Is Byrd the Word For Washington?

The acquisition of Gio Gonzalez certainly bolstered the Nationals starting rotation and bumped up their postseason odds. It wasn’t a splash of the Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder ilk but with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez will help form a fairly formidable trio. However, the Nationals aren’t finished just yet.

In addition to their rumored interest and pursuit of Prince Fielder to replace Adam LaRoche at first base, the Nationals are also in the hunt for a centerfielder. Last season, they expressed interest in both Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton. The former was eventually traded to the division-rival Braves, while the latter posted a .449 wOBA in September as the Rays won the Wild Card on the season’s final day.

But the Nationals are still looking to shore up their outfield. Center field remains a legitimate weakness on a team with sights on significantly improving and potentially contending for a playoff berth. As it currently stands, there are four realistic options: trade for Marlon Byrd, trade for B.J. Upton, sign Coco Crisp, or shift Jayson Werth over while installing someone else in right field.

First, it’s interesting to note that few legitimate centerfielders were available via the free agent market. Filtering our free agent leaderboard shows quasi-CFs like Ankiel or Carlos Beltran and various guys listed there because they could conceivably man the position without completely embarrassing themselves, like Scott Hairston, Mike Cameron and Cody Ross. Coco Crisp is the only legitimate CF on the list. The Nats already signed Cameron to a minor league deal but it’s safe to assume he isn’t a viable solution.

If the Nationals don’t intend to fill the role internally and prefer to avoid further depleting the farm system in a trade, Crisp is an interesting option. He tallied 2.2 WAR last season and 3.3 the year before. His fielding marks suffered last season but he is generally regarded as a very good outfielder. If he can post a wOBA in the .320-.330 range — around the league average given the sorry offensive state of the league — his solid fielding and baserunning will easily push him over the 2 WAR threshold.

In that scenario, Crisp would be worth almost $10 million yet won’t sign for anywhere near that value. His last contract was actually worth slightly over $10 million for two seasons as the Athletics exercised his 2011 club option. Crisp isn’t going to sign for much more than that, and while he lacks the upside of some other trade targets, his relatively low salary and decent attributes could combine to produce more value than some other options.

One option floating around is moving Werth to center to open up a spot for Bryce Harper or some other rightfielder. There are several issues here, most notably that Harper may not be ready and that Werth is not a suitable full-time centerfielder. He has played the position before, but sparingly, and while Harper could prove studly right away, the combination of his readiness and Werth’s ability to handle CF on an everyday basis is fairly unrealistic.

Trading for B.J. Upton would provide the Nationals with the best available centerfielder. While his bat hasn’t impressed the way many initially thought it would, Upton is still just 26 years old. Further, he has produced two straight above average seasons at the plate, with identical .337 wOBAs. Combine a better bat than Crisp’s with better baserunning and more highly reputed fielding and Upton has tallied 4+ WAR in four of the last five seasons.

Upton is entering his last year of arbitration and the Rays have made no real gesture towards re-signing him to a long-term deal. The Rays are also an incredibly savvy organization, and may decide that the compensation picks received when Upton signs elsewhere after the season are worth more than the prospect platter the Nats offer.

Finally, the Nationals could offer a lesser prospect package to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd. The former Nationals outfielder is in the final year of his contract, makes a modest $6.5 million and can still produce. Since 2008, Byrd has 11 WAR to his name, which is a full 4-win season south of Upton’s output, but still very productive. Byrd has been, on average, a 3-win centerfielder, and at that price and the likely lessened load of farmhands required to appease the Cubs, he may represent the most realistic option.

Then again, Byrd is 34 years old, and while he can still run the bases well and field his position, the Nationals are in a position to shore up the position for both the current and long-term. In that guise, Upton makes much more sense. If he isn’t made available, however, the Nationals would be better off trading for Byrd or signing Crisp and making an offer for Upton at the trading deadline, or when he hits the market next season.

Buster Olney was right in linking Byrd to the Nationals, as a fit exists and he would certainly satisfy their short-term need. But the Nationals should be thinking bigger than acquiring a 34-year old outfielder they used to employ to serve as a stopgap.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


44 Responses to “Is Byrd the Word For Washington?”

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  1. Expos67 says:

    Everybody knows that the Byrd is the word

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    • Cody says:

      Boo! You didn’t do it!

