Is Byrd an answer for right field?

 The outfield market was thin to begin with and after a couple transactions during the Winter Meetings, it is now even thinner. The Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to trade Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox dealt Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers. Kemp in particular was a target of the Seattle Mariners who reportedly had a deal in place that would have sent Brad Miller and Michael Saunders to LA for the outfielder and cash.

We have already heard that there is some talk surrounding Dayan Viciedo, a former target of the Mariners, and perhaps they may take a second look at another former player of interest: Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd.

The 37-year old outfielder is coming off consecutive seasons with above average power numbers. Between 2013 and 2014 Byrd has hit 49 home runs and 63 doubles. His batting average took a hit in 2014 however, dropping his wRC+ to 109 compared to a solid 137 in 2013. Given Byrd’s age the decline in performance was not unexpected. He was a 4.1 fWAR player in 2013, a 1.9 fWAR player in 2014, and Steamer projects him to be just above replacement level in 2015 at 0.4 fWAR.

His right-handed bat would still play well in the Mariners lineup, presumably in the No. 6 spot between Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison. The Mariners offseason quest for right-handed hitters saw some resolve when Nelson Cruz was brought onboard. But with Dustin Ackley, Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, Seager, and Morrison expected to play regular roles, the lineup is still heavy on the left side.

While Byrd isn’t a great defender he hasn’t been abysmal in the outfield recently. He was credited with 18 defensive runs saved between 2013 and 2014 and has routinely posted an UZR rating just above the zero mark. The presence of Nelson Cruz, who’s a much worse defender, will limit the number of at bats Byrd could see at designated hitter. Although the free agent splash is likely to still get some time in the field, possibly spending 25 percent of his playing time there.

One of Seattle’s keys to success in 2014 was the strong defence behind the even better pitching staff. Collectively Mariner right fielders were credited with two DRS on the season. The now departed Michael Saunders logged approximately one third of the club’s innings in right. The Canadian’s strong defensive play was offset by the below average performances of Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero who filled in while Saunders was hurt. Byrd has an average throwing arm, but would hurt the Mariners overall defence much less than one may think.

Byrd can hit, get by on defence, and has a relatively affordable contract. He is due $8 million in 2015 and won’t turn 38 until August 30. The problem, as it was at this past year’s trade deadline, is the 2016 vesting option. Byrd’s option — also for $8 million — will vest with 1,100 plate appearances between 2014 and 2015 or 600 plate appearances in 2016. Otherwise it simply becomes a club option with no buyout. He made 637 plate appearances in 2015 meaning he needs to step into the batter’s box just 463 times in 2015 for that option to vest. This should be very manageable provided Byrd stays healthy the entire year.

Also included in Byrd’s contract is a no-trade provision that allows the outfielder to block trades to four teams. Prior to the trade deadline, it was reported that both the Mariners and Kansas City Royals were on that list and Byrd would only waive his rights if the acquiring club were to guarantee his vesting option for 2016.

Prospect Insider has learned that Byrd changed at least one of the four clubs on his no-trade list at the completion of the season. Whether or not he can still block a trade to the M’s is unknown, but there is no evidence to assume he’s removed Seattle from the four teams.

[pullquote]The most prominent trade between the M’s and Phils in recent history was in 2009 when Seattle dealt three marginal prospects for Cliff Lee. One of the better deals GM Jack Zduriencik has made.[/pullquote]

More often than not these no-trade clauses are more about creating player-leverage than an actual playing preference. Byrd was completely willing to come to the Pacific Northwest in July, but only if the M’s agreed to pay him in 2016, too. How far those trade talks ended up going remain to be seen.

The Phillies officially began a rebuild phase when they dealt veterans Jimmy Rollins and Antonio Bastardo during the Winter Meetings. It is believed that Cole Hamels will be the next player to go. The club is also looking to deal Ryan Howard and his albatross contract. Byrd is very much available, at the right price.

So far only the Baltimore Orioles have been connected to Byrd with a meeting between the O’s and Phillies took place during the Winter Meetings where the outfielder was discussed. It’s unclear what the Phillies are looking for in return, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t give his outfielder away to save cash or open a spot.

His club is probably not looking for any type of player in particular other than prospects or a major leaguer with significant club control. The trade of Rollins does open up the middle of the infield and create further uncertainty on the left side. Brad Miller has seen his name pop up in several trade rumors — including conversations regarding Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals — but is too much to give up for an aging outfielder. Chris Taylor is also expected to be held on to unless there is a bigger return. Katel Marte could be of interest to the Phillies as the prospect has seen is stock rise greatly in the past year.

The Mariners seem more likely to be willing to trade prospects that are still at least a year or two away from the major leagues. Outfielders Gabriel Guerrero and Austin Wilson could be of interest as well as pitchers Victor Sanchez and Tyler Pike. Catcher John Hicks could also make sense for the Phillies who have veteran backstop Carlos Ruiz under contract for two more years with no clear succession plan.

Philadelphia is reportedly willing to include cash in a deal if it improves the return. Seattle is more than capable of handling Byrd’s $8 million salary in both 2015 and 2016. There is also enough mid-level prospect depth to deal a Wilson or a Pike and not hurt the health of the system.

For what it’s worth, even if Byrd didn’t require his 2016 option to be guaranteed in a deal he would waive his no-trade clause for, there is a very good chance he’ll make enough plate appearances for the option to vest. It certainly is risky to give the guarantee, but $8 million isn’t much more than the $6 million plus incentives Seattle agreed to pay Corey Hart in 2014.

If the Mariners can work out a reasonable trade for Byrd, they shouldn’t let his option be a deterrent. On the free agent market Nick Markakis got a four-year, $44 million commitment from the Atlanta Braves and veteran Torii Hunter will earn $10.5 million for the 2015 season. The cost of free agents will not be going down any time soon and Byrd will only have to be a fringe-average player to equate his salary in terms of free agent value.

Byrd will help the Mariners in 2015. Right now James Jones and Romero are slated to cover right field duties and that simply isn’t good enough for a club with playoff aspirations.

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Tyler Carmont

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