Every baseball season is crazy, and the crazy can never be completely summed up in one sentence. There’s just too much of it, in too many places, and no one wants to read that long of a sentence. But here’s a sentence that captures some of the 2013 crazy to date: on August 27, the Pittsburgh Pirates have traded for Marlon Byrd. Suggested, by that sentence, is that the Pirates are in the playoff hunt, hence their desire to make an upgrade. Suggested, also, by that sentence, is that Marlon Byrd is an upgrade, in this season. It’s been weird. It’s always weird, but it’s been weird.
If you’d like all of the details, Anthony DiComo has many of them. The Pirates are adding Byrd, John Buck, and some cash from the Mets. The Mets are adding Dilson Herrera and a player to be named player from the Pirates. The Pirates recently put Starling Marte on the disabled list, and they recently lost their backup catcher for the season. They’re still in great shape to at least play in the one-game wild-card playoff, and by making this swap in August instead of September, Byrd and Buck will be postseason-roster eligible. It’s easy to understand the Pirates’ motivation, and it’s easy to understand the Mets’ desire to get something young for a month of two veterans.
It’s funny — in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline, there were reports the Mets would have had to be “blown away” to move Byrd. The Pirates placed a few calls, but the Mets defended their decision to hang on to Byrd, saying it was important to them to remain competitive down the stretch, even in a non-competitive year. There is some value in that, to be sure, but it’s minimal, and now the Mets are also without Matt Harvey so certain ships have sailed. It always made sense for Byrd to get moved, because he’s old and Marlon Byrd. The Mets got what they could.
It’s hard to fight off the immediate skepticism, because the Byrd story doesn’t make a lot of sense. It would’ve made some sense for Byrd to have this season a year ago. A year ago, Byrd reported to camp in spectacular shape, having changed his diet and taken up Muay Thai. Then he hit an empty .210 for two teams and got suspended for a performance-enhancing drug. This past spring, a 35-year-old Byrd said he’d probably retire if he didn’t make the Mets’ roster out of camp. Byrd looked like a guy with little left to give, like a guy on his last legs, then, miraculously, he produced. Even now, if you think “Marlon Byrd,” you don’t think “stretch-run contributor.” It’s easy to assume this whole thing has been a mirage.
But here are the facts: right now, Byrd ranks tied for 12th among major-league outfielders in WAR, around names like Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo. He ranks tied for tenth in isolated slugging percentage, equal to Chris Carter. A glance at Byrd’s page at the ESPN Home Run Tracker shows that it’s not like he’s been hitting a lot of cheapies. He’s already hit six home runs at least 430 feet, and on the Golden Sledgehammer list, he’s between Mark Trumbo and Giancarlo Stanton. Marlon Byrd has been a power hitter. If you get past the fact that he’s Marlon Byrd, with Marlon Byrd’s background, there’s a lot to like in his statistical profile.
Earlier in August, Terry Collins suggested that Byrd “may be completely out of gas.” Would’ve made sense for an aging player. In his last 14 games, Byrd’s slugged .633. He’s not out of gas yet. Look at his FanGraphs page and you can see a lot of changes. This year, his strikeouts are up and his groundballs are down. His swing rate is up, and his contact is down. It all paints the picture of a guy who’s decided to swing harder, to swing for the fences, and Byrd’s been successful in that regard. He whiffs and he doesn’t walk so much, but he hits for enough power to make himself a worthwhile asset.
So at the price, Byrd is a good get for the Pirates. He fills an immediate need with Marte sidelined, and even when Marte’s back, then the Pirates can shuffle around with a host of options. It’s fine to be skeptical of Byrd’s ability, but at the end of the day, the Pirates traded for an outfielder with Shin-Soo Choo’s WAR, and they didn’t lose much. It’s a limited-downside roll of the dice.
Buck, basically, replaces Tony Sanchez, who replaced Michael McKenry. For the Pirates, he can serve as a power-hitting veteran, and for the Mets, including Buck should bring them some savings. Buck isn’t going to get on base and he hasn’t been shown to be much of a framer, but Russell Martin is the primary guy and he’ll get the lion’s share of the workload. Buck will just be a reliable presence, and he’s clearly not the reason the Pirates swung this trade.
As for Dilson Herrera, the Mets didn’t get nothing. We’ll see about the player to be named later, as well, but Herrera is a 19-year-old second baseman who’s held his own this year in full-season Single-A ball. He’s never ranked in Baseball America’s top 10 Pirates prospects, but last February Marc Hulet ranked him 12th. From that profile:
The middle infielder generates surprising pop for his size, and that included 25 extra base hits in 60 short-season contests last season. The 19-year-old Colombian needs to tighten up his approach at the plate, including pitch recognition, if he’s going to hit for average as he moves up the ladder.
In the field, Herrera has a below average arm but has good actions and average-or-better range thanks to solid foot speed. He’s played third base, shortstop and second base in his young career but profiles best at the keystone. He should move up to full-season ball in 2013.
Herrera, this year, has shown that there’s still progress for him to make with regard to his approach, but his power is real, and remarkable for a player his age. In short, he’s not a non-prospect, so the Mets didn’t give Byrd away for nothing.
The Pirates are a half-game back of the Cardinals in the National League Central. Their odds look good for at least advancing beyond the regular season, but there’s real value in skipping the one-game playoff, and Byrd could help down the stretch as the littlest thing could turn out to be the biggest thing. Marlon Byrd is an upgrade. At this point in the year, there’s only so much one team and one player can do, but on Tuesday the Pirates got better, and the transaction itself captures some of just how 2013 has been another wild season.
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