Byrd Deal: Hey, At Least It’s Good Value
It's easy to poke holes in the Phillies' reported free agent deal with outfielder Marlon Byrd, worth $16 million over two years. After a career year last year, Byrd, 36, is a prime candidate for decline. His .291 batting average was fueled by his .353 batting average on balls in play, in many ways a measure of hitting luck. His 24 home runs seem an outlier -- he'd reached 20 bombs in his 12-year career only once prior. He's a free swinger and was at his worst last year, when he struck out on 24.9% of at-bats, 14th most in MLB. And after being tagged with a 50-game PED ban in 2012, his next offense carries a 100-game suspension.
Then there's the timing. As he did with Ryan Howard in 2010 and Jonathan Papelbon two seasons ago, GM Ruben Amaro pounced with a signing that may have artificially inflated the market. Top free agent outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo had yet to sign, or even enter serious talks. The same went for the second tier, rounded out by Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran. Byrd, along with Nate McLouth, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse and Chris Young, were among the rest. Waiting for some of the lot to find landing spots could have saved the Phillies money and better hedged against Byrd being a bust, which seems a distinct possibility.
There were also other outfield options available.
At their most creative was Chase Utley, signed to a two-year deal worth $15 per in August. He could have been moved to left field, with Dom Brown sliding to right and Ben Revere manning center. Utley's eroding knees threaten his ability to continue to produce at last year's level, .284/.348/.475 with 18 home runs and 60 RBI over, most important, 131 games, his most since 2009. Not only would a change of position reduce the strain on Utley's body, it would also alleviate a logjam at a position shared by top prospects Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. As for Utley's ability to play in left, do remember, Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez were once everyday left fielders here.
At their simplest was Darin Ruf, who offers right-handed pop and will earn $460,000 this year.
Here's what he wrote about Byrd, who he ranked 27th among all free agents:
OF Marlon Byrd: There's reason to be skeptical, but it's hard to miss those glitzy 2013 numbers. Agent: 2 years, $17M. GM: 2 years, $15M. Me: 2 years, $18M.
Again, it's possible that waiting could've lowered the price tag further.
But for a move full of warts, at least the dollars seem to make a smidge of sense.
Matt Hammond covers the Phillies for 97.3 ESPN-FM.