Remember when the Orioles signed Garrett Atkins a couple years ago and tried to sell fans on him being the team's primary first baseman? (The O's do a lot of things like this.) Even in the face of mounting evidence that Atkins had taken a considerable step back and wasn't a full-time player anymore, he was signed to be the guy at first. Well, as you know, after a few months of him barely doing anything, the O's released him. Atkins hasn't played for a major league team since.
When the O's traded for Mark Reynolds, he was brought in to play third base. Unlike the Atkins signing, that seemed fine. Not only did the O's not have any reliable options at third, but Reynolds actually had an average defensive season at third in 2010 (2.2 UZR in 1,214 innings). So the O's hoped he could continue to play average (or even slightly below average) defense and give them more production at the plate.
Reynolds had an OK offensive season, posting a .221/.323/.483 line that most O's fans hoped would be better, but probably couldn't be that surprised with. But what was truly terrible was Reynolds's defense: Instead of reverting back to a below-average defender at third, Reynolds skipped that level and went all the way to abysmal. Of all major league third basemen, Reynolds was far and away the worst, with a UZR of -22.8. The next closest awful defender was Houston's Chris Johnson, who finished with a UZR of -14.5. I had to go back to 2007 to find a third baseman who had that kind of horrible defensive season at third. That guy's name is Ryan Braun, who had a -27.7 UZR and was so terrible that he moved to left field and has played there since. (I'd say that's worked out well.) It's actually funny to go back and look at players who have posted major league worst UZRs at third. There are a few former O's from various seasons: Tony Batista, Ty Wigginton, and Melvin Mora.
Reynolds is terrible at third, and the O's made the decision to bring him back as the team's starting third baseman. All spring, fans heard about his renewed dedication to third-base defense and how he had improved. Considering some of the other team options at third -- Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit, and Ryan Flaherty -- it's not like the O's had any other slick-fielding player to take his place if he faltered.
And that's exactly what's happened. In the team's first handful of games, Reynolds committed two errors and hasn't looked better. He still doesn't have much range, struggles when charging the ball, and generally makes routine plays look much more difficult.
I'm not sure fans ever really bought the idea of signing Atkins. I don't know if a majority of fans believed Reynolds could play third base competently last season after not seeing a whole lot of him in the National League. But there's one thing I do know: No one bought the notion that Reynolds could transform into anything resembling a decent major league third baseman. I'm glad that he worked hard in the spring and dedicated himself to re-learning the craft. Unfortunately, hard work is not always enough, and Reynolds isn't some up-and-coming player who deserves the benefit of the doubt. He hurts the team when he plays third -- case closed.
Fortunately, it seems that Buck Showalter agrees. Betemit got the start at third base last night while Reynolds served as the designated hitter. And while Betemit is far from a significant improvement at third, he is at least somewhat better. I'd like to see Flaherty get a chance at third, but since he has to be on the O's active roster all season to stay in Baltimore's organization, I guess there's no hurry to run him out there.