Oakland. That brought his career line up to .236/.326/.429 in 1260 plate appearances, offense that’s 16 percentage points above league average as measured by wRC+. Reynolds is a better hitter, owning a career .281/.361/.481 line that rates as 26 points above average. He’s coming off a .262/.345/.461 showing in 2022.

That said, Murphy has the edge on the other side of the ball. He’s among the game’s top few defensive catchers, with two-way production at the position that’s among the best in the league. Reynolds also plays up the middle but rated as a below-average center fielder last season. He’s capable of playing center and likely would be a plus defender in the corner outfield, but that’s less valuable than elite defense behind the dish.

Given the terms of the Murphy extension, Pittsburgh’s reported offer to Reynolds is defensible. Yet Reynolds had an edge over Murphy in earning power during their arbitration seasons, with Murphy’s originally projected $3.5MM arb salary for 2023 more than $3MM below what Reynolds will make. That difference — attributable both to Reynolds’ gaudier offensive counting stats and qualification for early arbitration last offseason as a Super Two player — would’ve likely held or compounded over the next two years if both players had gone year-by-year through that process. That’s because a player’s arbitration salaries are generally designed to escalate relative to the prior year’s figure.

Freddie Freeman holds the record for the largest extension among players in the 3-4 year service bucket. The first baseman signed an eight-year, $135MM pact with the Braves nine years ago. Whether Reynolds’ camp was seeking to beat that number or merely approach it isn’t clear, though the reported gap in negotiations suggestions they were well closer to that figure than to the $76MM the Pirates had put on the table. While Reynolds’ camp could argue that’s a dated precedent, Freeman represented a safer long-term bet than Reynolds does. Freeman was nearly four years younger at the time of his deal and coming off a .319/.396/.501 showing in 2013 that rivals Reynolds’ career-best season (.302/.390/.522) from 2021.

Once Reynolds rejected the Bucs’ offer and registered his trade request, most public attention turned to the possibility of him changing teams. However, Heyman writes Pittsburgh continues to have interest in negotiating an extension. There’s no indication of any plans to reopen talks, nor is it known if Reynolds’ camp would even be open to doing so at this point, but the team’s continued desire for a long-term deal supports the numerous reports of an astronomical ask from other teams in trade discussions.

The Rangers, Marlins, Yankees, Rockies, Braves and Red Sox have all been at least loosely linked to Reynolds at points this offseason. All six of those clubs still has some level of uncertainty in its outfield. Heyman writes Miami, in particular, has been among the most aggressive suitors — the continuation of longstanding interest on the Fish’s part that dates back at least to last winter.

The Marlins are planning to move Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center field after acquiring Luis Arraez to man second base. That could diminish any desire to meet Pittsburgh’s ask, though there’s still room to upgrade a left field mix likely to consist of some combination of Jesús SánchezBryan De La Cruz and JJ Bleday. A Reynolds trade this offseason still appears a long shot, however, with no indication the Pirates plan to lower their demands as the start of Spring Training approaches.

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