Marlon Byrd was a cheap acquisition. With the Phillies kicking in $4 million for 2015, Byrd’s cost to the Reds is just a cool $4 million. Heck, the team is spending more than that to pay a 36-year-old outfielder not to play for them. ByrdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vesting option for 2016 is unlikely to be triggered. If the Reds fall out of contention or if Byrd doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t produce at hoped-for levels, it will be easy for Byran Price to sit Byrd enough to keep his plate appearances under 550. ByrdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s age also makes trips to the DL probable.
The Reds dodged important potholes. They avoided signing a long-term free-agent contract. They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t commit to another empty-OBP slap hitter at the top of the lineup. They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t trade away any more of their starting players or top ten prospects.
Ben Lively was dealt from organizational depth. Various services ranked him #11-12 in the Reds system. The club has several right-handed pitchers ahead of Lively. Could he have become a serviceable bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Reds? Sure. But Lively’s chance was remote, as it is for any non-top-100 prospect.
If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a card-carrying member of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Reds should punt 2015Ã¢â‚¬Â pessimist society, the Byrd acquisition was the best you could hope for, given that actual punting was never going to happen with Bob Castellini as owner. Trading for a low-cost, one-year playerÃ‚Â is the least the Reds could realistically do.
However, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Reds should compete in 2015Ã¢â‚¬Â camp (as I am) the new left fielder is far from the impact offensive player for which you had hoped.
The main problem with Marlon Byrd is the grinding, irresistible gravitational force of Father Time. Like gravity, aging curves are laws of nature, not to be wished away.
Byrd will turn 38 in August. HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the list of major league players in 2014 who made at least 400 plate appearances at age 37 or older: Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Torii Hunter and Carlos Beltran. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the list. Each suffered severe decline in offense, defense or both from the previous year or two. Unlike in 2006, the last time a Walt Jocketty built team won the World Series, the odds are substantially against 37-year-old players contributing today, in the post-steroid, post-amphetamine era.
This is no knock on Marlon Byrd. But for the Reds to expect him to put up the numbers he did in 2014 is nuts. Yesterday, Walt Jocketty referred to the 2013 Byrd to justify signing up for the outfielder’s 2015 season. Jocketty’s reference was deeply disingenuous. Decide for yourself if he was being intentionally misleading or severely out of touch with reality. Neither of those interpretations is flattering for the Reds general manager. And it’s not like Byrd’s 2014 was all that.Ã‚Â His OPS was .757. Joey Votto’s OPS last year – last year – was .799.
To judge this trade, simply look at what the Reds said they wanted to do this offseason. Jocketty had explained in recent months that the club was looking to do something differently offensively. He pointed out that runners on base were down quite a bit and that the club hasÃ‚Â a lot of strikeout guys right now. Jocketty said they wanted a hitter who could get on base and who strikes out less.
In Marlon Byrd, they signed a hitter who had the seventh highest strikeout rate in the major leagues. He struck out more than Jay Bruce. Byrd had the third-lowest BB/K rate. He hardly ever walks, so if his batting average declines, as one would expect due to aging, his on-base percentage will quickly fall below .300. One system (Steamer) that has published projections for Byrd estimates his average will fall from .264 to .245 and his OBP decline from .312 to .294.
Targeting Marlon Byrd runs directly counter to the Reds stated goals for the offseason. They got boxed in by their failure to make earlier trades or a free agent signing. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to imagine if Byrd really was the Reds guy all along that they would have been preaching those platitudes about OBP and strikeouts.
Walt Jocketty also described Marlon Byrd as a big bat. Byrd is not.Ã‚Â Devin Mesoraco (.893) is a big bat. ByrdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bat in 2013 was big (.847), but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the Marlon Byrd who will play everyday for the Reds in 2015. ByrdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2014 OPS ranked just behind the big bats of Brian Dozier and Adam Eaton.
Byrd is, however, at an age where severe decline looms and sudden collapse a real possibility. The bright flashing red light ahead is his rising strikeout rate: 16% (2011), 20% (2012), 25% (2013), 29% (2014). A big bust is more likely than a big bat.
Then there is the issue of his defense.Ã‚Â Marlon Byrd has played *two* games in LF since 2009. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s started in LF a total of 121 games over his 13-year career. When asked about this yesterday, Byrd said Ã¢â‚¬Å“I play center field, right field, I came up playing left field. I hope itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like riding a bike.Ã¢â‚¬Â (Rosecrans) For the record,Ã‚Â Byrd has played CF two times in the past two seasons.
Defensive metrics on Byrd are split over his 2014 performance. They range from mildly positive to mildly negative. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to imagine a 37-year-old player moving to a new position will put up a plus defensive performance. Playing left field in the major leagues is more difficult than riding a bike.
In defending the trade, both Jocketty and Price trotted out the hoary notion of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“intangiblesÃ¢â‚¬Â that Marlon Byrd offers the Reds clubhouse. Bracket off the debate about whether intangibles matter in professional sports. Bracket whether the Reds, who are now a veteran team, would benefit from a new playerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s intangibles. Ignore the question of whether PED useÃ‚Â is an intangible or not. Suppress the memory of Skip Schumaker being sold similarly as a gritty role-model. Consider this: Marlon Byrd has played in 13 major league seasons and yet with all those intangibles, his teams have reached the postseason only once, the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, a clubhouse he joined for 30 games.
The Reds needed a hitter with a good on-base percentage who practices plate discipline, not one with a talking point of squishy veterany goodness. Walt Jocketty has given plenty players their last-gasp contract. It’s his well-worn move. Ask former Cardinal Jim Edmonds. Or former Cardinal Miguel Cairo. Or former Cardinal Edgar Renteria. Although, this time instead of using his habitual move for a bench player, Jocketty is risking it with the Reds starting left-fielder and middle-of-the-order bat.
The Reds’ offseason moves in total have been correct in a general sense. They traded pitching (Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Lively) for hitting (Byrd, Eugenio Suarez). They are operating under a rising payroll, but still faced real budget constraints. And yes, the left fielder acquisition could have been worse.Ã‚Â Marlon Byrd was cheap. But you don’t get what you don’t pay for.
Are the Reds better today than they were before the Byrd trade? You bet.
However,Ã‚Â “better than Skip Schumaker” is a low, low bar.