Last January, the Phillies sent veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd to the Reds, along with $4 million to cover half of Byrd’s 2015 salary. In return, the Phillies received (then) 22-year-old pitcher Ben Lively, who’d been ranked (by one source) as Cincinnati’s 13th-best prospect.
So how’s this working out for everybody?
Lively finished last season in Double-A with the Reds, and he’s now in Double-A with the Phillies. He’s pitched decently, but is hardly rocketing to the majors. Not at (now) 23, with a low-90s fastball. If he doesn’t get hurt, Lively still probably winds up in the majors eventually. But as a No. 4 starter, or a back-of-the-bullpen reliever, who knows?
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Meanwhile, Byrd’s just been terrible with the Reds. He wasn’t a bad $4 million gamble, at all. Not for a marginally contending team. But the Reds are probably dead in the water and Byrd’s probably been their worst every-day player. Some of it’s bad luck, but he’s also just not been hitting the ball nearly as hard this season as he had. Maybe it’s a blip, or maybe it’s not; who knows?
As I said, it wasn’t a bad gamble. There’s a catch, though: If Byrd reaches 550 plate appearances, the Reds are on the hook for $8 million next season. And while $8 million isn’t much these days, I’ll bet it’s more than the Reds would like to pay.
Which leaves them in a bit of a jam. It would be easy to justify benching Byrd enough to make sure he doesn’t get to 550. But if he’s benched, it’s less likely that he’ll boost his stats enough to become trade bait in July. And at this point, the Reds’ best hope is that they can flip him to a contender at the deadline for a Grade B prospect like … Ben Lively.