As the Pittsburgh Pirates rebuild moves along more than halfway through the 2021 season, glimmers of hope have begun to sprout in numerous different directions. Ke’Bryan Hayes has been great defensively, Ben Cherington and company have been retooling the farm system, top prospects are moving in the right direction, and Bryan Reynolds is becoming a legit star in the making.
Reynolds sprung onto the scene with the Bucs two years ago on April 20, 2019, after Starling Marte collided with Erik Gonzalez in the outfield, resulting in a trip to the then-disabled list. Pittsburgh acquired Reynolds from the San Francisco Giants on January 15, 2018, alongside recently DFA’ed reliever Kyle Crick in the Andrew McCutchen deal.
The switch-hitting B-Rey started off hot and never looked back, slashing .314/.377/.503 resulting in an impressive .880 OPS for a rookie, with 37 doubles, 16 home runs, and 68 RBI in 491 at-bats over 136 games for a spiraling Pirates team. Reynolds finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting behind San Diego superstar Fernando Tatis Jr., Braves right-hander Mike Soroka, and now two-time Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso, also the recipient of the 2019 ROTY award.
2020 was not kind to the Pirates, but especially for Reynolds, hitting only .189/.275/.357 and an OPS down .248 points to a surprising low .632. Reynolds drove in 19 runs and hit six doubles and seven homers over the course of 55 games and 185 at-bats.
He turned the page on a tough 2020 season and has been the Pirates' most consistent offensive threat throughout the entire season, moving to center field in mid-April after failed experiments with both Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler.
In 93 games this season, Reynolds is slashing .306/.390/.419 with a .909 OPS and 147 OPS+. With the sophomore slump looking like an aberration, Reynolds has recorded 22 doubles, crushed a career-high 17 home runs, and driven in 54, making his first All-Star team and entering the starting lineup as a replacement for the injured Ronald Acuña.
The NL Starting Lineup pic.twitter.com/26QiiphMR3— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 12, 2021
In his latest trade deadline thoughts, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic detailed how the Pirates might approach the deadline, but even surprised himself in saying that the franchise is looking to keep their star center fielder and began to build around him.
Breaking: From the great @Ken_Rosenthal regarding Bryan Reynolds, “The Pirates [...] intend to build around him.” pic.twitter.com/lH8XFSXKj4— Pirates Talk (@PITPiratesChat) July 19, 2021
According to this report, the Pirates have no interest in moving Reynolds and he will be the centerpiece of the next winning team. https://t.co/ho5SsCjOSZ— 93.7 The Fan (@937theFan) July 19, 2021
Despite the Pirates having yet another underwhelming season, none of the organization's Minor League squads are under .500, with Greensboro and Bradenton both more than 10 games over. The Major League team may not be set with players destined to be around long-term, but keeping a cornerstone talent like Reynolds in the fold can assure a solid veteran presence and leaders both on and off the field.
Reynolds spoke at the All-Star Game about his future with the Bucs and how he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.
Bryan Reynolds making no bones about his future: "I want to be here. I want to be a Pirate. I like Pittsburgh."— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) July 12, 2021
The 26-year-old has four more years of club control, all through arbitration, and has anchored down the third spot in the lineup, leading the team in OPS (.909), home runs (17), RBI (54), walks (41) and WAR (3.4) despite also leading in strikeouts (78). Reynolds has advanced as a hitter and opened eyes in center field, displaying more range than originally believed when manning in left.
Flyin' Reynolds. pic.twitter.com/q8javICvQs— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) July 21, 2021
Reynolds’s 4.0 offensive WAR is tied for third in all of baseball and second in the NL, only trailing Tatis Jr., and 3.4 overall WAR, still needing continued improvement in the outfield (-0.5) to become a plus defender and positive WAR contributor.
Imagine thinking Bryan Reynolds wasn't going to make that play. pic.twitter.com/IJdiqqnz7N— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) July 17, 2021
Pittsburgh needs an Andrew McCutchen-type player and presence in the middle of the order and up the middle to guide young players and create a new identity of Pirates baseball. He has all the intangibles to be the face of the franchise despite not having a brash and outgoing personality.
Reynolds takes the field, makes solid contact, is fundamentally sound, and is a good representation of the City of Pittsburgh: tough, competitive, passionate, and not afraid to get his hands dirty and work for what he earns. Why wouldn’t you want to keep him around?
In drafting college catcher Henry Davis first overall this year and second baseman Nick Gonzales last season, the Pirates are signaling their belief in contending in 2023 and beyond, with 2023 being the prime target year for the prospect infiltration of PNC Park. Reynolds will be 28 for the entirety of the 2023 season and third year of arbitration. The Pirates should approach him this offseason about a deal to buy out two to three years of free agency beginning in 2022.
A six-year deal with a team option for a seventh would rival that of fellow outfielders McCutchen and Gregory Polanco early in their careers. While it is not yet known if an extension is on the table, one should be offered soon… and fast.
There is no reason to trade Reynolds from a cap perspective as well. The Pirates are not paying anyone an enormous amount of money next season and with top prospects rounding out the roster over the next few years on minimum deals, the dollars make sense for Reynolds to remain a Bucco for years to come.
Extending Reynolds would once again signal a plan and direction by Cherington and the front office. A trade would be pointless and against everything the franchise is trying to create with players under terms for three-plus years. With Frazier likely out the door at the July 30 deadline, handing the keys to Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds could put the team full throttle in the driver seat with a commitment long term and trusting in Reynolds to anchor down the heart of the ship.