      Note: Was a running joke for the Low Budget FM podcast. I personally loved the comment.

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    • Justin says:

      Byrd is horrible, why is this even being suggested? I would not sign him as a free agent, nevertheless give up prospect(s) for him.
      His stats link, which oddly was not provided in the article:
      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=950&position=OF

      Maybe his power is the convincing factor?
      12 HRs in 580 ABs in 2010
      9 HRs in 446 in 2011
      ——————–
      21 HRs in 1026 ABs in the last two years, borderline pathetic as Ramos will likely hit that this year as a catcher along with every other starter in the lineup.

      If it is not his power then it HAS to be his speed, right?
      Not AT ALL, 49 SBs in his career or on 3,692 ABs.

      He hit a respectable .276 last year with a slightly inflated .316 BABIP, but that hardly makes up for the lack of power and speed.

      His UZR/150 last year? 3.0, also respectable, but we are talking about a CF rapidly approaching 35.

      In no way would I consider him an option, especially not with Coco an his blistering speed on the free agent market who will undoubtedly sign for less than his value on a short-term contract and cost no prospects.

      In other words, Byrd is not the word…is the name of an aging OF who would soon be unable to handle CF and thus make his lack of any other tool exposed where he will then find himself with Melvin Mora, watching baseball from home.

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      • Justin says:

        My apologies, all the stat links were right out the gate and his link was provided.

        Trading for Upton also sounds like a bad move as he crosses me as someone that is undoubtedly going to test free agency and go to the highest bidder. I am not saying that is irrational or dirty, but the farm just raided and further depleting it for a one year rental does not add up. Rarely, does a team have a player that can produce at C, SS, and 2B so if having a stopgap instead of a stud at CF has to happen I think it will suffice.

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      • BlackOps says:

        The theory of bringing Upton in is that he’d be more likely to sign since he’s from Virginia. I don’t know why he crosses you as someone that would pick the highest bidder; that sounds like some kind of baseless judgment on his character. He’s had good money since he was 17.

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      • Cory says:

        Coco gives you better speed and defense, but you take the chance of only seeing him for about 50 games. Byrd doesn’t play a whole lot of games either, but still averages more.

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  2. Brad Johnson says:

    The important thing about the Harper plan is that the Nationals have to hold him back for at least a few weeks. They would have to be insane to allow him to accrue a full service year in 2012. As poised as they are to compete, 3 weeks of 19-year-old Harper in 2012 is easily trumped by the prospect of an entire season of Harper in 2018. Even if he’s getting paid $25 mil via arbitration and poised to walk.

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    • Will says:

      Agreed, I don’t think Rizzo is that dumb, though I wouldn’t put it past Johnson, if he had the final say (which he doesn’t).

      It looks like the Nats are prepared to put out a pretty crappy product for the first 3 months, when they’ll promote Harper, and hopefully trade LaRoche, and move Morse back to 1B, where he’s better defensively.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they used a platoon of Bernadina (or Ankiel if he resigns) vs RHPs and Cameron vs LHPs.

      Then in 2012 sign Upton, Victorino or Bourne without having to give away prospects to get them.

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      • D0nc0smic says:

        Luckily for the Nats, with their rotation, that “Crappy product could be well over .500 since the lineup should at least be better than last seasons.

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      • baty says:

        The rotation still has plenty of cracks that need to be sealed. You can’t expect Zimmermann to confidently take on a completely full load until ’13, and Strasburg until ’14, all the while hoping that they don’t suffer a Josh Johnson-esque setback.

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  3. hifilofi says:

    With all the chatter around the Nats in the free agent market, I’m surprised at how little anyone mentions Mike Morse. You’ve got to figure that he’s at least similar to Fielder in mileage/seasons left, he’s a legitimate cleanup hitter, and plays on the cheap. If the Nats sold the farm on Gonzalez, spent their trust fund on Werth, and are hoping on a few 20 year olds, they’ve gotta shore up the rest of their roster with some serviceable veterans who can get on base – a la Byrd, Damon, Matsui. Or whatever, give a 10 year deal to a 280 lb. future DH.

