The Washington Nationals have dealt with an incredible amount of injuries so far in 2018. Certainly every team suffers with injuries and complaining will not help players heal faster, but as someone recently joked on Twitter, the Nationals could have a .500 club with their roster presently on the disabled list. It is a testament to the performance of the team’s reserves that Washington’s record currently stands at 26-22 and only 3 games back of 1st place.
Fortunately for the Nationals, General Manager Mike Rizzo and the front office prioritized bolstering the teams’ depth this winter with several low-key signings. Think about where the team would be without the contributions of Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, and recently, Mark Reynolds. Reynolds has been a tremendous addition to the lineup in Ryan Zimmerman’s absence, hitting 4 home runs in his first 8 games.
Last season Reynolds batted .267/.352/.487 with 30 home runs and 97 RBI for the Colorado Rockies in 148 games. No doubt his offensive performance was aided by playing at Coors Field, but Reynolds does one thing really well, namely hit home runs, as evidenced by his career 285 total. Sure home runs are increasing rapidly league-wide like WWE stock, but somehow Reynolds was largely ignored this winter.
The fact that Mark Reynolds was still available weeks into the season points towards two things – First, we underwent a strange offseason in major league baseball and depending on your viewpoint, either saw some collusion occur within free agency or a league-wide reset of how team’s value players. This is a discussion far above my paygrade.
The second is how the increased usage of relief pitchers has forced the need for more pitchers in the bullpen. Many teams are carrying 8 or even 9 relievers on their active roster, at the expense of extra hitters on the bench like Reynolds. Middle relievers like Tommy Hunter and Juan Nicasio received impressive multi-year contracts last winter, while productive hitters like Reynolds, Adam Lind and Jayson Werth found themselves seeking minor league offers after Opening Day.
Major league front offices are filled with smart people and expanded bullpens do make sense, as relief pitchers traditionally post better numbers than starting pitchers. Allowing a manager the option to lift a starting pitcher early for a fresh arm or using a left-handed relief ace to neutralize a difficult left-handed hitter is smart strategy. In order to have a pitcher for these situations, the direct result is teams have prioritized defensive versatility over offensive prowess for the limited bench spots available on the roster.
I am not prepared to say this roster paradigm occurring throughout baseball is a mistake. However, when productive hitters like Reynolds cannot find roles, it feels like teams are rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns using these expanded bullpens. Perhaps organizations’ like the Nationals who prioritize acquiring these capable hitters at discounted salaries could be at the forefront of a new version of Moneyball. Could Mark Reynolds be the next Scott Hatteberg?
*Originally Published at MASNSports.com on 5/25/18*