Mark Reynolds wants to come back. The Orioles want him back.
So what’s the problem?
Reynolds’ $11 million option wasn’t going to be picked up. That wasn’t a surprise. It’s not a surprise that the Orioles would want him back.
Now, the negotiating begins.
It’s doubtful the Orioles wouldn’t tender him a contract. Why should they let Reynolds go as a free agent.
They don’t want to go to arbitration with him, either. It’s one thing to go to arbitration with Brad Bergesen, whose agent had the gall to ask for a tripling of his salary after going 2-7. It’s another to argue against a player who moved positions and became a valuable asset at first base.
On Aug. 5, Reynolds was batting .203 with eight home runs. After pleading his way back to third base, Reynolds didn’t play any better there in 2012 than he had in 2011.
During the rest of the season, Reynolds’ play at first base improved markedly and he became a good defensive first baseman.
His bat perked up, too. He had 15 home runs in the last two months of the season to end with 23 and a .221 average.
The Orioles don’t feel those stats are worth $11 million. Some have guessed that Reynolds could yield nearly $9 million in arbitration. That may be too rich for the Orioles, too. Reynolds made $7.5 million in 2012.
Reynolds is in a great spot. He enjoys playing in Baltimore. He likes being close to his family in Virginia Beach, and he fits nicely, playing cards with J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters.
It’s a thin market for first basemen. If the Orioles non-tendered him, he’d have lots of suitors.
The Orioles don’t have many alternatives. They clearly don’t want Chris Davis or Wilson Betemit playing first, though manager Buck Showalter insists Davis has the ability to play there.
If the Orioles retain Nate McLouth or sign another free agent in left field, there’s talk that Nolan Reimold could play there. Reimold has never played a regular season major league game at first.
There aren’t great choices in the minor leagues. The Orioles didn’t call up Norfolk first baseman Joe Mahoney in September. His place on the 40-man roster is in jeopardy. He’s not going to be the regular.
Aaron Baker, who the Orioles got from Pittsburgh for Derrek Lee in 2011, had 22 home runs in 89 games at Frederick, was promoted to Bowie and was hurt after just two games. He lacks experience.
If the Orioles chose the free agent route, there’s Casey Kotchman, Carlos Lee, James Loney, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Ty Wigginton and Kevin Youkilis.
Reynolds is probably a better and certainly more youthful option.
All roads lead to Reynolds. The betting is that the two sides compromise just before arbitration with a two-year deal. It’s unlikely that the Orioles want to sign him long-term, but with no first baseman on the horizon, it makes sense to avoid haggling a year from now, too.