Jim Salisbury goes one-on-one with Ruben Amaro
Marlon Byrd signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies on Tuesday. (USA Today Images)
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It wasn’t long ago that the Phillies targeted big prizes on the offseason trade and free-agent markets.
One winter they dealt for Roy Halladay. The next they signed Cliff Lee.
Last winter they made modest additions, but keep in mind, they spent $144 million on Cole Hamels earlier in the year.
It’s different now. The Phils’ signing of Marlon Byrd, a third-tier free agent in this market, as the right-handed power bat they’ve craved proves that.
“We don't have unlimited dollars to spend,” general manager Ruben Amaro said. “So we have to make sure we get the best bang for the buck. Hopefully we did that with Marlon and the other players we're pursuing.”
The Phillies had four players -- Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Ryan Howard -- with contracts that averaged over $20 million last year. Halladay is a free agent now, but Lee, Hamels and Howard remain, and their contracts all average at least $24 million.
“We have a lot of them,” said Amaro, referring to players in the $20 million club.
“It strikes to your flexibility when you have too many of those. You want to try to stay as flexible as you can be. It's not about spending, but about getting the right people and pieces.”
Byrd, 36, comes to the Phillies on a two-year contract worth $16 million. There are bonuses and an option for 2016 attached to the deal.
A deal worth $8 million per season is surely significant, especially considering Byrd signed for just $700,000 when his career appeared to be on the skids last winter. But it’s not as significant as some of the outfielders in this market are seeking. Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury will look to top Jayson Werth money ($126 million over seven years) and Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson could all top $15 million per season for more than two years guaranteed.
Byrd comes with risk, but the Phils liked the price.
“The asking prices are tall as they always are,” Amaro said. “We just felt like we had some guys we wanted to target.”
Byrd will play right field and projects to hit fifth, behind Ryan Howard. If he is the same player who hit .291 with 24 homers, 88 RBIs and a .511 slugging percentage during a career year in 2013, he will be worth the money.
If he’s the guy that struggled in 2011 and 2012 (he hit .260 with 10 homers, 44 RBIs and a .663 OPS) and was hit with a PED suspension, he won’t be.
“I think Marlon fits what we're trying to do,” Amaro said. “He's a solid outfielder. We've improved our defense, for starters. He’s a good person. He has power. He can hit against left-handers. We were weak against left-handers last year. He's been pretty consistent with his ability to produce against left-handers.”
Byrd hit .344 with eight homers, 31 RBIs and a .959 OPS against lefties last season.
Amaro said his scouts believe Byrd will be closer to the player he was in 2013 than the previous two seasons.
“We talked to our scouts about how his swing path and approach changed,” Amaro said. “He's worked on it. I have to trust my scouts on it.”
Amaro also has to trust that Byrd won’t violate MLB’s drug policy again. Byrd served a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a PED in 2012. Another failed test will equal a 100-game suspension.
Amaro said he spoke with Byrd. He also said the Phillies have some protection in the language of the contract should Byrd test positive again. He would not say what that language was.
“It's pretty prevalent out there today,” Amaro said of PEDs. “Who knows who is using and how many people are using? Unfortunately it's part of the game. Hopefully it's getting eliminated. The system is doing its job. That's what we have to hope and rely on.”
Amaro did not get optimum results from his offseason work last year. Pitchers John Lannan and Mike Adams got hurt. Delmon Young did not produce as hoped. Michael Young had moments and Ben Revere had two strong months before breaking his ankle. Amaro still needs to add pitching and a catcher, maybe by re-signing Carlos Ruiz, this offseason. This is a big winter for the GM as he looks to build a club that can rebound from its first losing season since 2002 and return to the postseason after a two-year absence. His job could be riding on it.
“I don’t do my job because of job security,” Amaro said. “My job is to try to put us back in contention with the players and personnel that we think are the right guys to do it with. I’m not worried about my job. I’m worried about my team. That’s the bottom line.
“I believe in the players we have; we have a great group of players. We had a terrible year last year. But I think we’re a much better club than we played last year. It’s as simple as that, and we’ll continue to try to continue to improve.”