The Obligatory Eric Byrnes Post
On Friday, the Arizona Diamondbacks designated Eric Byrnes for assignment, essentially announcing that he will be released – and that they will eat the remaining $11 million owed on the last year of his deal – if no one trades for him in the next week. Byrnes was a local hero in the desert when the D’Backs gave him a 3 year, $30 million extension after the 2007 season, but that went about as well as the Carlos Silva deal did here. He stopped hitting, got hurt a lot, and has given Arizona 500 plate appearances with below replacement level production over the first two years of the deal. Given that he turns 34 in a month and that the club has other options in the outfield, this isn’t a very surprising move.
Since it was announced, I’ve had roughly half the city of Seattle ask me if he’d be a good fit for the last spot on the roster. So, by popular demand, here’s the post on Byrnes as a possibility for the M’s.
In a lot of ways, he makes sense. We’ve talked about how the team needs a right-handed hitting left fielder to fill out the roster, a guy who can preferably hit a bit and defend the position adequately while being willing to share time with Ryan Langerhans and Milton Bradley. Given that the team is working on a budget and would like to avoid blocking Michael Saunders off completely, they’d ideally like to find a guy who won’t cost much to acquire – they don’t want to have to get into a scenario where they’re trying to figure out if the new guy is a sunk cost in May if Saunders is tearing the cover off the ball in Tacoma.
On those points – cheap, right-handed, guy with some upside who might hit and can play the field – Brynes fits. In a lot of ways, he’s like Bill Hall, only if his good year had been more recent and his bad years more easily explained by injury. We saw that the M’s were willing to pick up part of a bad contract to give a guy with a track record of success another shot with Hall, and Byrnes would basically be the same thing, just with a higher likelihood of success. They’re actually similar players, except Byrnes makes contact about twice as often. Depending on if his hamstrings ever recover, he’s a better defender and base runner as well.
But that’s the big hang-up. We’ve talked about this with regards to why the organization shied away from Russ Branyan, but the Milton Bradley acquisition gave the team three aging, injury prone players in Bradley, Wilson, and Griffey. You can only have so many guys on the roster that you can’t count on being healthy. With an expected four man bench, one of those belonging to Junior, you have limited options if a couple of people come up lame on the same day. If the M’s were to add Byrnes, they’d have to be comfortable with the fact that there would be days when he, Bradley, and Jr were all day-to-day, forcing you into a situation where your bench consisted of the back-up catcher and you just weren’t going to make any substitutions.
Given the potential reward (Byrnes was a +4 win player the last time he was healthy, and ran off three seasons of +3 wins or more in a four year span from 2004 to 2007) and the expected low cost of acquisition, perhaps that’s a risk worth taking. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but it’s certainly a big part of the discussion.
The other part is how they would go about getting him. Based on his public comments about wanting to play for the Giants (he lives in SF), the M’s would probably have to trade for him before Arizona released him. Once the D’backs set him free, the M’s have no leverage. Players released under contract are paid their full salary by their old team, minus whatever salary the new team is paying if they get employed elsewhere. So, the Mariners could offer Byrnes $9 million a year, but it wouldn’t matter, because he’d still get $11 million – he’d just get most of it from Seattle instead of Arizona, but his overall paycheck wouldn’t change. That’s why these guys always sign for the league minimum – there is no financial incentive for the player to receive any more than that from their new employer.
Since the M’s can’t outbid the Giants (or any other interested team), then they’d be left hoping he chose to come here voluntarily. That wouldn’t happen unless both Bay Area teams told him that they had no interest, and then you’re hoping that the other California teams don’t make an offer, that he’s not spooked by Safeco, that he likes rain… there’s just a ton of things working against the Mariners signing him as a free agent.
So, if they want him, they have to trade for him. And that means they have to give Arizona a reason to deny Byrnes his freedom. They’re not going to do that without a real asset coming back – probably something like the $1 million plus in cash the M’s agreed to cover in the Hall trade. The M’s won’t get him from Arizona for the league minimum or anything even all that close to it. They’d have to make it worth the D’backs while to deal him to Seattle.
And that brings up the cost question, naturally. How much are you willing to pay for 300 to 400 plate appearances and the chance that Byrnes returns to form? I’d pay $1 million, personally, but not a whole lot more. He’s got some upside, but the injury concern is real and he’s not getting any younger. As a stop-gap role player, he could help the team, but it’s not a big enough role to give a significant portion of the budget to Arizona.
If they can get Byrnes on basically the same deal as they got Hall (picking up $1.35 million of his contract, giving Arizona almost $1 million in salary relief), I’d be in favor of the pickup. He’s a better bet than a guy like Fernando Tatis, or at least the upside is higher. But if the price isn’t right, walk away and let him try to revive his career in San Francisco.