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  4. David says:

    FWIW, The Nats didn’t blow the trust fund on Werth. The Lerners are ridiculously rich. I mean even for pro sports team owners they’ve got bank. When they play cheap it’s by choice, not necessity.

    That being said, Fielder just doesn’t fit and I’d be shocked if they are anything more than a rumor for his services.

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    • Will says:

      The owners’ wealth aside, their payroll in 2011 was only $68.3mil, this year they should come in at around the same factoring in some raises in arbitration.

      The average MLB payroll is much closer to $100mil, so the Nats could add 3 more Jayson Werth-sized contracts, and still only be around league average.

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  5. kds says:

    Harper is extremely unlikely to be in the majors before June even if he appears to be ready due to super-2 issues. Coco and BJ would be coming from the AL to the easier NL, that should cause a small increase in their projected value in 2012.

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    • Jordan says:

      is last year’s al west really harder than this year’s nl east?

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    • philosofool says:

      Super two issues are only about money, and it’s worth spending money when you’re a contender. With super-two status growing and the cut off date getting later and later, I think that lots of teams are just going to start promoting rookies who can contribute faster. It’s basically just the equivalent of paying for a free agent to do the same job, but paying the FA in three years instead of now.

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      • baty says:

        I’ll bet they start the season off with the hoopla of Strasburg and then rejuvenate the fan base with Harper’s arrival in July/August if the team looks like it isn’t a serious contender.

        I don’t know if the Nationals have the luxury of postponing too many prospect arrivals for financial gain. On the other side, saving a few million dollars could help the Nationals retain Zimmerman or Zimmermann, the 2 most crucial pieces of the current window. If someone isn’t ready to be promoted, that’s one thing, but the playoff clock window started ticking when they dumped all that money on Jayson Werth and it’s ticking even faster with the Gio deal.

        After dealing away their pitching prospect depth for Gio, the Nationals narrowed the length of their window a bit, and I think, they placed an ultimatum for needing to make the ultimate splash by 2015. I can’t see how they’ll be able to spread enough money around to retain important pieces and transition smoothly beyond that point if they fail to make that type of showing. And if the Nationals are competing well during this stretch, that’ll make dealing away their most valuable upcoming free agents for scattered rebuild pieces impossible. We’ll never see a draft stretch again like the one they experienced, and compensation picks only get you so far.

        They really need to go all in for the 13-15 seasons at this point.

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  6. DD says:

    Rizzo has mentioned recently that he wants to be a player in the more robust CFer FA market next year, when the aforementioned Bourn, Byrd, and Upton are available (none will be extended before then – Rays can’t afford Upton going forward and can slide Jennings to CF in 2013). He seems to be hoping to get by this year as his team improves a bit, instead of going all out in 2012, and avoid selling prized prospects for a guy they have a good shot at next offseason. With LaRoche gone after this year, he is likely planning to move Morse to 1B, Werth to LF, and Harper to play RF at 20 in 2013. This would explain his hesitancy around Fielder, at least in part – he may jump on him if the asking price drops to 5 years, but maybe not even then. Also, it explains why he wouldn’t sign a guy like Crisp or Ross, who aren’t real game-changers and likely want a 2 year deal and a starting spot guaranteed. If they only want a 1 year deal or are OK with being a potential 4th OFer in 2013, he might bite. There is virtually no way Harper comes up before September, if then.

    As I mentioned, it looks like the Nats are looking more to contend in 2013 than 2012, and are lining up their pieces accordingly.

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    • philosofool says:

      Why do you think there is “no way” Harper arrives before September?

      It seems to me like only two things need to be true for Harper to get called up in May or later:
      (1) The team feels like it is contending.
      (2) It feels like Harper will help the team contend.

      I don’t know whether either of these will be true, but both could be, in which case he will probably arrive before September.

      (I secretly suspect you are trying to lower his value on draft day for your fantasy leagues.)

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      • DD says:

        Because Rizzo has said over and over that they will not rush him. They are less likely to contend this year than next. Also, if your team as currently assembled is contending, why on earth would you add a 19 year old to the mix? So that he can struggle and hurt their chances? If he’s called up before September, he’s not going to ride the bench, so they would likely need an injury to happen and Harper to have an insane year for what you are describing to happen. Contending in May doesn’t count for anything – the Pirates were in the playoff mix and the Indians were in first place in May 2011.

