Despite staring at a free-agent market flush with All-Star outfield bats, the Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a 2-year, $16 million contract.
It's a steep pay raise for the Phillies' 10th-round draft pick in 1999: Byrd, now 36, made just $700,000 in 2013 when he revived his career after being dealt a 50-game suspension for taking performance ennhancing drugs in 2012.
Byrd hit .291 with a career-high 24 home runs and .847 OPS in 147 games with the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. His deal with the Phillies includes a club option and a vesting option for 2016, meaning it could turn into an even more lucrative 3-year deal.
"Marlon adds a significant upgrade both offensively and defensively to our outfield," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a press release. "He has been particularly productive against lefthanded pitching, which was a serious challenge for us this past season. He is an experienced middle-of-the-order hitter who creates some balance to our lineup."
In 12 seasons with the Phillies, Nationals, Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, Mets and Pirates, Byrd has hit .280 with a .336 on-base percentage and .761 on-base plus slugging percentage. Byrd, a rightfielder who ranked ninth in the NL with 10 assists last season, hit .344 with a .583 slugging percentage against lefthanded pitching in 2013.
His contract with the Phillies became official last night, several hours after it was first reported by Sports Radio 94WIP. Although he wouldn't talk specifically about Byrd before the deal was official, Amaro was asked if he'd feel comfortable going into 2014 with a outfield setup of Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and his reported new signing.
"Yes, I would - much more comfortable than I was in the past," Amaro said.
Phillies outfielders hit .259 with a .407 slugging percentage and .720 OPS in 2013, falling short of the major league averages for outfielders in each category (.262, .415, .741). And those numbers were calculated with Brown's All-Star numbers included.
Whether Byrd is the upgrade the Phillies need to boost their outfield production is highly debatable, especially when the likes of Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz also are free agents.
Amaro did, however, said it was "possible" the Phillies could add another outfielder. The Phils could do so by trading a player (Brown is the team's only attractive, major league-ready trade chip) or by moving Revere into part-time duty.
"We've got multiple things we've worked on," Amaro said when asked if a player like Byrd could solve the Phillies' outfield woes. "We're not going to be able to get them all done externally. But we're going to continue to try to improve the club in those areas we're trying to improve it. We could look for more outfield help, we could look for more depth. There are a lot of things we could still work on."
The Phillies still have plenty of work to do.
They need a catcher and would like to re-sign Carlos Ruiz to fill that void. They will probably sign at least one starting pitcher. They also need bullpen help.
If Byrd's contract details are as reported, the Phillies would have just under $40 million to address the remainder of the roster in the next 3 months if they hope to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.
"We're just looking for the best bang for our buck," Amaro said. "We have a lot of holes to fill. We won't be able to fill them all from outside, but we're trying to get the best value we possibly can."
Amaro obviously believes Byrd is a value signing, although the deal caused a lot of dropped jaws inside the lobby of the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, the site of this week's general manager meetings.
Just 17 months earlier, Byrd was release in midseason by the Boston Red Sox. Two weeks later, in June of 2012, Byrd was levied a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a PED.
Two springs ago, Byrd admitted to working in the past with Victor Conte, whose San Francisco-area lab was in the middle of the Barry Bonds steroid scandal. If Byrd were to test positive again, he would face a 100-game suspension.
Byrd stayed clean in 2013 and proved to be one of baseaball's best bargains for the Mets. After signing 2 weeks before spring training for $700,000, Byrd hit .285 with 21 home runs in 117 games with New York.
He was traded to Pittsburgh in late August, as the Pirates tried to nail down their first postseason berth in 21 years. Byrd hit .318 with three home runs in 30 games with the Pirates; he also hit .364 (8-for-22) with a home run and five RBI in six postseason games with the Pirates last month.
As a Phillie, Byrd finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2003. In 2005, the Phillies traded him to Washington for Endy Chavez. He was an All-Star with the Cubs in 2010.
"With his talent and clubhouse presence," Amaro said, "we believe Marlon will be a solid addition to our club as we address our needs and plan to contend in 2014 and beyond."
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21