Early Wednesday afternoon, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the Cincinnati Reds had acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitching prospect Ben Lively. The Reds will also receive financial relief from Philadelphia, in the form of $4 million dollars.
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The 37-year old hit .264 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI in 2014 and has eclipsed the 20-homer plateau four times in his thirteen-year big league career. The Reds likely expect the veteran to patrol left field this season, and, despite this, it may be viewed as a questionable move by some. With buy-low candidates such as Nori Aoki still available on the open market, Cincinnati opted to go for an aging player who was suspended for violating the Major League Baseball performance enhancing drug (PED) policy in 2012.
The Phillies add some pitching depth in Lively, a mid-level prospect. The righty made thirteen starts in High-and Double-A in 2014, with much more success in Bakersfield (High-A). He jumped out to a 10-1 start with a 2.28 ERA – leading to a promotion. The success did not translate to the next level as he put up a 3-6 mark with a respectable 3.88 ERA but was not as dominant in the second half of the season.
Byrd is only under contract through 2015, but has a vesting option worth $8 million, equal to his 2014-15 salary. The option kicks in if Byrd has 600 plate appearances this season, or a total of 1100 plate appearances between 2014 and 2015. He had 637 last season so a similar season will cause the option to be exercised. If he does not reach the threshold, the option shifts to a team option. Should Byrd struggle, the Reds may simply bench him – thus ensuring that 2016 option does not vest.
Lively was tabbed as the 12th-ranked Cincinnati prospect heading into 2015 by the Baseball America Prospect Handbook. The scouting report on the right-hander shows a low-90’s heater with a four-pitch mix including a changeup, curveball and a sharp slider. Baseball America ranked twelve pitchers in Cincinnati’s top thirty prospects, so there was room to move at least one of them to get an asset that will help them win now. Lively is not close to being ready for the show, having made only twelve starts at the Double-A level.
The addition of Byrd strengthens an already potent lineup in the Queen City. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips were ravaged by injuries in 2014, but are expected to be fully healthy and primed for full seasons in 2015. Catcher Devin Mesoraco and third baseman Todd Frazier should slot into the middle of the order as well. Mesoraco enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, and was named to the NL All-Star team en route to a 25-homer season while Frazier has been a consistent power threat hitting 19 long balls in both 2012 and 2013, clouting 29 last season.