There is a near-unanimous consensus among Pirates fans that the team should do almost everything it can to re-sign outfielder Marlon Byrd, who, by MLB rules, will become a free agent shortly after the World Series.
The reasons appear to be obvious. After being acquired from the New York Mets in late August, Byrd showed just how important a power bat like his can be to a lineup like the Pirates. Among players with more than 100 at bats, he led the team in hitting at .318 and was second to Andrew McCutchen in OPS at .838. What's more, he batted .343 (12-for-35) with runners in scoring position, best on the team.
What's not to like? Actually, plenty!
Consider the offensive numbers of these two players over the past four years:
Player A: AB 1,701, H 478, 2B 98, 3B 9, HR 46, RBI 198, BA .281, Slg. pct. .430.
Player B: AB 1,707, H 440, 2B 106, 3B 3, HR 52, RBI 229, BA .258, Slg. pct. .415.
The statistics are fairly even. Player B has shown a bit more power, Player A a bit more consistency.
Player A is Byrd. Player B is Gaby Sanchez.
There is no intent here to suggest Sanchez is as important to the Pirates' future as Byrd. He's not. The intent is to show that maybe Byrd, who will be 37 next season, is not quite the absolute necessity that many believe.
Of course, four-year statistics might not be the proper barometer by which to judge Byrd. Perhaps it was his September performance that elicited so much appreciation from Pirates fans? If that's you, consider these statistics from the final month of the 2013 season:
Player A: AB 91, HR 2, RBI 13, BA .319, OPS .364, Slg. .462, OPS .825.
Player B: AB 73, HR 2, RBI 12, BA .315, OPS .351, Slg. .493, OPS .844.
Player A is Byrd. Player B is Jose Tabata.
Again, no intent to suggest Tabata was more critical to the Pirates success than Byrd. He wasn't. The intent was to show that maybe Byrd's September wasn't as good as some people think.
Of the 136 National League players who had 50 or more at bats in September, Byrd was 34th in OPS and 37th in slugging percentage. Also in September, he tied for 26th in RBIs and 47th in home runs.
The point of all this?
It might not be the wisest course of action for the Pirates to be hell-bent on signing Byrd to a multi-year contract, which is what it will take to keep him. The fact Byrd is coming off the best year of his career at age 36 should make anyone take pause and that doesn't mean he was doing something illegal. It means he might not do it again.
Byrd had career bests in 2013 of home runs, 24, slugging percentage, .511, and OPS, .847.
His previous career best in home runs was 20 in 2009. Other than that, he's never hit more than 12. His 88 RBIs this season were second best in his career to 89 in 2009. His next highest total was 70 in 2007.
Byrd would be a nice addition to the 2014 Pirates as the team's starting right fielder. But he comes with no guarantees. As a team that needs to be careful with its dollars, the Pirates should not be rushing into signing Byrd.
Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for violation of MLB's drug policy in 2012, came back from that embarrassment to get a two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays of $16 million. Byrd, also suspended for the same reason in 2012, didn't fare so well. He got a $700,000 deal from the Mets. There were reasons MLB teams were not quick lavish millions on Byrd and it wasn't just his age. He had no track record of significant success.
The still holds true today. The Pirates should proceed with caution in making an offer to Byrd.