The other day the Phillies traded away Marlon Byrd, an enigmatic, 27-year-old, former starting center fielder, who has spent most of the season in Triple-A foryou guessed itanother enigmatic, 27-year-old, former starting center fielder, who spent most of the season in Triple-A.
In a classic case of trading for each other's problems, the Phils shipped Byrd to Washington for Endy Chavez.
Quoth Phils' GM Ed Wadeand I do mean wade, as in get out the chest-high boots and dive right in:
"A change of scenery will probably do him good," said Wade, who called Chavez a quality fielder "who can play three outfield positions We get an outfielder with exceptional speed and he brings lots of energy and doesn't strike out a lot
For the last year, Wade has received harsh criticism for several of his moves - and non-moves. The criticism escalated Thursday when a published report suggested that he could be fired in a month if the last-place Phils don't turn things around.
"After Thursday, I had to make a deal. I had to do something," Wade said with a smile.
First, his "change of scenery" comments confirms that this was a trade of one team's problems for another. It also conveys that Wade has no idea what he is doing and that he has resigned himself to merely take a gamble.
As for Chavez not striking out a lot, that bit is true. However, and this is the much, much more important aspect of his batting approach, he walks even less often. He walked 30 times and struck out 40 times in 547 plate appearances last year. In his 1303 career plate appearances prior to the trade, he walked just 72 times against 124 strikeouts. His on-base percentage last year was just .318 but that tops his career figure of .304.
Offensively, Chavez does one thing well and that's steal bases. He stole 32 in 39 tries last year, and 53 out of 75 career attempts. That's good.
However, he's a leadoff hitter who is too flawed a batter to use at the top of the order. He can't get on base. He doesn't have enough power to justify hitting anywhere else in the lineup. He slugged just .371 last year and .365 for his career.
This presents a player whose most important offensive stat (OPS) was 18% worse than the park-adjusted league average last season and 30% worse for his career.
OK, but Wade would probably say that Byrd was not much better. I would disagree.
Byrd was abysmal last year, in the gaslighted season that Larry Bowa and Wade helped put him through. But his previous year showed some promise in his being a capable, though somewhat flawed, all-around player. Byrd is streaky and his ego is as fragile as can be. But he did show flashes of being a capable everyday player, something that can't be said of Chavez.
Maybe Byrd never will be more than a marginal major-leaguer, but I find it particularly galling that the Phils did not even bother this season to find out for sure. He batted .390 in spring training but was still farmed out even though the Phils carried just four outfielders, including 38-year-old starting center fielder Kenny Lofton. When Lofton and Jim Thome went down with injuries and Byrd and Ryan Howard were recalled on May 3 to replace them, even though Byrd was vastly outperforming Howard, he was rarely used. He was used in just five of the twelve games in which he wore a Phils uniform this season and he collected just 13 at-bats even though he batted .308 over the span. For the same period Howard missed just two games and recorded 21 at-bats even though he batted .095 over that period.
Clearly Wade and his toady Charlie Manuel had no intention of using Byrd even though they were occupying the NL East cellar with an aging and oft-injured team. Why not take a chance on Byrd?
Wade evidently felt that taking a chance on Chavez was a better gamble. Maybe Chavez will work out but his history indicates that he is a bigger gamble and a more one-dimensional player. He's not quite this season's answer to Paul Abbott.
Clearly, what Ed Wade is concerned with is in trying not to lose his job rather than in trying to do it. He was afraid of the backlash if he gave Byrd a shot and he and the Phils both fell flat. It's safer to go with some commodity that's unknown to the local yokels, and is better PR besides, which his final comment points to.
I think it's very illuminating to look at how each of those players started out with their new clubs. Chavez went 1-for-5 yesterday in his Philly debut, but did score a run. However, I think his first at-bat is more demonstrative of his ability. Up 3-1 with one out and none on in the bottom of the first, he swung at a chest-high fastballball fourand lined a rope into the left field stands...foul. He then grounded out.
Meanwhile, Marlon Byrd got his first work as a Nat tonight, going 3-for-4 with three RBI. His first at-bat was an RBI single.
So long, Marlon, we hardly knew ye. I can't help but feel that the arc of his Phils career will be mirrored in the Phils' performance. 2003 seemed so promising. 2004 was a gross disappointment. 2005 is done in May. It's too bad that Wade is still around to write the next chapter.