ORLANDO, Fla. — Ruben Amaro Jr. has never been afraid to set market price. He did it in 2010 by signing Ryan Howard to a massive $125 million deal two years before the first baseman reached free agency. He did it two winters ago when he handed Jonathan Papelbon $50 million in a market teeming with closers.
On Tuesday, he struck with haste yet again and established the expensive rate for power in a run-starved modern game.
The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal, a source said. They will pay him $16 million, according to ESPNNewYork.com. The deal is pending a physical examination.
It is a lavish deal for a 36-year-old outfielder coming off a career season and a commentary on the prosperity of this game. Byrd was exiled in 2012 because of suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. He went to Mexico to resurrect his career. He made $700,000 last season on a last-chance, minor-league contract with the New York Mets.
And he subsequently posted an .847 OPS with 24 home runs in 2013 for New York and Pittsburgh. Those were both career-high figures. He ranked 11th in the National League in homers.
The Phillies craved a righthanded bat for their outfield, which was among the least productive units in all of baseball last season. Byrd comes full circle to provide that need; he was a 10th-round draft pick by the Phillies in 1999.
The question now is whether the Phillies are set with an outfield of Byrd in right, Ben Revere in center and Domonic Brown in left. Team officials have sent mixed signals about their commitment to Revere, who bats lefthanded. They could pursue an upgrade there, although Revere is under team control for three more years at a discounted rate. Those type of players, as demonstrated by the initial costs of free agency, are more valuable than ever.
At the end of the season, Amaro said he did not view Darin Ruf as an everyday outfielder. Byrd's signing allows the Phillies to make Ruf a bench player who could net plate appearances against lefties as a first baseman or outfielder. It could further signal the end of John Mayberry Jr's time in Philadelphia, too. He is eligible for arbitration and must be offered a contract by Dec. 2.