In 2007, the Phillies paid these guys $1.26 million combined. That season, the Phillies won their first of five straight National League East titles and the two bargain outfielders would be key contributors to a World Series championship the following season.
Both blossomed into All-Stars and eventually priced themselves out of the Phillies' budget. Last season, they cost two other teams a combined $29 million.
I bring this up to exemplify that very often major league teams have to be very lucky to succeed. These days, most teams can't afford to exceed the luxury tax, at least on a regular basis. Few teams can hold on to great stars for their entire careers, or sign top talent on demand to fill in holes. It requires creativity with budgeting money while building a contender. Sooner or later, you've got to find a player who will have a huge year at a reasonable cost.
That's what the Phillies hope they got in Marlon Byrd this week. The Phils have a real deficiency of right-handed power bats and need help in the outfield. Byrd is coming off a career year, hitting .291 with 24 homers and 88 RBIs for the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a big reason the Pirates made the postseason for the first time in 21 years. The Phillies signed him to a two-year deal worth $16 million.
On the surface, it sounds like a great deal. But there are red flags to consider as well. He's 35 years old and has a past of offensive inconsistency and performance-enhancement drug use. So there's no way of knowing which Marlon Byrd will show up in a Phillies uniform next season.
But in a sport of hiring gambles, this is a good gamble by general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. In today's free-agent market, $8 million per for two seasons is not unreasonable for a player with those numbers in a contract year. If Byrd can hit 20 homers in each season and play reasonable defense, he's an upgrade that's worth every penny.
The need to take such a risk is why free agents get signed. Just ask the Los Angeles Angels. They signed two of the most expensive free agents ever in recent years, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and certainly haven't gotten the bang for their buck they were expecting.
The 2014 season will be a season of hope for the Phillies. They need players who have struggled with health or performance in recent years to return to form. They need close to vintage Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon if they want to contend. There's no way around that short of incredible years from a Byrd and/or a Domonic Brown to compensate. They may bring back Carlos Ruiz and/or Roy Halladay looking for that same blast from the past.
And then there are the hot stove rumors about big-ticket players such as David Price and Jose Bautista, more believe it when you see it things. Those kinds of deals would involve being very creative and probably be very risky long-term for the Phillies. But they sure would add a lot of buzz again to Philadelphia baseball.
The Byrd signing indicates the thinking is there's another run to glory left in these Phillies. Why not think that? These guys have all been great and know what it takes to win. And if player maneuvering doesn't go much beyond Byrd, that still leaves the Phillies room to be second-half sellers. They could easily return to the youth movement mode that ended last season if necessary.
So there's no need to sweat any risk surrounding Marlon Byrd. It's a time to hope for the best and keep your fingers crossed.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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