There's something rotten about bringing in Byrd
It's not the money that should have you worried.
It's the man.
If you looked only at last year's numbers - .291 batting average, .336 on-base percentage, .847 OPS, 35 doubles, five triples, 24 home runs and 88 RBIs - and didn't know the name attached to them, you'd think a two-year deal for $16 million was a bargain.
Add the solid postseason and you might even think you were getting a clone of Carlos Beltran, the St. Louis Cardinals free-agent outfielder who just added to his own playoff legend.
Marlon Byrd is not Carlos Beltran. He comes much cheaper, but he's not even the poor man's version of Beltran for one big reason: his risky reputation.
The Phillies no doubt believe that it was repaired by what Byrd did in 2013 with the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates. That's why they are bringing him back to Philadelphia, the place where the outfielder's big-league career began in 2002 when he was a highly touted, upper-level prospect in an organization that didn't have very many at the time.
Byrd signed the two-year deal on Tuesday.
The Mets, a team that knew it was not good enough to win in 2013, had signed Byrd for the true bargain-basement price of $700,000 in February and were pleasantly surprised by the best season of the outfielder's career at the age of 35. Byrd set career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was not so enamored of Byrd that he felt the need to keep him around for another season or even all of 2013. Instead, the Mets sent him to the contending Pirates for a couple of midlevel prospects. To his credit, Byrd played even better with the Bucs during the final month of the season and followed that by hitting .364 in the first six postseason games of his 12-year career.
Sorry, that doesn't erase Byrd's tainted history.
It doesn't change the fact that he has played for five teams in the last five years, something that doesn't happen to players who are truly coveted.
It doesn't erase the 50-game suspension in 2012 when he tested positive for tamoxifen, a drug that counteracts one of the embarrassing side effects of steroid use: a condition known as gynecomastia in which a man's breasts grow abnormally large.
It doesn't wipe out his open affiliation with Victor Conte, the convicted felon who founded the Balco lab in Northern California. As recently as 2011, when Byrd was with the Chicago Cubs, commissioner Bud Selig talked about how that relationship disturbed him.
"I've talked to him, and he knows how we feel," Selig told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's not a situation that makes me very happy."
According to the Sun-Times report, Byrd is the only big-league player still working with Conte, who was tied so tightly to Barry Bonds when the slugger's home run totals and head swelled beyond human belief in San Francisco. Instead of heeding Selig's advice about the Conte situation, Byrd pretty much dismissed it.
"We talked about it in 2009," the outfielder said at the time. "I mean, it's 2011."
It seems suspicious that a guy who hit more than 12 home runs in a season once in his career would hit a career-high 24 at the age of 35, a year after being suspended for a banned substance. You'll get the argument that he didn't fail any drug tests last season, but neither did any of the players who were suspended as part of the Biogenesis scandal.
Give Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. credit for his willingness to gamble at a time when his job security is at its lowest point since his playing days. The general manager risked a lot less money on Delmon Young's being the righthanded-hitting outfield solution the team needed last year, and that's fresh in everyone's mind as a failure. Amaro also gambled $12 million on reliever Mike Adams' recovery from surgery, and that, too, backfired.
Byrd, unlike Young, will return to the Phillies as a guy with a reputation for playing hard, but at this point in his career he is an average outfielder who probably will play in right field.
Amaro can't afford to have this signing blow up in his face, but the addition of the second-tier free agent does allow him to seek the help the Phillies need in the back end of the bullpen and in the rotation. Maybe those will be the offseason moves that get the Phillies back above .500, because this one is not.