The relevance of Marlon Byrd

MLB: New York Mets at New York YankeesLast winter, Mets fans were dying for a free agent transaction. On February 1st, 2013, Sandy Alderson gave us one by signing Marlon Byrd to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. The signing resulted in the unleashing of a collective groan among Mets fans. Byrd’s career had been assumed to be over after a terrible 2012 season that resulted in the former All-Star’s release from the Red Sox in June. When it was found out that the Byrd signing had been done as a favor to a friend by Alderson, the fans groans grew louder. Byrd subsequently made the team out of spring training, with the expectation of being the team’s fourth outfielder. Despite all evidence that he wouldn’t be a productive player again, Byrd would go onto hit 21 home runs, knock in 71 runs and produce an .848 OPS in 117 games as a Met, before being traded in a waiver move to the Pirates, with John Buck, for Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. In the subsequent offseason, the player who had resuscitated his career by playing in the Mexican league after his release from the Red Sox, would sign a two-year, $16 million free agent contract with the Phillies. The Byrd story was somewhat magical and continues to be as his second life as a baseball player has continued.  As of Wednesday night’s action, Byrd has hit 18 home runs, knocked in 52 runs and posted a .797 OPS in 90 games. For 75,000 more dollars, that’s a ton more production than what the Mets have gotten out of Chris Young.

So why bring up Byrd? Because he’s reportedly available and meets a Mets need.

So what do the Mets need? Well let’s clear the table of a few things. The bullpen is fine. It’s full of young arms and pitchers trying to prove that they belong. It will have its up’s and down’s, but that’s to be expected from a group of young pitchers trying to form into what could be a dominant bullpen for years to come. The starting rotation is a strong point and Mets fans have come to expect at least one, and many times more than one, exceptional start each week.

The Mets issues come down to offense and the issues with the offense can be illustrated in Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda.

Let’s start with Granderson. After his first 19 games of the season, Granderson bottomed out at a .116 AVG, one home run and .442 OPS. Inevitable comparisons to Jason Bay were occurring left and right. Since that date, April 22nd, Granderson has hit .272 with an .874 OPS and 13 home runs over 69 games.  If Granderson produced at that level for a whole season, he would hit 30 home runs, well worth the $15 million he’s getting paid on average annually. The issue is that Granderson was brought to this team to provide that 30 home-run power to the cleanup spot behind David Wright. Unfortunately Granderson was totally unsuccessful in that spot in the order and has seen his resurgence come about while hitting leadoff, where over 15 games he’s hit five of those home runs, got on base nearly 38% of the time and produced a .963 OPS. The only place he’s hit in the order better is fifth, where he’s produced a 1.179 OPS over 10 games. So, it appears the Mets have found either their leadoff hitter or a five or six slot hitter, but that still leaves them without a clean-up hitter, which was the whole point of signing Granderson in the first place.

These lineup issues are further illustrated by Tejada. Through his first 39 games, Tejada was producing a paltry .183 batting average and 519 OPS that was bolstered by the fact that he had been walked intentionally 5 times. Taking out those intentional walks, his OPS dropped to .486, the numbers of a player barely surviving in the big leagues. Over his next 38 games, he’s had a completely different season, batting .294 with a terrific .396 OBP and a solid .769 OPS. Basically, the Mets have seen the resurgence of the Tejada from 2011 and 2012. Tejada is also playing the best defense of his career, posting career highs in fielding percentage and range. All of this has led to Tejada having a cumulative WAR of 0.9 after 77 games this season, which is great when one considers that he was barely hitting at a major league level after 39 games. The problem is that Tejada provides nothing in terms of power. A baseball team can handle such a player if they make up for that bat elsewhere, such as in a corner outfield spot. Granderson is providing punch out of right field, but he’s hitting best in the leadoff spot. Left field has been abysmal and has most often been patrolled by Eric Young Jr., who has only minutely better power than Tejada and is also a leadoff type hitter.

When one then looks at d’Arnaud and Duda, the lineup problems become extremely obvious. Duda is having the best season of his career, producing a .223 ISO over 307 plate appearances. That should be ideal numbers for a clean-up hitter, but Duda is strictly a platoon player. Duda is inept against lefties, which has led to a platoon with Eric Campbell after Josh Satin’s poor start. Platoons shouldn’t sit in the middle of the order because of the inconsistent nature of them. A batting order, at its best, has set slots where certain levels of production are expected from the players that man them on a daily basis. Where would the Mets of 1985 through 1987 have been without Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry manning the middle of that order game in and game out? How good would have the Mets of 1998 through 2001 been without Mike Piazza hitting third or fourth? Platoons can be very successful when done right and at this moment, the Duda-Campbell platoon is being done correctly. That platoon though, should be relegated to hitting either fifth or sixth instead of fourth.

