For teams in need of a right-hand hitting corner outfielder, Marlon Byrd is the most attractive candidate on the market, regardless of his contract. As long as Byrd is willing to waive his limited no-trade clause, which allows him to block deals to potential suitors Seattle and Kansas City, he could be the first Phillie out the door in what figures to be an active couple of weeks.
While you might think that Byrd's contract would be a detriment, a close inspection of the market suggests otherwise. Byrd is currently owed about $3.3 million for the rest of this season, plus $8 million for next season. So that's a total of $11.5 million guaranteed. That's not a heck of a lot different than the roughly $8.7 million Alex Rios is guaranteed. That includes a $1 million buyout of a team option for next season. If an acquiring team were to exercise that option, it would owe Rios $13.5 million in 2015. Byrd has a vesting option for 2016 based on plate appearances. But even if that option vests, Byrd would earn $19.5 million from now until the end of his current deal, which is less than the roughly $21 million that Rios would get for the rest of this season and next season.
Rios has a solid .305/.333/.440 line (112 OPS+) but only four home runs. Byrd is hitting .263/.315/.479 (119 OPS+) with 18 home runs.
So Byrd > Rios in both production and contract situation, although Rios is four years younger.
The other two factors on the supply side are Ben Zobrist and Josh Willingham. Zobrist it hitting .266/.352/.401 (113 OPS+) with six home runs. He's owed roughly $3 million this year and has a $7.5 million options for 2015. But a team like the Mariners or Royals will have to contend with numerous teams who will be looking at Zobrist as a second baseman. The Cardinals and Giants are two obvious examples.
Willingham, meanwhile, is hitting just .136/.293/.271 with two home runs and 23 strikeouts in his last 75 plate appearances over 19 games. On the season, he is hitting .212/.362/.410 with eight home runs. He is making $7 million this season and will be a free agent at the end of the year. He seems destined to land with a team that waits until July 31 to decide on its course of action. A fringe team like the Royals would make a lot of sense, given their potential reluctance to part with anything of value to improve not-so-great playoff odds. But that still leaves the Mariners, and it leaves Byrd as the obvious fit.
Carlos Quentin is a possible target, but he is hitting just .182/.287/.322. The Padres have plenty of incentive to wait for him to increase his value before dealing him. He is making $9.5 million this year, $8 million next year, and has a $10 million option with a $3 million buyout for 2016.
Byrd could very well end up being the most important deal of the year, especially if the Phillies are unable to find anybody willing to trade talent for Jonathan Papelbon (which all indications suggest is the case).
If I'm Ruben Amaro Jr., I'm focusing my strategy on acquiring a young starter who has the potential to help the team in either 2015 or 2016. Yes, the Phillies need offense. But the only position prospect Byrd is likely to land is one who is either a fringe regular (think Darin Ruf) or a project in the lower levels of the minors (think Dilson Herrerra, whom Byrd was traded for last season). Nobody should count out Jesse Biddle as a back-of-the-rotation option in 2016, but there is enough uncertainty with him right now that first round draft pick Aaron Nola is the only reasonable candidate to join the rotation at any point next season.
The Mariners have a couple of mid-range starting pitching prospects: Edwin Diaz, a 6-foot-2 righty drafted in the third round in 2012, who is currently in Class A with impressive numbers: a 3.58 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9 in 78 innings over 16 starts. He is 20 years old. Victor Sanchez, a beefy righthander posting solid numbers at Double-A: 3.79 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9 in 73 2/3 innings over 13 starts. The Mariners gave Sanchez seven figures to sign out of Venezuela in 2011, so they might be reluctant to give him up, considering the investment. But they have a wealth of young pitching talent.
You can almost certainly forget about D.J. Peterson or James Paxton in a trade for Byrd, but either Sanchez or Diaz would seem to be a quality piece, based on the scouting reports. The Mariners have some of the aforementioned fringy/raw position prospects in OF Austin Wilson, C Tyler Marlette, and SS Chris Taylor. But Taylor is a good example of why targeting pitchers might be a better strategy. He's hitting .315/.391/.493 with five home runs, seven triples and 12 steals at Triple-A, but the Mariners need help at shortstop, and if he is good enough to provide that help, then there is no way they are going to trade him. And if they are willing to trade him, chances are they view him as a future utility type, which, if accurate, would not really help the Phillies.
Wilson is a Stanford guy who is hitting .298/.385/.523 with 11 home runs at Class A. He is a name to watch.