Brewers sign Mark Reynolds
Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin realized long ago there would be no perfect solution this winter to fill the team’s void at first base.
“We had to make a decision on whether to go with the guys we had or go outside,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “We had exhausted all the trade opportunities for a first baseman.”
Melvin decided it could only help to provide another option—importantly, an experienced one—so he signed veteran free agent first baseman/third baseman Mark Reynolds to a minor-league deal Friday. Reynolds will get a $2 million salary with another $500,000 available in performance bonuses if he makes the Brewers’ roster.
“I talked with Mark and he’s not afraid to have to beat out somebody for a job,” Melvin said. “He’s looking forward to the challenge. He’s a confident guy.”
Melvin had sought help at first base since free agent Corey Hart departed in early December for a much higher offer from Seattle. Melvin discussed a possible deal with the New York Mets for Ike Davis but considered the asking price too high. He contacted Texas about Mitch Moreland and Seattle about Justin Smoak but was told they weren’t available.
Melvin took a run at free agent James Loney, who instead returned to Tampa Bay on a three-year, $21 million deal. The pickings were slim at that point, and Melvin thought about going with inexperienced, strikeout-prone first baseman Juan Francisco, who was backed up by prospects Hunter Morris and Sean Halton.
Melvin decided instead to add Reynolds, 30, a right-handed-hitting slugger who played mostly at third base until recent seasons. With only 251 games (230 starts) at first base in the majors, Reynolds still had far more experience than the internal options (Francisco has 62 starts).
Much like Francisco, Reynolds has been an all-or-nothing offensive player. In seven major-league seasons, he has batted .233 with a .329 on-base percentage, 202 home runs and 1,276 strikeouts in 3,418 at-bats. He set the big-league record with 223 strikeouts with Arizona in 2009 and whiffed 196 times or more on three other occasions.
Splitting time last season with Cleveland and the New York Yankees, Reynolds batted .220 with a .306 OBP, 21 home runs, 67 RBI and 154 strikeouts in 445 at-bats.
Melvin is well aware of that strikeout proclivity, but said Reynolds is improving in the field at first base and is determined to show he can still be a regular player. Melvin noted Reynolds also would provide insurance at third base for Aramis Ramirez, who was plagued last season by an ailing knee.
“His hands have always been soft,” Melvin said. “He didn’t get on base as much last year as in the past, but he said he’s ready for a bounce-back year. It’s just going to be year of trying out for us at first base.”
Melvin said he made no promises to Reynolds about playing time or even making the roster.
“I just told him who we have—Juan Francisco and some of the younger guys,” Melvin said. “I said we might still look at somebody else. His experience gives him a little bit of an edge over some of our guys. All you can do is lay it out for him.
“There were some other teams interested but he viewed our opportunity as a good one, and he said he liked playing in the National League. He said he also likes hitting in our ballpark.”
Reynolds, who also drew interest from Washington, Baltimore and Texas, is a career .275 batter at Miller Park with a .942 OPS, four home runs and nine RBI in 59 plate appearances.
Francisco, Estrada signed
The Brewers reached one-year deals with their two arbitration-eligible players, right-hander Marco Estrada and Francisco. Estrada signed for $3.325 million and Francisco for $1.35 million, with both deals including performance bonuses.
Brewers vice president for business development Teddy Werner said negotiations with both players came down to the final minutes before the noon deadline for exchanging salary figures with the club.
“But we got deals done with both players and we’re happy about that,” Werner said. “(An arbitration hearing) is an unpleasant process to go through.
“We’re happy to have them done and move on to the bigger picture.”
Estrada, 30, was in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He made $1.955 million last year, when he went 7-4 with a 3.87 earned run average in 21 starts, missing two months with hamstring and back injuries.
Francisco was eligible for arbitration for the first time as a “Super 2” player, meaning he ranked among the top 22 percent of players with between two and three years of service time.
Acquired from Atlanta last June, the 26-year-old Francisco had a $496,250 salary in 2013. He batted .227 last season with 18 home runs and 48 RBI, including a .221 mark with 13 homers and 32 RBI in 89 games with the Brewers. He struck out 138 times in 348 at-bats overall.