BY PAUL MANCANO—The MLB Winter Meetings have exited the building and taken with them the Phillies’ all-time greatest shortstop. As Rollins is shipped to Hollywood and Bastardo is booted to the Armpit of the Northeast, many of the Phillies’ ancients still lie decaying on the 40-man roster. Though time remains for a deal or two to be made, the first major milestone of the 2014-15 offseason has come and gone, and Ryan Howard, Cole Hamles, Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Marlon Byrd are still on the payroll. For a team that claims to have begun the rebuilding process, there hasn’t been a whole lot of rebuilding going on.
Granted, some of Ruben Amaro Jr.’s inactivity is understandable. Howard has less trade value than the week-old Kung Pao Chicken sitting in my fridge. Cole is only 30, and, with several more years of productivity being likely, should be a good trade piece for years to come. Paps lost his value when he grabbed his paps in that game in Septmember. The closest thing to Chooch’s heir apparent has two first names. And I can’t bear to see Chase wearing anything but red pinstripes, so he better not go anywhere.
One there’s one guy still on the payroll who has no reason to be: Marlon Byrd. Though murmurings of a deal with the Orioles could be heard in the echoes of Jim Salisbury’s Twitter feed, nothing was materialized (maybe because they tried to slide in Howard). While the list of teams that need a third outfielder seems to be dwindling more and more every day, Amaro sits, picking his teeth.
I’m baffled. I’m befuddled. I’ve puzzled and puzzled, and my puzzler is pretty damn sore.
The media consensus on the lack of trade is that the team has not gotten a good enough offer yet. That they should not “be in any hurry” to trade Byrd. That they do not “feel compelled” to trade Byrd.
Well, why the hell not?
It took years for this organization to finally admit that it’s rebuilding. They won’t compete for at least two years, they said. Yeah, no crap.
So if you’re going to suck for another two years, what good is an outfielder whose assuredly off the team by then? Byrd will not be a member of the team when it’s good enough to make a playoff run again, whether it’s in two years or 20. By the time the 2016 season is over, he will be 39 years old. Why not get something for him now, while he’s still under contract?
And why wait to deal Byrd at all? True, he had a standout season in 2014. The man jacked 25 homers (the highest total in his 13-year career) and knocked in 85 runs (the third-highest of his career) while hitting .264. His impressive year has lulled some Phillies fans into hateful lethargy. He’s a good player, they think. We can’t just give him away.
No, we can’t just give him away, but we really must temper our expectations of the return he’ll warrant.
What are the odds that Byrd has a season like the one he had in 2014 ever again? Slim to none.
Byrd’s value will never be higher, I can promise you that. If he’s to be traded, he must be traded now. In fact, I was eager to deal him at the deadline this past season, and was frustrated when he was not. Unsurprisingly, Byrd’s production lagged in the last two months of the season. His average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all fell, and he drove in just seven runs and failed to homer in all 21 games in the month of September.
Once the 2015 season starts, there’s a very good chance Byrd’s stock drops. We can’t get too caught up in waiting for the right offer.
It’s almost a guarantee that the best offer we got at the 2014 trade deadline is much better than anything we’re getting now, and the best offer we’re getting now is much better than anything we’ll get at the 2015 deadline.
If Amaro decides to get too picky with the offers for Byrd, the following will almost certainly come to pass: Byrd shows signs of decline in 2015, and likely battles injury. His stock plummets, and by August 1st, he’s still a Phillie, now bummin’ his way to $8 mill. As 2015 season ends, he’ll have just barely met the 1100 plate appearance threshold required for the player option, and he picks it up. And why should he not? It’s free money. Ten or so months later, he retires. And just like that, the Marlon Byrd Era (2.0) has ended unceremoniously.
And what did we get from the guy? One good year and two bad ones. $24 million out the door. No prospects. No closure. And still a gaping hole in right field.
I appreciate what Marlon did on the field in 2014—I really do. He made this team slightly more watchable than a tire fire—well, that might be too generous. He was, unquestionably, the best position player on this team. But being the best player on the 2014 Phillies is akin to being the funniest episode of Season 4 of Arrested Development. (Some guy reading this is going “Heeeyy, I liked the Season 4!” No you didn’t, dude. No you didn’t. They let you down, and you know it.) He’s a casualty of an organization that has made poor decisions.
The clock is ticking on Byrd. If this team is truly committed to a rebuild—and I’m still not convinced it is—Marlon Byrd must go, and he must go before pitchers and catchers make the trip down to Clearwater in February.