In the case of d’Arnaud, his skill set profiles as a power hitter and he could eventually develop into a Mets slugging catcher, which would be a huge plus. Since d’Arnaud’s return from Las Vegas on June 24th, some of that talent has begun to materialize. Over those 13 games, d’Arnaud has hit .300 with a .900 OPS, three home runs and 10 RBI. Those are excellent clean up type numbers, but we’re talking about a young player that is just starting to have success at this level, so it’s not advisable to move him into a higher pressure position in the order at this time.

So, have you figured out the issue? The lineup could be very productive if the team had someone to hit fourth. Byrd could fill that role for now. He makes very little money, is a veteran and has already been successful in New York. Byrd is also an excellent clubhouse guy. The lineup with Byrd hitting fourth would make it so that all of the spots and people have their part to play. Granderson could hit leadoff, where he’s most comfortable. Daniel Murphy, one of the best two hitters in the game, can continue to do what he does from that spot. Wright will have a bit more support behind him, like he did last year  (someone going by the name of Byrd) when he had such an excellent offensive season. After Byrd, the Duda/Campbell platoon could settle into the five spot, or Granderson could when Young Jr. hits leadoff. d’Arnaud can stay comfortable in the seven hole and Tejada can remain where his production is ok, right before the pitcher. That also gives Terry Collins the ability to make sure that Juan Lagares hits anywhere outside of the middle of the order, where his aggression and lack of power isn’t suitable.

Would the Phillies trade Byrd? Reportedly yes, and it’s hard to conceive that the Mets would have to give up all that much to get him. Consider that the Mets got Black and Herrera last year from the Pirates for Byrd and Buck in a season where Byrd was having a better year and was under a miniscule salary amount. The Mets could probably get away with a Single-A pitching prospect and a decent position player prospect. How about something like Hansel Robles or Gabriel Ynoa and Matt Reynolds? Byrd definitely wouldn’t cost Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Herrera, Brandon Nimmo or Kevin Plawecki, and if the Phillies asked for any of those players in return for Byrd, then the Mets should rightly say no. But if the Mets could get him for much less, he’s a player that could make the lineup stable, provide some pop in the middle and potentially put this team a spot where a wild card or division run isn’t totally out of the question.  At the very least, he would help the team become relevant again and push it towards an above .500 record.

The Mets fans have also gotten way to use to being sellers at the trade deadline. This summer, Alderson should go out and buy the Mets some Byrd.

16 comments for “The relevance of Marlon Byrd

  1. eraff
    July 11, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Marlon Byrd may have bigger Trade Deadline value for Richer/Legitimate Pennant Chase Teams.

    His ability, by definition, matches their needs….his age, length of contract do not—the Next Mets Trade should be for a Long Term player—3-6 years…maybe a young guy who is road blocked and Ready (Pederson Type), or a decent, established and under control player… and I’ll assume a low salary.

  2. Name
    July 11, 2014 at 9:41 am

    The premise of your article is based on the fact that we need a cleanup hitter, and that you can’t put someone who is in a platoon cleanup, which is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.
    Remember Ike Davis? He was the guy who was behind Wright from the start to mid-June so I’m not sure where people get this idea that it was Byrd who “protected” Wright. Wright had no “protection” either in 2012 so the whole protection thing is total crap. Wright was great because Wright was great, and it had nothing to do with the guy hitting behind him.

    I don’t mind if we trade for him as long as the price isn’t high, but not for any of the reasons you listed. He basically fills the role that CY was supposed to fill which is as a RH power OF bat. However, i’m hearing that offense will be at a premium this deadline so i don’t expect him to come as cheap as you think. And then there’s the stigma of trading in-division…

  3. Metsense
    July 11, 2014 at 9:42 am

    A very thorough article Scott. Thanks.
    Last winter the Mets passed on two years for Marlon Byrd because of his age and his recent ineptness in 2012. It would have been a two year risk. Now it is a 1 1/2 year risk because older players usually regress. I think CY’s 7.25M, hopefully along with a traded Colon’s 9M and an inrease in budget will be used to obtain a proven impact outfield bat in the 20M annual salary range through trade or free agency this winter. I am referring to an established middle of the order bat.
    I like Byrd and appreciate what he has done but don’t believe he is the solution to get the Mets to the next level.

    • July 11, 2014 at 9:56 am

      It would be a surprise to me if the Mets sunk money into a Granderson-or-better OFer in the next free agent market. You know Granny is going to be there, which leaves two spots.

      My guess is that the Mets think that among Lagares, Nimmo and Conforto they will have two starting OFers for 2017. They’re not going to look for anything more than a two-year commitment, which isn’t going to get you a big bat.

