Breaking News: Byrd Flies Home

Dilip Vishwanat

Marlon Byrd makes his return to Philadelphia signing a 2-year $16 million contract with the Phillies.

Originally reported by WIP's Michael Barkann, and then confirmed by multiple sources included MLB.com's Todd Zolecki as well as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Phillies have signed free agent outfielder Marlon Byrd.

Byrd began his career with the Phillies after the Phillies made him their 10th round selection in the 1999 draft. Byrd worked his way through the Phillies farm system, showing off his numerous tools including speed, power, and overall hitting acumen. To quote Baseball Prospectus' outlook on the outfielder in 2003,

"It’s still reasonable to expect Byrd to be a solid player with moderate power and good understanding of the strike zone. That alone will represent a huge upgrade for the Phillies in center field."

During his three year tenure with the Phllies Byrd put together 1 very good season (3.7 fWAR), and one incredibly forgettable one (-1.4 fWAR). After his dreadful 2004 began Byrd's new career as a baseball nomad. The Phillies traded him to the Washington Nationals for Endy Chavez (upgrade?), after which he was granted free agency, signed with the Rangers where he experienced a bit of an offensive renaissance during which he put up a 111 wRC+ in three seasons. Given that wRC+ factors in park factors, and the Rangers play in a very hitting friendly home park, 111, or 11% above league average constitutes a solid number for a hitter in his prime.


Once again Byrd entered free agency, where the Cubs snatched him up on a 3-year $15 million contract. In 2010, his first with the Cubs, Byrd put up his best overall season as a major league with a 4.1 fWAR, but did so by combining decent offense a 108 RC+ but inflated BABIP in the .330's, with better, rangier defense displayed in all three major defensive metrics (6.6 FRAA, 4 DRS, 10.8 UZR. Still, the party didn't last long in Chicago, where in his second season with the club, his numbers came back to earth and the team traded him to the Red Sox. After joining the Red Sox, Byrd tested positive for a banned substance, Tamoxifen, for which the league suspended him for 50 games. His PED suspension essentially ended his chances of another contract of any substance, his credibility, and his stint in Boston.


After leaving Boston, and with few suitors clamoring for his services, Byrd accepted a minor league contract with the New York Mets, that if picked up, would pay him about $700,000. To the surprise of most, Byrd put together several productive months while playing for the Mets, smacking 24 home runs, putting up a career high 136 wRC+, and even some decent defense in right field (12 DRS, 2.4 UZR). While his speed has obviously diminished, Byrd has continued his decent approach at the plate, 3.66 pitches seen per plate appearance and a return to his more usual walk rate of 5.4%. Still, for Byrd, the key last season seemed to be a more aggressive approach, given that his swing%, strikeout percentage, and power numbers all rose in the same season.


The Mets made a Rays-like move that smelled of arbitrage, flipping in a waiver trade to the Pirates in exchange for hard throwing righty reliever Vic Black and infield prospect Dilson Herrera. Byrd continued to hit in Pittsburgh, and did so until the Buccos lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the ALDS.


So, the Phillies brought back a 36 year old outfielder who has had an up and down career, marred by PED use, with a career wRC+ of 101, and further diminishing speed. MLBTraderumors.com projected Byrd as the 24th best free agent on the market this season, and predicted a contract of 2-years and about $15 million. The 2-year deal will bring Byrd into his age 38 season, after which hopefully the Phillies will forget all about him.


The positives on Byrd are as follows. He's a player who's shown a resurgence, meaning that toughs in his seasonal production most likely won't be permanent lest he comes up injured. He is unequivocally a much better option than Delmon Young in right field, and even if his defense takes a bit of a downturn, he'll still be better overall than Darin Ruf. Byrd played a deep right field in both New York and Pittsbugh, and thus showed great +/- numbers on balls hit over his head, but due to less speed than earlier in his career, his numbers on balls in front of him were less than good. Still, Byrd's throwing capabilities seemed improved, and give the less spacious confines of CBP, he shouldn't be a liability in right.


From a hitting standpoint, Byrd is a right-handed hitter, something everyone involved with the Phillies in one way or another agreed the team needed to add. With lefties like Utley, Howard, Brown, and Asche secured in the lineup, a right-handed bat to split them up was a necessity, and Byrd fits that role. Especially when we consider his .239 ISO and 165 wRC+ against left-handed pitching in 2013, it seems that this right-handed bat could make teams pay who try to bring a left-handed specialist out of the pen in the later innings of a game. Byrd also hit well against righties last season (123 wRC+) with his one major weakness coming against off-speed pitches, especially changeups. Brooksbaseball.net classifies him as aggressive against all types of pitches, but only against off-speed offerings does he come in as poor.


If this contract comes in at anywhere between $8 million to $11 million AAV, the contract could prove as a solid one for the Phillies. The mere fact that the team didn't attempt to sign Byrd for more than 2-seasons a la Raul Ibanez, calms this writer a bit. Moreover, the fact that the Pirates did not offer Byrd a qualifying offer means that by signing him to a contract, the Phillies will relinquish no second round pick, something that should come as a premium for the Phillies given that rebuilding the farm system should remain a top priority. In addition, with the 2014 draft looking to be one of the better ones in recent history, having both a 1st and 2nd round pick as well as a right-handed hitting lefty-mashing MLB outfielder could prove fruitful.


The downside to all of this comes in the form of the fact that Byrd is old. He's on the wrong end of the aging curve for hitters, he's has a recent history of getting himself suspended, and he's coming off of a contract season in which he swung at a lot more pitches and obviously benefited from an inflated BABIP no matter how much that stat did go up due to improved hitting. Fortunately Byrd doesn't have an injury history filled with problems that linger throughout a career, but if his performance isn't worth at least 3.5 fWAR in 2 seasons, fans will wonder why the Phillies didn't more aggressively pursue free agents like Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran. This marks the second outfielder to sign a contract this offseason with David DeJesus's 2-year deal with the Rays coming first. Given the expediency of this deal, it would seem that the Phillies targeted their former player quickly, knowing that he would be seen as a nice fallback plan to numerous teams that might miss out on their top choices on the outfield free agent market.
According to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, the deal reached with Byrd will cost the Phillies $16 million.

That's an $8 million AAV which comes out to about 1.6 fWAR per season, which is the exact number one gets if we divide Byrd's career WAR by the number of seasons he has played. Essentially, with this contract the Phillies are banking on Byrd putting together two career average years or better. Considering inflation and the money the Phillies will be adding with their incipient TV deal, this contract doesn't stand out as an overpay. More importantly, if the Phillies wanted, this would be the time to sell high on youngster Darin Ruf, considering that unless the team considered Ruf a platoon player with Ryan Howard at first base, his playing time will be shrunk to pinch-hitting and the occasional start. Ruf showed some power this past season, is cheap and under team control for the next few years, and is in his prime as a hitter, making him at least a decent trade chip for multiple teams.

Is this contract perfect? I don't think so by any means, but it does seem to solve a number of the Phillies issues and doing so at about market value. The Phillies still have some work ahead of them this offseason, but if Amaro and company continue to make moves like this, it's a solid bet that they won't screw themselves. Fans may not love it, and plenty of pundits may poo poo the deal, but looking at it from an objective standpoint, the Phillies could have done much much worse.

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