Welcome to another edition of Ruben Tuesdays: A weekly look back at the greatest moves made by the Phillies’ former general manager Ruben Amaro. In this edition, I’ll talk about the time the Phillies needed an outfielder, and beat the free agent market to find a perfectly acceptable one.
Byrd Returns to the Nest
After trading Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the 2012 trade deadline, the Phillies needed another outfielder for the 2013 season. Unfortunately, the free agent market for outfielders became unexpectedly pricey. Guys like Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton were getting superstar money, and even players like Victorino were cashing in.
The Phillies had subtly shifted gears from the “all-in” approach of years prior, and were understandably reluctant to sign an thirty-something outfielder to a long-term deal that would require the sacrifice of a first round draft pick. Instead, they signed Delmon Young to a one-year deal, prompting the unfortunate (and largely misunderstood) quote, “I don’t care about walks, I care about production.”
Young predictably bombed, and the following offseason, the Phillies were once again in pursuit of an outfielder. This time around, Amaro didn’t wait for the market to get out of control. He struck fast and brought back former Phillie Marlon Byrd.
Byrd started off his career with the Phillies, but after a promising rookie season in 2004 (He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting), they soured on him, and traded him to the Washington Nationals for (gulp) Endy Chavez. (Blame Ed Wade for that one.) It took a couple of years, but Byrd eventually developed into a productive player. That might have partially been due to PED-use, for which he was suspended 50 games in 2012.
Supposedly clean, Byrd had a strong season in 2013, splitting time between the Mets and Pirates. Amaro believed that his resurgence was real, and signed him to a two-year deal. Naturally there was a vesting option for a third year, because if there was one thing Amaro loved, it was adding vesting options to deals.
Many people criticized Amaro for signing a soon-to-be 36-year-old to a contract that could potentially last three years. Considering how much the alternatives (Nelson Cruz notwithstanding) were fetching on the market (They could still be paying Jacoby Ellsbury!), and the lack of draft pick compensation attached, it turned out to be a solid deal. The 2014 Phillies were a mess, but Byrd was one of the team’s better players, putting up a .264/.312/.445 line to go along with 25 home runs and acceptable defense in right field.
After that season, the Phillies finally stopped pretending they could maybe contend if everything broke right, and began a full-scale rebuild process. Over the next year, they traded just about everyone with trade value. As part of that movement, Byrd was sent to the Reds in exchange for pitching prospect Ben Lively.
Lively may never become a viable starting pitcher - the Phillies have already traded him - but considering Byrd’s eventual fate, it’s a miracle that they got anything for him. Apparently, Byrd wasn’t quite as done with PEDs as he had led everyone to believe, and in 2016, he received a 162-game suspension that essentially ended his career.
Signing Marlon Byrd was definitely not Ruben Amaro’s flashiest move, nor was it the most impactful. He didn’t make an All-Star team, and the Phillies didn’t come close to making the playoffs. But considering what the team was looking for, and what they eventually received in return, it was certainly a solid move.