      Scott’s on the right track with a Byrd deal but I think Name is right that he’s not going to be cheap. It’s difficult to imagine Alderson pulling the trigger on this type of deal unless the Mets are within a handful of games of the lead.

      • Metsense
        July 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm

        I would think a trade would be the preferred way to go because it would bring a player with possibly a shorter committment. I really don’t want to waste time waiting for the prospects to develop because every year Wright and Granderson should likely regress. They need that established impact outfield bat in 2015. Harvey is a free agent in 2019 and Boras is his agent. Harvey wants to be the best and get paid the best so if the Mets are not going to commit to an expensive, long term contract for him then expect him to be moved the winter of 2017. That leaves 2015-2016 and 2017. That is the Mets initial window of opportunity with this current team.

  4. Fireman488
    July 11, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I agree bring Marlon back!!!

  5. Darth Wilpon
    July 11, 2014 at 10:07 am

    The Mets should have signed Marlon Byrd than Crappy Chris Young and they wouldn’t have been in this mess now.

    • Steve S.
      July 11, 2014 at 10:48 am

      Agree. The Wilponzis continue to move payroll down. They saved some money for the “big-market team” by having Alderson sign less expensive players (CY, the older relievers) instead of re-signing Byrd and Hawkins.

      It’s a shame, since the Mets only need a power-hitting OFer (Byrd) and Hawkins would have helped a bullpen, which is being overused by Collins (namely, Familia and Torres).

  6. Chris
    July 11, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Good read. I agree that we need a big bat, especially in the cleanup spot. I’m just wondering what would happen with the surplus of outfielders that we already have if we were to trade for Byrd.

  7. Jerry Grote
    July 11, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Compare Marlon Byrd to Josh Willingham – I think you have basically the same player, less financial commitments, not a divisional player, lower profile, contract ends in 2014.

    I’ve been a big fan of Byrd, but Willingham is the lesser cost alternative that basically trades a slightly higher OBP for a slightly lower SLG. OBTW, Josh plays LF, Byrd RF, meaning you can keep Grandy in RF as well.

    My own bet is the next three days resolves that we are not in a pennant race and we’re sellers, not buyers. I think the Marlins will take 2 of 3 and that will end the season.

    • Eraff
      July 11, 2014 at 11:54 am

      Willingham versus Byrd—Marlon Byrd is actually a good baseball player–Willingham is a “bat”… perieod…. neither are a fit for a Deadline Trade to the Mets.

      • Jerry Grote
        July 11, 2014 at 2:23 pm

        whatever. Their overall “value” to any team is almost identical. Total Wins Above Replacement for Byrd is 1.0, .7 for JW in about half the ABs (fangraphs). Their RC+ is almost exactly the same.

        Byrd is only marginally considered a fielder this year and your perception of his being a “total ballplayer” appears to come from last year.

        That being said, they are both *exactly* the kinds of hitters this team needs. One-to-two year rentals, keep the LF seat warm until Conforto gets here.

  8. 3doza33
    July 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Trade for Byrd? First we can’t afford him. Second, the Phillies won’t trade with us. Third, why so terry can play musical chairs with him and ey and Lagares? 4th we aren’t going to the playoffs with him this year. 5th no way I give up those guys for him!!! If we are gonna trade prospects, we better trade for young guys that will be part of our future! That trade makes no sense!

  9. Patrick Albanesius
    July 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    While Byrd might fix some immediate problems, he is not a recipe for future success. This is a team build for tomorrow, not yesterday. We have the trade chips to find a young, impactful bat. If we can find the right guy, it’s possible SA might make a big trade even if we stumble toward the AS break.

  10. DDavis
    July 12, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Hey, it could work. Two caveats: Byrd is going to get old at some point; I would rather not have him on contract for 2015. But I would take that chance; we all heart Marlon.

    The other thought is, if the Mets really did give up Matt Reynolds and Gabe Ynoa, that trade would come back to bite the Mets, down where they do not care to be bitten. I half expect Reynolds to show up at Citifield this year; he hits like Campbell, is a slightly better fielder and is four years younger. And Ynoa should have a major league career too, somewhat farther down the line.

    The time and the circumstance when a net-loss trade like this makes sense is when your team is on the lip of success, and the trade brings a big player in return to fill a vital need. It’s not a crazy proposal but I believe it falls short on both of those areas.

  11. ReneNYK1
    July 18, 2014 at 9:41 am

    At first this sounds ideal but if you study it long term it could cost us.If we really have a shot this year we can do it with the right people playing left.Abreu/Kirk Nieuwenhuis should be the guys there to play a majority of games down the stretch.Reynolds could be a key guy to trade him now for a stop gap is a huge risk especially to Philly.

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