Marlon Byrd capitalized on a comeback season with the Pirates and New York Mets when he signed a two-year, $16 million contract Tuesday with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Byrd hit .291 with 24 home runs for the Pirates and Mets, but is 36 years old. The length and dollar amount of the deal emphasizes the difficulty teams have in acquiring power hitters in today's game.
"If you don't want to give up your first-round pick, Marlon Byrd is arguably the best available outfield bat," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told The Associated Press at the general managers meetings in Orlando, Fla. "We feared he was out of our price range immediately. We stayed engaged in the process, and Marlon and his agents talked about wanting to come back to Pittsburgh. He loved his time there. The environment and playing for a winner and playing in front of that fan base was something that really intrigued him."
Byrd hit .210 with one home run in 153 plate appearances in 2012 before he tested positive for a banned substance and served a 50-game suspension. He played in the Mexican League last year before signing with the Mets on a minor league contract that paid him $700,000.
Byrd's deal, which includes a vesting option for 2016, was consistent with the contract of Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, who served a 50-game suspension in 2012 after testing positive for testosterone. Cabrera signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Blue Jays in November 2012. The two share the same agency, ACES.
The Pirates traded minor leaguers Vic Black and Dilson Herrera to the Mets for Byrd and catcher John Buck in a waiver trade in late August. Byrd hit .318 in 30 games with the Pirates and .364 with a home run in six postseason games.
"We'll miss Marlon," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I want nothing but for players to be happy. This was an opportunity, I think, very good for him. Great park to hit in. Guy can hit a fly ball, can drive a ball."
The departure of Byrd leaves the Pirates with Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones as their current internal options in right field. Snider, who is out of minor league options, had a .281 on-base percentage and hit only five home runs during a season when he missed a month because of a toe injury.
Tabata hit .282 with a .342 on-base percentage but played in only 106 games and had 341 plate appearances. He missed more than a month because of an oblique injury.
The Pirates prefer not to play Jones in right field and might non-tender him anyway at the Dec. 2 deadline. Jones is eligible for arbitration for the third time out of four and will earn a raise from his $4.5 million salary in 2013.
Hurdle said the Pirates plan to hire a hitting coach from within the organization to replace Jay Bell, who accepted a job as the Cincinnati Reds bench coach. Assistant hitting coach Jeff Branson is the current favorite.
"I would like to think that he's got sweat equity in our organization and in the position," Hurdle said. "I'm not a big fan of turnover. If we go outside, that'd be the third guy in three years, which I'm not a big fan of."
Huntington tried to reach out to free agent starter A.J. Burnett Tuesday afternoon, Hurdle said, as Burnett continues to decide whether to keep playing or retire.
"I want A.J. to be happy," Hurdle said. "I want A.J. to do what's going to make A.J. happy. We did let him know, Neal has let him know, I have let him know that we would be happy with him returning and pitching for us."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.baseball - pirates