In an attempt to prop up an outfield corps that has had difficulty staying healthy this season, the San Francisco Giants acquired veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd and cash from the Reds Thursday afternoon in exchange for righthanded minor league reliever Stephen Johnson. News of the trade broke less than an hour after the Giants announced that rightfielder Hunter Pence has been placed on the disabled list due to the oblique strain he suffered in Monday night’s game.
For Pence, who was the second most valuable player on last year’s championship team according to Baseball-Reference.com’s wins above replacement, this is his third trip to the DL this season. He previously missed the first 36 games of the season after suffering a fractured left ulna upon being hit by a pitch in spring training, and played just 18 games before returning to the DL in early June with tendinitis in that wrist. There he joins centerfielder Angel Pagan, who had been struggling at the plate prior to landing on the DL with patella tendinitis two weeks ago.
Pence’s placement on the DL, meanwhile, makes room for Nori Aoki to return from the seven-day concussion disabled list, where he had been placed after being hit in the helmet by a pitch on August 9. Aoki has appeared in just 13 games since June 20 due to that concussion scare and another pitch that created a small fracture in his right fibula on that date and cost him 28 games.
Due to those myriad injuries, the Giants have had Pence, Pagan and Aoki on the active roster together for just 30 of their 120 games thus far season. With two of them back on the DL now and the Giants trailing the Dodgers by two games in the NL West and the Cubs by three games for the second wild-card spot in the NL, the need for help in the outfield was obvious.
With Gregor Blanco not just filling in in center but representing an upgrade over the slumping Pagan, the move for Byrd to replace the injured Pence is an ideal fit. Byrd, who will turn 38 at the end of the month, has been struggling at the plate himself this month but had a .252/.306/.485 line on the year on the morning of Aug. 2, and his 19 home runs on the season match the season total of Giants team leader Brandon Crawford but were compiled in 70 fewer plate appearances. One might point to the vast difference in home ballparks to explain some of that difference in power—Byrd is heading from one of most homer-friendly parks in the majors to one of the least—but Byrd has hit eight of those 19 home runs on the road and had a big comeback year in pitchers parks in 2013.
Byrd was the centerpiece of an August waiver trade that year as well, going from the Mets to the Pirates with catcher John Buck for infield prospect Dilson Herrera and reliever Vic Black. The Giants didn’t give up nearly as much in this deal, getting Byrd and some cash to help pay the less than $3 million left on his contract this season for Johnson, a tall, 24-year-old righty reliever with control problems who has posted a 3.41 ERA and 2.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Double A this year despite striking out 68 men in 58 innings.
Byrd was a boon to the Bucs in 2013, hitting .318/.357/.486 in 30 games as their rightfielder down the stretch as the Pirates clinched their first playoff berth since 1992. He then hit .364/.391/.591 in six postseason games, the only postseason exposure of his career, including a second-inning home run in the wild-card game against the Reds that started the scoring in the Pirates’ eventual 6–2 win. The Giants can’t expect as strong a performance from the slumping Byrd now that he is two years deeper into his late thirties, but as a power-hitting stop-gap in rightfield during Pence’s time on the DL, and as a potential right-handed platoon bat in left and lefty-killing pinch hitter after Pence’s return (Byrd has hit .280/.344/.500 against left-handed pitching), he fits their needs very nicely.
I should note here that Byrd has an $8 million option for 2016 that will vest if he reaches 550 plate appearances this season. However, there’s very little chance of him reaching that threshold due to a fractured wrist that carved 15 games out of his season in early July. Byrd joins the Giants with 388 PA on the year and would need to average nearly four plate appearances per game over the Giants’ remaining 42 games to reach that mark. Given the probability of him moving to the bench upon Pence’s return, he’s very unlikely to get the 162 PA he needs. However, given the Giants’ recent history of re-signing players, if he is at all productive for the team over the season’s final six weeks, he could very well find the Giants picking up his option anyway.