No Nelson Cruz, no Curtis Granderson, Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, and no trade for a right fielder. The Phillies filled their outfield vacancy on Monday by signing 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal worth $16 million.
The move was met with some criticism, mostly about Byrd's age and recent PED bust. Byrd tested positive in 2012 for tamoxifen, a chemical found in the medication Nolvadex, which Byrd was using to reduce the excess tissue in his breasts. Turned out, tamoxifen was banned by MLB and Byrd paid the price for not doing his homework.
He had a career year in 2013, hitting .291/.336/.511 with 24 homers, 88 RBI and 35 doubles. Pretty much a Hunter Pence season. But there's this unfounded opinion swirling that Byrd was mediocre prior to that. He wasn't. He hit .291/.346/.445 from 2007-11 with full-season averages of 16 homers and 38 doubles. No matter how rosy your outlook is for Darin Ruf, if Byrd can come close to those numbers he'll be an upgrade, both offensively and defensively.
And defense is the other aspect of this. The Phils had been looking to improve their outfield defense and did so with Byrd, who's graded out positively in the outfield in seven of the last nine seasons based on Fangraphs' stats.
It's hard to hate this move, especially without knowing what is to come from Amaro. David DeJesus, a lesser player, got $10 million over two years from Tampa Bay several weeks ago. That is just how the market is. Byrd was going to find a deal in this range from somebody, and the Phillies' needs dictated that it was them.
If Byrd produces at close to his 2013 level, this is a steal. Again, it would be Pence-like production for less than half the annual commitment, and three fewer years. If the worst case scenario plays out and Byrd fails ... well, the Phils are on the hook for only two years. It would be another Mike Adams situation.
This puts the Phillies at around $131.5 million in committed payroll to nine players: Byrd, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Adams and Miguel A. Gonzalez.
Toss in cost-controlled salaries for Kyle Kendrick, Freddy Galvis, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Cody Asche, Ruf, Antonio Bastardo and a few young relievers, and we're looking at about $145 million for 19-20 players. The luxury tax threshold increases to $189 million this season, so the Phils are still about $30-32 million under it, when you account for 40-man roster player costs and bonuses.
That's enough money to sign a difference-making starting pitcher, acquire bullpen help and either re-sign Carlos Ruiz or snag a veteran catcher. Jim Salisbury reported Monday afternoon the Phils are still looking into Peter Bourjos (via trade), and at free-agents Bronson Arroyo and Joe Smith.
Inking Byrd for two years and $16 million gives the Phillies so much more flexibility than they'd have with Nelson Cruz at two years/$32 million, and that's the low end of what Cruz was going to find.