Phillies, Byrd finalize two-year contract
Outfielder could serve in everyday role; protect Utley, Howard in lineup
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies believe they found a right-handed bat on Tuesday, when they announced they have signed outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract.
But what type of right-handed bat are they getting?
Byrd, 36, hit .291 with 24 home runs, 88 RBIs and an .847 on-base plus slugging percentage in 147 games last season with the Mets and Pirates. It was the best year of his career, but it also followed the worst year of his career. Byrd hit a combined .210 with one home run, nine RBIs and a .488 OPS in 47 games with the Cubs and Red Sox in 2012 before serving a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Byrd, whose deal includes a club/vesting option for 2016, could not find another job in baseball, so he headed to Mexico to play winter ball, where he resurrected his career before signing a Minor League deal with the Mets.
"We're just looking for the best bang for our buck," said Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "We have a lot of holes to fill. Again, we won't be able to fill them all from outside, but we're trying to get the best value we possibly can."
It remains to be seen if Byrd is a good value or not. He had a .360 batting average on balls in play this season, which is 31 points higher than his career average and 63 points higher than the big league average in 2013. But Byrd also struck out a career-high 144 times.
Byrd's deal raised some eyebrows at the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla., because of the money and the fact that the Phillies moved so aggressively. But Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he wasn't surprised by the deal.
"Not really," Alderson said. "Given what we've seen so far, I wasn't surprised. Had you asked me the question three or four months ago, I might have been surprised. But not in light of what's happened since the end of the season. There haven't been that many signings, but this one is consistent with the others."
If Byrd can replicate or come close to his 2013 success -- his .786 OPS from 2007-13 ranks 94th out of 233 hitters with 2,000 or more plate appearances -- Amaro will have somebody to hit behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
But if Byrd regresses, the Phillies will remain without the right-handed power bat they lost when Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals following the 2010 season. (The Phils acquired Hunter Pence in July 2011, only to trade him to the Giants a year later.)
It is unclear how Byrd's arrival affects outfielders John Mayberry Jr., who is eligible for salary arbitration, or Darin Ruf, although Amaro said he assumes he will tender Mayberry a contract.
Byrd, who the Phillies selected in the 10th round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, should at least upgrade the outfield defense, which has been a priority for Amaro. The Fielding Bible awarded Byrd plus-12 runs saved in 1,168 innings last season.
Philadelphia had other free-agent options when it came to a right-handed-hitting outfielder, including Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Michael Morse and Corey Hart. Cruz, 33, has more pop than Byrd, but he served his own 50-game suspension this season and is below average defensively. Beltran, 36, is a switch-hitter with pop and is a fine defender, but he turned down the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals and could command at least a two-year, $30 million deal. Hart, 31, missed the 2013 season because of injuries, and although the Phils have loved Morse, 31, in the past, he has a lengthy injury history and struggled last season with the Mariners and Orioles.
If Byrd's contract is $8 million next season, it already pushes Philadelphia's payroll to $130.5 million for just nine players: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Howard ($25 million), Cole Hamels ($22.5 million), Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), Jimmy Rollins ($11 million), Byrd, Mike Adams ($7 million) and Miguel Gonzalez ($4 million). That does not include money they must spend for a catcher, starting pitcher, a reliever or two, plus pay arbitration-eligible players like Ben Revere, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, Kevin Frandsen and Mayberry.
So thoughts that Byrd's signing is a "depth" move seem misguided unless the Phillies make a trade, and Amaro said "it's possible" they could still try to add another outfielder. They could trade left fielder Domonic Brown or Revere to fill some needs. Otherwise, at the moment it looks like Brown, Revere and Byrd in the 2014 outfield.
Amaro said he would be OK with that.
"Yes, I would," he said. "Much more comfortable than I was in the past."
Is Byrd enough to improve an offense that ranked 26th in scoring, 24th in on-base percentage and 21st in slugging percentage in 2013? No, but Byrd is considered a complementary piece to Howard, Utley and Rollins, and the Phils have hitched their success to this group.
Still, Amaro said they will continue to look for ways to improve offensively. That includes re-signing free-agent catcher Carlos Ruiz. FOXSports.com reported Ruiz has received a two-year, $20 million offer. The Rockies have expressed interest in Ruiz, but the Denver Post reported it is not Colorado. Amaro has said they are looking at alternatives.
"We've got some holes to fill," Amaro said. "Obviously, we had a very poor year last year. We have to get healthy, number one. We have to get production out of the guys that are our core players. We have to get Revere back and healthy. We have to get Howard back and healthy. Those are key elements of our offense."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.