Marlon Byrd and John Lackey. Baseball players. Case studies.
Over the next 24 hours, you will hear many comparisons between the Red Sox and the Phillies, the former of which spent the hours leading up to Major League Baseball's nonwaiver trade deadline adding to a base of young talent that will help it compete in the future, the latter of which spent them failing to do so. But such comparisons will miss the point. Days like today are not the result of short-term obstinance on the part of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr or president David Montgomery. Rather, they are an inevitable result of their primary failure as stewards of the Phillies organization: their inability to see the big picture.
The pertinent example from yesterday's frenzy of trades can be drawn from two players. Lackey, whom the Red Sox traded to the Cardinals for first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig and promising young starter Joe Kelly. Forget about the strategic implications of the deal for a moment. Forget about whether Craig bounces back from a season in which he has been worse than Ryan Howard to a level of production similar to the .863 OPS and 46 home runs he posted from 2011-13. Forget about whether Kelly can stay healthy and develop into something more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. The point is that the Red Sox were in a position to take that chance, to add nine years of control over two major league players in exchange for one-and-a-half seasons of control of a 35-year-old veteran. And they were in a position to do so because of the steps they took to lower the risk they assumed when they signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract prior to the 2010 season. Included in that contract was a clause that added a $500,000 team option for 2015 if Lackey missed significant time with a pre-existing elbow injury at any point during the life of the contract. Lackey did, and the clause triggered. That, along with his inability to block a deal, made him attractive to the Cardinals.
While the Red Sox were busy with Lackey and lefty Andrew Miller, the Phillies were stymied in their attempts to trade outfielder Marlon Byrd. The veteran outfielder has been one of the club's few consistent offensive performers this season, offering production that many, including myself, were skeptical that he could repeat after a bounce-back 2013 season. But there were two problems with moving Byrd. In addition to the two years and $16 million the Phillies guaranteed him, they included a third-year vesting option based on plate appearances as well as a four-team no trade clause. One of the teams Byrd chose to block was the Mariners, and reports had him demanding that option be guaranteed in order to agree to a trade. We'll never know whether those throw-ins were necessary to complete a deal with Byrd, because the Phillies were the only team involved in the bidding for him. At least, that's what Byrd told me when I talked to him after he signed.