SARASOTA, FLA. — Here's the assignment: Construct the perfect ballplayer for the city of Baltimore.
Start with attitude. He's got to be a hustling dirt dog willing to play banged up for this blue-collar town. That's a given. Now, put a chip on his broad shoulders. Let him think the power brokers afford him little respect — like Baltimore in Washington's shadow — so he'll work harder.
He must be community-minded and courteous to the fans, and have a goofy side, too. Make him good-looking enough for the teenage girls to swoon, but not a pretty boy. How about occasionally shaggy hair and an easy smile connected to a fullback's body? Toss in some local ties, you know, so he understands what this region is all about.
He needs power, speed, baseball smarts and a good glove. Shoddy defense won't be tolerated. He should play on the left side of the infield, right? That's where Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. reigned. Both played third eventually, so let's put him on the hot corner.
Mix it all together with enough youth to improve his game and enough experience to boast a track record. Now, pull the switch. What you've created is 27-year-old Mark Reynolds, the Orioles' new starting third baseman for at least the next two seasons.
"Reynolds is a guy that has got what the Orioles have needed for a long time: power at third base. He's already proven that," said MASN broadcaster and former Oriole Rick Dempsey. "If the work ethic is really good and he makes himself an average to above-average third baseman, the sky is the limit in Baltimore for him."
Raised in Virginia Beach, Reynolds was Arizona's 16th-round pick out of Virginia in 2004. Desperate for a power bat, the Orioles traded promising relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to the rebuilding Diamondbacks for Reynolds in December. At first blush, he looks like he could be a perfect fit in Charm City.
"He is an East Coast-type player. He wants to be on 'Sunday Night Baseball' and he wants to play in front of big crowds and on TV," said Kelly Johnson, the Diamondbacks' starting second baseman. "You'll see him get dirty. He dives into the stands after balls. He has a knack for the three-run homer."
Sounds perfect. Now step away from your creation for a moment. Inspect his flaws.
Notice that he batted .198 last year, when he became the only position player in baseball history to have a higher number of strikeouts (211) than his official batting average. Realize that no other player has fanned more than 200 times in a season; Reynolds has done it for three consecutive years. Know that in 2008 he made 35 errors, alarming for a corner infielder.
And understand that things have not gone swimmingly for Reynolds as an Oriole this spring. While experimenting with adding a leg kick that he has since scrapped, Reynolds has struggled to hit above .200 and didn't homer until Thursday night, his 52nd at-bat of the spring.
It's only March, but a disastrous implosion from a once-ballyhooed corner infielder coming over from the National League is not foreign in these parts. Mention Glenn Davis, who was traded by the Houston Astros in 1991 for three future All-Stars, and a generation of Orioles fans shudders.
Last year, the Orioles took a chance on former Colorado Rockies slugger Garrett Atkins, who made $4.5 million and hit one homer in 140 at-bats before being released in July. After Reynolds' slow start this spring, some commenters on Internet message boards worried that he is another Atkins2.0.
Dempsey doesn't see that happening, partly because Reynolds doesn't need to be an offensive savior with the acquisition of designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, first baseman Derrek Lee and shortstop J.J.Hardy. Last year, Atkins and an aging Miguel Tejada were the only offensive additions to the starting lineup.
"There's not the pressure on Reynolds to be 'the guy' like there was with Atkins last year. The pressure is not on him to be a main figure," Dempsey said. "It can be a team effort in taking over the city again. Baltimore is so anxious and so ready for a ballclub to sink its teeth into."
This could be a fresh start for Reynolds, who hit .260 with 44 home runs and 102 RBIs in 2009, and signed a three-year, $14.5 million contract extension with the Diamondbacks last March.
Thought to be a franchise cornerstone, Reynolds was traded after a new regime, led by general manager Kevin Towers, decided to improve the club's depth while shedding payroll.
"I loved Phoenix. I loved playing there. I loved the organization and the fans," Reynolds said. "But I understand it is a business, and I understand that they either got sick of me or they needed to free up salary. I get it. It's a welcomed change to be back home."
His relationship with Diamondbacks fans was, he said, "love-hate, I think."