One of the best surprises so far for the 2013 Mets has been the excellent play of right fielder Marlon Byrd, who has resurrected a career that looked to be in serious danger just a year ago. Byrd has easily been the Mets' best outfielder, and while that's not a terribly impressive feat on a team so bereft of talent at the position, Byrd's production both at the plate and in the field speaks for itself.
After signing a minor league contract with the Mets in early February, the 35-year-old Byrd reported to spring training looking to claim a spot on the Mets' roster. Byrd ended up being one of the better hitters in camp and he seized the team's starting right field job. Though his April was a bit below average, he rebounded and put up a strong .805 OPS in May and topped that with a .900 mark in June. Surprisingly, Byrd is putting up a career best .227 Isolated Slugging, remarkable for a player not known for his power stroke, and his line for the season sits at .262/.313/.489 to go along with 12 home runs. Byrd has also been an asset in right field, as UZR rates him at +3.4 and Defensive Runs Saved places him at +7 runs. By Fangraphs' measure, he's been worth 1.6 wins above replacement halfway through the season.
Byrd has undoubtedly been the team's best outfielder and the 2013 Mets would really miss his bat in the lineup if he were to be traded but that's no reason to hang onto him if he could bring back a piece that could help the team over the long haul. Byrd should definitely be made available by the Mets and his performance over the next few weeks will likely determine whether they can get anything of value in return for him or not. Another month in the .800 to .900 OPS range would probably go a long way toward solidifying his place on the trade market.
The Trade Market
The market is still developing as we approach the July 31st trade deadline but there are always teams who could use a right handed hitting veteran outfielder. ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted on Saturday that the Giants are in the market for a right handed hitting outfielder and the Rangers seem like they could also be a fit. San Francisco lost Angel Pagan a few weeks back and the Rangers have gotten almost nothing out of David Murphy in left field. Beyond those two teams, the Yankees and Nationals rank near the bottom in terms of offensive outfield production. The Blue Jays have gotten little out of Melky Cabrera in left field, the Reds have an opening in left field thanks to the early season loss of Ryan Ludwick, and the Pirates could probably use an upgrade in right field over Travis Snider.
Unfortunately, this is where Byrd's age and past play against his value. Just one year ago, Byrd was released by two teams after hitting a dreadful .210/.243/.245 and he was soon suspended after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. Beyond that, Byrd's performance this year has been great but it's also out of line with his career norms. While his power production has jumped up, so has his strikeout rate. The question for an acquiring team is pretty simple: is this type of performance sustainable over the majority of the next three months?
In terms of recent Mets comparisons, the obvious one is Scott Hairston who was similarly shopped a year ago. The slugging outfielder posted a .342 wOBA last season, just one point better than Byrd's .341 mark so far this year. The Mets ultimately declined to trade him, citing that teams wouldn't offer a player among their top 30 prospects in return. Of course, there are differences between the two: working in Byrd's favor is the fact that he has a negligible platoon split over his career and is actually slightly better against righthanders this year. Because of this, Byrd could be a credible starter, unlike Hairston who mostly feasted on lefties. Byrd is also a better defender in right field, thanks to great range and his arm.
Even with all of those positives, Byrd is unlikely to bring back an impact prospect on his own. Looking at San Francisco's farm system, center field prospect Gary Brown has seen his stock tumble but probably not enough for the Giants to sell low on a near big league ready center fielder for three months of Byrd. If the Giants somehow made him available, though, he'd be an intriguing buy low target. The same goes for infielder Joe Panik, who's been mediocre with the bat in Double-A but has a first round pedigree and seems unlikely to be dealt for Byrd. More realistically, they have a number of live arms throughout the system that would help add to the Mets' stockpile. Texas, meanwhile, has a glut of toolsy, lower level middle infield prospects that could be of use to the Mets.
Sandy Alderson and Co. could also try to package Byrd with another more valuable player (Bobby Parnell? Daniel Murphy?) in order to improve their return and that might ultimately be the best option in this scenario, assuming Byrd doesn't continue to tear the cover off the ball this month.