Well, yes, he has, kind of:
He’s become a one-dimensional slugger who’s even more one-dimensional than Cruz.
But anyone who can lift that HR% number over 4% is a rare commodity. Only 35 qualified hitters did it in 2013, and Byrd was one of them. There were 21 right-handed hitters. Byrd was one of those, too.
So far in 2014, there are 30, of whom 21 are right-handed. Again, Byrd is in that group.
And the Mariners?
The last time a Mariner RH hitter went a full season with a 4.0% or better HR-rate?
Did you guess Jay Buhner?
Good guess, but actually Adrian Beltre did it in 2008. But still … a long time.
These charts show him getting to most of what is “gettable” and only missing a few. Not spectacular. Not ugly. Fan scouting reports rank him about average. UZR has him negative this year, although it has had him positive in the past, including 2013. From the above charts, I’m not certain what he’s being penalized for.
So we agree that he’s offering a cold drink of water to the Mariners’ parched right-handed lineup (in which Willie Bloomquist and the departed Cole Gillespie have been given starring roles). There are still some issues:
1. The Vesting Option
Byrd has a vesting option for 2016, at $8 million, if he gets to 1100 plate appearances in 2014 and 2015, with at least 550 in 2015.
Yes, you would have signed Cruz for 2/$16M, and Byrd is our reasonable facsimile of Cruz (lesser, but reasonable). But 3/$24M? That’s pretty steep.
But wait. It turns out that Byrd is not Mr. Durability. In fact, he’s only exceed 550 PA four times in his whole career. Based on history, he’s actually quite unlikely to go over that total twice in a row.
Plus … those four years were probably his four best. So if he’s getting that many trips to the plate, he’s probably having a good year, and maybe it’s worth it to keep him around.
2. The PED Suspension
Byrd was busted in 2012, but his huge power spike came in 2013. That doesn’t mean he’s not on some regimen that’s helped him avoid getting caught (I don’t really trust anyone any more), but with Cruz and others coming back from suspensions and signing big deals, I suppose he’s not any bigger risk than anyone else.
Although there are aspects of his a career that are fishy, it does seem that this particular power spike coincides with a change in approach at the plate that we can see in the data. It could be chemically enhanced, but he’s had awful years that were enhanced as well.
Of course, if he’s busted again, that will eliminate the chance of getting the vested option. So there’s that.
3. The No-Trade Clause
Byrd has no-trade protection for four teams, and Seattle is one. But he’s indicated that he didn’t really mean it and would be open to waiving it.
If the Mariners are going to take on the full contract, including the vesting option, then I don’t think they’d need to give up a ton of value to get Byrd. The Phillies are aging and seem to be going nowhere fast. They need help in their farm system and younger players in general. [In fact, with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and several pitchers well over 30, it’s kind of hard to figure why they went for 36-year-old Byrd in the first place. If they thought they’d make one last run with that crew, well it ain’t happening.]
The Mariners have plenty of prospects, both pitchers and hitters. Do you use the Nick Franklin card here? I’d try to save him for a more well-rounded player, but there aren’t exactly a boatload of those available right now. And with Franklin a bit diminished by his current status as runner-up to Brad Miller, and having struggled in his last couple of MLB tryouts, he may not attract top value back.
But I would hope the Phillies would go for a lesser package. Seattle has a bunch of bullpen arms, many of whom have MLB experience. And the AA lineup is packed with guys who won’t all fit into the Mariners plans (Patrick Kivlehan, Dan Paolini, John Hicks, Dario Pizzano, Julio Morban, Leon Landry). It would be easy to send two or three guys to Philly and hardly miss them.
I don’t view the risk of the third year vesting as a major issue. If it vests, it will be because he’s been contributing. If Safeco eats him for lunch it won’t vest. It’s not an ideal contract to take on, but for a guy hitting homers at a 4+% clip, it’s not outrageous. And the contract makes it less likely that the M’s will need to give up a very top prospect to get him.
I’m still wary, but not as much as I was when I started.
One-dimensional is OK when it’s the one dimension you need.