This afternoon, the Mariners at least addressed what appeared to be one of their most pressing concerns by picking up Eric Byrnes for a year at the league minimum. With luck, Byrnes solves our lack of a right handed outfielder to platoon with whichever one of Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans makes the big club out of spring training. Before going more in-depth as to Byrnes's abilities, let me make clear that he is essentially free, and if he doesn't work out, he's very easy to let go. The Diamondbacks are responsible for the vast, vast majority of his contract, and if the Mariners release him and he signs with another team, they just assume our burden. In a sense, Byrnes costs no money at all, because what we're paying him is the minimum we could play anyone on with a place on the team. In other words, this absolutely does not preclude the team going a different direction if something interesting comes up.
What Byrnes does cost is Tommy Everidge, who is bad. I wouldn't worry about that one. Everything clear regarding opportunity cost, etc? Good.
So, Eric Byrnes. Let's start with the bad, since he did get released by Arizona after all. There are more than a few reasons they didn't want him around anymore. He gets hurt a lot. When he's hurt (he's torn both hamstrings in the past two years) he tries to play anyway, and is unsurprisingly terrible, leading to him getting his playing time cut due to his poor performance (apparently this is more manly than just sitting out when you're hurt). He's barely seen any time with the Diamondbacks over the past two years, which pissed them off because they're paying him lots of money to be awful on the bench and pisses him off because he has the 'I'm Eric Byrnes, bitch!' thing going on. So, performance, injury, and attitude problems. Did I mention he won't be able to help at all in the infield? He's an outfield-only guy.
His numbers over the past couple of years are not exactly impressive, either. .206/.272/.369 in 52 games in 2008 would fit in wonderfully with our lineup that year, and his on-base percentage actually contrived to get worse last year with a lovely little .226/.270/.393 line. And just when you were all starting to forget how Yuniesky Betancourt and Kenji Johjima popped the ball up all the damn time, Eric Byrnes has occaisionally given them a run for their money. Not individually, combined. Infield fly balls don't often go for hits, and almost 15%(!) of the balls Byrnes puts in play are popped up. He's not the sort of guy you want to see with a runner on third and less than two outs.
So, uh... the good. Well, once upon a time, Eric Byrnes was a pretty nifty, if overrated player. He's above-average defensively, if prone to both absurd flashiness and some amusing defensive gaffes, and he was a pretty good hitter prior to 2008, routinely posting wOBAs in the .340-.360 range with the Athletics and the Diamondbacks. When he was hitting well, he had ok plate discipline and made pretty good contact, even hitting for power on occasion. If his decline is more injuries than talent (at 34, he's not young, but he shouldn't be at falling-off-a-cliff territory yet), and he's healthy, he's a pretty good player. And even when he's not that healthy, he can be of some use to the team. Observe:
Figure 1: Eric Byrnes platoon split, 2006-2009
Byrnes has a massive platoon split. I've highlighted the last few years, but it's true of his whole career. He torches left-handed pitching to the point that even when he was hitting for a .206 average overall, he OPS'd .817 against them. There's room in the roster for a platoon out in left field, and if both sides of it can put up average defence and hit a little bit against opposite-handed pitching, we can squeeze some production out of the position. Would I have preferred someone better? Yep. Do I think the Mariners should keep looking to improve in left? Of course. But honestly, if they want to focus on something else (like another decent starter and, I don't know, going to a six-man bullpen), I wouldn't be too annoyed with the way left field has turned out.
Also: Stone has some good quotes from Byrnes in his latest post. Guy says all the right things.