The New York Mets, even after beating the Miami Marlins on Monday night, are 12.5 games out of first place in the National League East. They trail the Cincinnati Reds, the NL’s second wild card, by 10.5. And this was not a roster put together with a pennant in mind — even this meager showing is beyond what many believed the Mets were capable of achieving.
So what on earth are they doing with Marlon Byrd?
Byrd, in case you haven’t been following, has put together an amazing season. He’d last topped league average in OPS+ in 2010, and barely, at 105. His career high, 122, came in 2008. And in 2012, he’d managed a paltry 32, then saw his season end early due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
So the fact that he’s at a career-best 133 for the Mets this year, at age 35, for a team going nowhere, in a trade market that suffers from a scarcity of right-handed power hitters, would all seem to argue in favor of the Mets dealing him for the best available return.
That’s not how it seems to be going down, though we won’t know if this is just posturing until after 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“One AL club said the Mets told them NY would have to “win” the deal in order to trade Marlon Byrd before Wednesday’s deadline,” ESPN’s Adam Rubin tweeted tonight.
“Industry perception remains that the Mets appear willing to move Byrd. However, one source said that the Mets have not backed off their ‘extremely high’ asking price for the veteran outfielder, whose 17 homers rank ninth in the National League,” Newsday’s Marc Carig wrote this evening.
He’s been great and all, but again: this is Marlon Byrd.
Should the Mets elect to hold onto Byrd, they’d face a pair of options this offseason. They can offer him the qualifying offer necessary to get a compensatory draft pick if a free agent signs elsewhere; last year, that was a one-year deal at slightly more than $13 million. This option would have the Mets bet that much money on Byrd having discovered a completely new performance level at age 35.
The other option: see him enter free agency, and have the same chance to sign him as everyone else.
With these options the only two available, the Mets win a trade for Marlon Byrd, and this cannot be emphasized enough, if they receive anything of value. A bag of balls will have value to the Mets in 2014, unless the price of baseballs somehow plummets. Marlon Byrd will not.
And reports like those above about what the Mets are asking for when receiving calls about Marlon Byrd include the following, not-to-be-ignored tidbit: the Mets are receiving calls about Marlon Byrd. Teams aren’t doing this, hoping the Mets are about to release him. They are doing so with the intent of trading assets, actual players, for Byrd. And this isn’t meant to denigrate Byrd, who has truly remade himself as a player, and forthrightly answered PED-related questions that naturally follow. It just means we know, fairly conclusively, that the Mets can get something for Byrd, while keeping him gives them nothing which can help in 2014 or beyond.
Carig, when I spoke to him via Twitter, said something else interesting. “I think some of it is the idea of making things interesting in the second half. Still need butts in seats.” So the Mets could get a player for 2014 and beyond, but it might cost them a bit of 2013 marginal value. Isn’t this precisely the “ready to invest” moment Jeff Wilpon recently talked about? Will that moment ever come? (Hint: ask JPMorgan Chase.)
Essentially, the argument for keeping Byrd comes down to perception. The Mets seem to think Byrd on the team will give fans the idea that the team is intent upon competing for the rest of this season. But no Mets fan I’ve talked to has gone to Citi Field this season for anything like a 2013 Mets fix. There’s Matt Harvey, there’s David Wright, both with separate displays of individual greatness. And then… there’s anything that can provide hope for 2014 and beyond, because this team sure isn’t one to pin hopes on.
That’s why Zack Wheeler starts matter, not because he looks like he’s ready to throw strikes consistently enough today, but because he might do it tomorrow. That’s why Juan Lagares winning NL Player of the Week mattered, not for that week, but in case it was the first of many such weeks, eventually for a far better Mets ballclub. That’s why the Jeremy Hefner renaissance was so encouraging, and this recent regression so dispiriting, because Hefner is under team control for years to come.
And most Mets fans are sophisticated enough to know that the absolute worst thing the Mets could do for 2014 would be to bet on Marlon Byrd to repeat his 2013. There may not be other outfielders in the organization who are better bets to help the team in 2014 around, either. That’s how Byrd got the chance to play regularly, after all. But anyone younger, anyone under team control, anyone who has even the slightest chance of being on this team next season will give Mets fans over the final two months a chance to dream. Every time Marlon Byrd homers — and he’s done it often this year — all it does is root a Mets fan to the present moment.
And prioritizing Byrd over some help for the future affects perception, all right, just as making a similar choice with an over-performing Scott Hairston at last year’s deadline did: it says that the Mets still aren’t really moving in one direction, trading R.A. Dickey for prospects, signing David Wright, and letting Jose Reyes leave town without getting anything in return.
Get anything for Marlon Byrd, and the Mets are selling high. Put anyone younger than Byrd in right field, and it gives Mets fans a chance to dream. That’s perception and reality.