How Amaro has backed himself into a corner with Mayberry

John Mayberry Jr. (Laurence Kesterson/AP file)

The free agent season is just about 3-weeks old and although the biggest outfield names available are still available – including Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran – a few of the second or third-level outfielders have come off the market.

The Phillies were one of the first teams to go that route, signing Marlon Byrd. The Indians scooped up David Murphy earlier this week and the Mets signed Chris Young this afternoon.

From the time the Byrd deal was first reported two Tuesdays ago, the reaction at the J.W. Marriott in Orlando, the site of the General Managers Meetings, was one of shock and awe. The shared opinion: that was certainly a lot of money to give a soon-to-be 37-year-old outfielder who was out of affiliated baseball this time a year ago.

Byrd certainly had a productive, bounce-back year with the Mets and Pirates last season. What he’ll do in 2014 – and 2015, too – is the great unknown and the deal itself has already been picked apart enough that this is not the point of this current exercise of armchair analysis.

So what is the point?

By December 2, the Phillies must decide whether to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Those players: Kyle Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo, Ben Revere, John Mayberry Jr. and Kevin Frandsen.

The first three would appear to be locks, given their positions and roster depth. Arguments could certainly be made for parting ways with the second two, especially Mayberry.

But a day after coming to an agrteeement with Byrd, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he planned on tendering Mayberry a contract for 2014.

“He’s not an issue for me,” Amaro said. “I would assume (we’ll tender him). We haven’t made any final decisions. But I’d view him as a tender.”

According to our friend Matt Swartz, a Philly-native economist who contributes to Fangraphs, Mayberry has a projected salary through arbitration of $1.7 million for the 2014 season. Swartz has projected arbitration figures for every player eligible this winter.

Is Mayberry worth paying $1.7 million?

Mayberry could fit into a major league team’s plans as a righthanded bat off the bench. With the Phillies, Mayberry has often been exposed as a part-time player who is asked to start games more often than his skill set would suggest.

In the last two seasons, Mayberry has hit .237 with a .294 OBP, a .687 OPS and 25 home runs in 283 games. He hit .228 with a .290 OBP and .676 OPS with nine home runs in 89 starts in 2013.

Is that worth paying $1.7 million? When you factor in average-to-subpar defense and sometimes-head-scratching base running, in a word, no.

But Mayberry does have the ability to play center field. And that’s why he could very well be offered arbitration and back on the roster again in 2014.

Ever since Jayson Werth departed, the Phillies haven’t just struggled to find a long-term, righthanded bat to replace him. They’ve also failed in finding an adequate outfielder capable of backing up a starting center fielder.

It’s one of the reasons Mayberry has managed to stick around for as long as he has, and, as we stand here three months from spring training, it’s why he could be back again in 2014.

It goes back to the first move Amaro decided to make this offseason in addressing his offense and outfield. He signed Byrd to a two-year, $16 million deal.

One of the reasons Byrd felt like an odd fit is because he’s not outfitted to play center field at this stage of his career.

Byrd started 115 games in center for the Cubs in 2011, but he was also 33-year-old back then. After speaking to a couple of people who watched the Mets regularly last season, Byrd, while strong in right field, is not an option in center field any longer.

The Phillies have Ben Revere in center. And that’s it, unless you’re in Camp Mayberry.

Amaro has said repeatedly this month that he would still like to tinker with his outfield and add athleticism (namely, people who can catch) and not rely on infielders to play the outfield. Needless to say, he was not happy with the results of the Let’s-Try-Cesar-Hernandez-In-Centerfield Experiment.

It’s curious, then, that when Amaro signed an outfielder – and committed $8 million of this year’s payroll to that outfielder – that he chose one who is not an option in center field.

This is clearly a case of playing Friday afternoon armchair GM, but…

The Mets just signed Chris Young to a one-year, $7.25 million deal. Young, 30, is six years younger than Byrd and admittedly coming off a horrid season in Oakland.

But players aren’t paid for what they did the previous year, but in what you think they’ll do for the upcoming year (and beyond).

Young is a righthanded bat with considerable power. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in 4 of the 5 seasons in which he’s played at least 130 games.

He’s also a superb defensive center fielder.

In the form of a low-risk, one-year, deal, Young would have appeared to be the antidote for the athleticism in the outfield Amaro is seeking. As a righthanded bat, Young could conceivably work in a platoon with the lefthanded-hitting Revere, and possibly win regular time (think Jayson Werth in 2008) if he hit consistently.

Of course, we’re assuming Young would be interested in such a proposal, too. But there was certainly room to win a job in the Phillies outfield when the offseason began (read: pre-Byrd).

But rather than going Young (pun intended), the Phillies have paid Byrd a $750K more for the upcoming season (with another $8 million the following year, too) while also putting themselves in a position where they almost have to consider bringing back Mayberry, too.

Just as with the catching situation, there is no other in-house solution ready for a promotion from the minor leagues to play center. What you see is what you get.

It’s just odd, then, that the Phillies would prefer to spend almost $10 million on both Byrd and Mayberry when Young could have arguably served the same purpose of both players for three-fourths of the cost.

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