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      • philosofool says:

        Wins in May are worth just as much as wins in september. You don’t get double points for late season wins.

        If your team has a replacement level right fielder and you seriously believe that you have a superior alternative in your system, adding him in May is better than adding him in July. Once you’ve decided he’s an upgrade, then you probably don’t care if he is ninteen or ninty. I guess you could worry about the development of a nineteen year old, but if you really think he is a contributor, you probably don’t think he willbe seriously stunted by early promotion.

        Also, you can never read too much into what a GM says. His job in interviews is to manage expections, not tell the truth.

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      • JWO says:

        Harper might be ready, but there Are also some maturity issues. He might be well served to spend another half season riding buses.

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    • DD says:

      I’m assuming here that Victorino resigns with Philly btw, but he’s available too.

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  7. Dscott says:

    Cubs fan’s dream: Cubs give up: Matt Garza, Marlon Byrd, Bryan Lahair
    Cubs get: Bryce harper

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  8. Dscott says:

    Now come on,, would the trade not make the Nationals better this year? lol

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  9. Bo says:

    Good breakdown of the available options. I’d like Werth as the stopgap and then have speedy Harper gradually get some experience at the position. I know Boras was the one suggesting the RF position for Harper, but he’s not the GM. They already made him give up the catcher position; it’s hardly unreasonable to ask a teen phenom with fresh legs to help the team out at CF.

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    • BAS says:

      I agree; to the best of my knowledge, Harper has been playing mostly the corner OF positions, and only a little bit of CF … he suposedly has the legs, and a strong throwing arm, why NOT put him in CF?

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  10. baty says:

    Harper can’t be a center fielder, and Werth’s best defensive days are behind him. The two would only be very short term solutions. Stick Harper in a corner spot and let him hit. Having an athlete like him in a corner would be a tremendous compliment to a strong defensive center fielder (if the opportunity to grab one is there).

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  11. the sandman says:

    Take Byrd as a short-term solution. Good clubhouse guy, just not a run producer, swings too early in counts in RBI situations. In 2013, sign either Upton/Bourn, move Byrd to 4th/5th outfileder, would likley be a decent bench option. He likely wont require much to get in a trade, either. Hes certainly better than the faded Mike Cameron.

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    • BlackOps says:

      Byrd struggled last season w/risp but for his career the difference in total OPS and RISP OPS is .005.

      What’s a run producer? I’m sure by saying that you just mean he has below average power, which can also be said by saying he has below average power.

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  12. Timmer says:

    For a year or so while they wait for a solid free-agent market in CF, I don’t see what would be wrong with bringing Marlon Byrd back to DC, if the Cubs’ demands aren’t outrageous.

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  13. M W says:

    Storen for Stubbs, the Reds turn around and sign Crisp – Nats make Clippard their closer or sign one of Coco/Madson.

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  14. Chris says:

    marlon byrd is honestly too great a guy to have to play on this team next year. we are going to stink HARD, he’s a good soldier and would take it, but if there’s a fit they should definitely trade him for just about anything as long as it’s under 22 years old.

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  15. DaveB says:

    Rizzo refused to trade Storen at the deadline for a longterm answer at CF/lead-off in Denard Span, so he certainly won’t trade him for less than that.

    Due to the new CBA, the new Super-Two timeframe is now the last week of June or more likely the first week of July.

    Harper has struggled for up to a few weeks at every next-higher level he’s played at/been promoted to going back to before he was in high school, then he catches-up and dominates. Watch for the same thing to happen when he reaches AAA (where he might start the season if he has a strong camp), this will allow Rizzo enough time to justify keeping him down until the Super-Two date has been reached. If he’s knocking the cover off the ball by the first week in July, he’ll be in DC from that point on, where you can almost bet the farm that he’s going to struggle at first, which will be awkward if the Nats are in the wild card chase, as they should be.

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  16. matt w says:

    It seems hasty to guarantee that Harper should be in DC next year on the merits, when his 2011MLE was apparently .206 / .271 / .322. Not to say that he shouldn’t take a big step forward, and DaveB may be right that he just needs adjustment time at a new level, but it doesn’t seem implausible that he might need a full year in the minors on the merits.

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