At first the signing was scoffed at: another veteran who had been released in spring training signing with the Braves. We’ve been down this road before.
Shane Reynolds was not good enough for the Houston Astros. He had been in their rotation since 1994. But back surgery had curtailed his 2002 season and the Astros were not convinced he was sound enough to do something he had done so regularly for eight seasons: give them innings.
From 1994 through 1999, Reynolds had averaged 214.6 innings pitched. But a back condition hurt his innings in 2000 and made him a different pitcher. Finally, surgery to repair the back was performed last summer. Even though he missed most of 2002, at least six teams showed interest in him as a free agent during the winter.
The Astros wanted him back, but the Braves, Mets, Giants, Rangers, and Indians all thought he could be worth a gamble. If he recovered, he could once again be an innings eater. If not, the risk would probably not be that great. Reynolds resigned with Houston, citing loyalty and a desire to stay home.
Was he that bad in spring training that the Astros didn’t believe he could be a veteran to stabilize a young rotation? Was he that bad in spring training that the Astros didn’t believe he could give them some quality innings?
Now, with a side thank you to the New York Mets, Shane Reynolds is an Atlanta Brave. Before you give total credit to Leo Mazzone, remember this: Reynolds only joined the team last Monday. Has Leo talked to him so much that he’s turned him around in a week? Doubtful. This guy is just good. Shane Reynolds is a quality pitcher. For the first time in possibly three seasons, he’s healthy. It does make a difference.
Reynolds also may have found some magic by simply putting on the Braves uniform. It seems to do something to pitchers. Wearing the tomahawk across your chest seems to make them better pitchers. Yea, the atmosphere helps. But isn’t it ironic that John Burkett has resorted back to his Devil Ray days by donning the "Red Sox" across his chest over the past two seasons.
A pitcher joining the Atlanta Braves is like a doctor getting a job with the Mayo Clinic or a reporter going from a small town newspaper to the New York Times. It’s a big thing to join an organization that is known for one thing and one thing only: pitching. What pitcher would not want to be apart of the Braves?
Shane Reynolds is an Atlanta Brave for a measley $300,000, chump change by today’s standards. While the fans are all upset that the Braves are paying Paul Byrd $3 million this season only to start the season on the disabled list, Reynolds evens it out a bit. Think of it this way: IF Byrd comes back healthy, and General Manager John Schuerholz says Byrd will be back healthy this season, then it will almost be like making a July trade for another starting pitcher. In the meantime, we’ve replaced Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, and Damian Moss (would have cost us $22 million dollars) with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds, and we’re getting another pitcher for the stretch drive in July without giving up prospects (total cost: $10.7 million).
That ain’t half bad.
If Reynolds is healthy, and all indications are that he is, there is little doubt that he is a quality starting pitcher. Even in 2001 when he was battling back troubles, he started 28 games going 14-11. If he can start 25-30 games for us, there’s a good chance we’re going to be in this race til the end. His precense in the rotation is going to do nothing but help.
Think of the benefit a healthy Reynolds could mean to our trade discussions. If Reynolds remains healthy and productive, it will be easier to trade a Jason Marquis or a young pitching prospect for another bat. Another bat can’t hurt in the playoffs, as we have found out the last three postseasons.
So the Shane Reynolds signing is significant, and his success could be the key to the 2003 season.