Phillies Sign Marlon Byrd to 2 Year Deal

As first reported by WIP (over my snarky skepticism), and confirmed by Ken Rosenthal, the Phillies have inked outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two year contract. Adam Rubin reports the total dollar amount at $16 million.

It’s not an offseason until Ruben Amaro comes flailing into the free agent market like a freshly birthed giraffe. And we didn’t have to wait too long this go around. The timing is, to say the least, distressing. Handing Byrd something substantially more than a low risk one off affair long before any of the most coveted outfielders in free agency are off the table suggests either that Amaro is establishing some cost certainty before pursuing an even less advisable contract, or plans on bestowing upon Byrd the Delmon Young Memorial “Inexplicably Penciled-In Starter” Prize for 2014.

This is a shame, because there is probably something left in Marlon Byrd, were he deployed properly (stop me if you’ve heard this about a Phillies acquisition before). He’s fresh off a career year, having, at age 35, posted a .291/.336/.511 line in 579 plate appearances while manning primarily right field for the Mets and Pirates in 2013. His 136 wRC+ would have, sadly, led all qualified 2013 Phillies hitters.

Without any noticeable improvement in line drive rate, he boosted his 2013 BABIP to .353, which, I think it’s fair to say, is not representative of his contact skill and speed. If Ruben inked him while dreaming on another four win season from the outfielder, he will be disappointed.

This would theoretically be OK depending on Byrd’s role. From 2011 to present, he has managed a .351 wOBA against left-handed pitching, walking and striking out at roughly a league-average rate, and posting a .189 ISO against them. Last season, he hit .344/.376/.583 against southpaws. Considering the recent consternation about the lack of right-handed power in the lineup, Byrd is a pretty decent platoon candidate. Though he wants for a plausible partner. Domonic Brown is almost certainly a full-time starter in 2014, and Mayberry, if the Phillies are intent upon keeping him around, has the same platoon tendencies. Even if the Phillies wanted to attempt something creative with the lefty Ben Revere, he has only exhibited an insignificant or slightly inverted split.

The signing would seem to indicate, thankfully, that the Phillies don’t see Darin Ruf as a full time corner outfielder (dare I to hope that they platoon Ruf with Ryan Howard at first base? No, I dare not). It also appears that Ruben will avoid the potential pit falls of larger contracts for corner outfielders such as Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran. By Todd Zolecki’s reckoning, the Phillies have about $76.5 million in headroom under the luxury tax threshold, not yet including arbitration salaries for 4 players, 3 of whom will certainly be tendered. So while the salary, as well as Byrd’s quick acceptance, implies a starting role, it may not be the largest 2014 payout issued by the team. If Ruben is still intent on improving the offense, considering the current roster and the market, center field and catcher are two obvious places remaining at which to do so.

Then again, it’s possible that Amaro sees this as a hard day’s work, re-signs Carlos Ruiz, and rolls with an outfield of Brown, Revere, and Byrd. In which case, one concerning and all too likely outcome is that Byrd’s bat tumbles back below league average, Revere runs himself into the ground trying to accommodate Marlon’s listless stumbling in the corner, and the Phillies make no real net improvement in the 8 man lineup over 2013. In which case, there is a lot of work to be done on the pitching staff.

On the face of it, this looks like yet another potentially useful role player who will be overused and overcompensated by a team that is flush with them — one for whom 1 year, $4 million dollars would have been far more appropriate. But we can’t know for sure yet. And then again, there is this to consider:

Pessimism can be a bit more carefree. Stay tuned for possible complementary moves.

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