Whoever said being a general manager is easy? For as much as most of us try to do it from our couches, office chairs and bus seats, it’s easy to see it’s a difficult task—one that involves challenging decisions in weighing the importance of the present against its impact on the future.
Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners likely face a difficult one in the coming 15 days: are they willing to pay Marlon Byrd $8 million for a season in which he’ll turn 39-years-old? As Jim Bowden reports for ESPN Insider, negotiations between the Mariners, Phillies and Byrd have taken a predictable turn:
The Philadelphia Phillies are not going to have a fire sale. However, they are in "sell" mode based on the conversations general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is having with other GMs this week. Marlon Byrd is the most likely to be dealt first, and although the Phillies and Seattle Mariners match up well in a potential trade, Byrd has a no-trade to the Mariners and won't waive it unless the Mariners agree to vest his option year (2016), something they're not interested in doing at this time.
As I said, this is predictable. Situations like this are exactly why agents include no-trade clauses in contracts. It stands to reason Byrd’s agent identified teams in search of outfielders and managed to structure the deal such that Byrd’s camp would have leverage if he were to be traded to one of those teams. In the NBA, "trade kickers" are popular in contracts. This, effectively, is that.
Now it’s worth noting this, if Bowden is to trusted, is where negotiations stand now. That isn’t to say the only way the Mariners can acquire Byrd is to guarantee him $8 million in 2016. Ultimately, Byrd may decide in the next two weeks that skipping out on a pennant race isn’t worth that guaranteed money. Or, more likely, the Mariners agree to guarantee that 2016 option if the Phillies kick in a little bit of cash.
This is starting to look like a situation where the Mariners may have to decide if they want to give up a little more talent, or money. If the Phillies pick up a bigger portion of the contract, they may want an extra or more talented piece in return. On the other end, if they assume the entirety of the contract, it may cost lest in prospects for the Mariners.
It’s a daunting thing to think about because, as I wrote yesterday, there may be some level of hesitation among the Mariners and this ownership group when it comes to spending money on these mid-level deals.
But, to be fair, I should have been more clear. It isn’t that the financial burden should not be weighed in deals like this. It’s just that it shouldn’t be the sole prohibitory factor. If the front office believes Byrd to be worth it—which, really, we’re looking at about 3 wins over 2.5 years—then ownership should pull the trigger and make the resources available.
On whether or not he’s worth it, Philly.com’s David Murphy makes an interesting supply-side point on Byrd’s value in relation to his contract.
While you might think that Byrd's contract would be a detriment, a close inspection of the market suggests otherwise. Byrd is currently owed about $3.3 million for the rest of this season, plus $8 million for next season. So that's a total of $11.5 million guaranteed. That's not a heck of a lot different than the roughly $8.7 million Alex Rios is guaranteed. That includes a $1 million buyout of a team option for next season. If an acquiring team were to exercise that option, it would owe Rios $13.5 million in 2015. Byrd has a vesting option for 2016 based on plate appearances. But even if that option vests, Byrd would earn $19.5 million from now until the end of his current deal, which is less than the roughly $21 million that Rios would get for the rest of this season and next season.
Rios has a solid .305/.333/.440 line (112 OPS+) but only four home runs. Byrd is hitting .263/.315/.479 (119 OPS+) with 18 home runs.
So Byrd > Rios in both production and contract situation, although Rios is four years younger.
Byrd also outdoes Rios in wRC+, where he leads 119 to 105. For reference, Kendrys Morales posted a 118 wRC+ during his one season with the Mariners.
Of course, we're talking not only about the present, but the future. Though the Oliver projection system—the drunk overly-optimistic or overly-pessimistic guy of projection models—has Byrd posting 1.9 fWAR in 2016, that's tough to bank on. On the one hand, Byrd doesn't even match his 2013 output to make this his hypothetical 2.5-year Mariners tenure worth it from a dollars per win perspective. On the other hand, you don't want to be paying $6-8 million per win when looking at such quantities.
Then, finally, there's an opportunity cost with everything. Do the Mariners want to lock Marlon Byrd into a corner outfield spot when internal and external candidates may prove more viable? Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton wil be free agents before the 2016 season—but how often do good young players even reach free agency anymore?
There's a lot to think about, and I don't blame the Mariners taking their time in considering a deal.
So to cap it off, what would you do? Would you be willing to take the plunge for two-and-half years of Marlon Byrd?