In 2007 the Cleveland Indians leaned on aging veteran pitcher Paul Byrd to provide them with a stabilizing presence on the mound. Now it may be time for them to take a chance on another Byrd.
On Saturday, the Boston Red Sox designated outfielder Marlon Byrd for assignment to make room for Daisuke Matsuzaka. On Tuesday afternoon the Red Sox released Byrd. He is now a free agent and can sign with any team for a pro-rated portion of the MLB minimum (about $200,000, depending on when he signs).
Like any player who gets DFAed, Byrd has his share of blemishes. He started the 2011 season well and on was hitting .308/.346/.419 on May 21st, when he was hit in the face by an Alfredo Aceves 93 mph fastball and suffered multiple facial fractures. He returned to the Cubs’ lineup on July 2 but was never able to find his groove again. He finished the season hitting a meager .255/.311/.380 over his final 300 PA.
Byrd got off to an awful start this year, and after just 13 games he was hitting .070 (3-for-43) for the Chicago Cubs. He was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, who were desperate for outfield help after a slew of injuries, for Michael Bowden and most of the remaining $6.5 million left on his contract. While with the Red Sox he appeared in 34 games (including 26 starts in center field and one in right), hitting .270/.286/.320 over 106 plate appearances and drawing only two walks while striking out 21 times
But in spite of his struggles, signing Marlon Byrd would be a low-cost gamble who could help the Indians right away. Byrd would give the Tribe a more potent right-handed outfielder than Aaron Cunningham, whose role at this point is to be a late-game defensive replacement for Johnny Damon or Shelley Duncan. He has appeared in 34 games (just 14 starts) and is hitting .200/.284/.233. Perhaps more significantly in terms of his role with Cleveland, he has failed to produce against left handed pitching, hitting .172 (5-for-29).
Like Cunningham, Byrd is a right-handed hitter who plays all three outfield positions. He has a history of success against southpaws with a career .283/.338/.443 triple-slash, and even through his struggles this year he’s managed to put up an impressive .327/.353/.408 line against left-handed pitching in 2012. He turns 35 at the end of August so he is well suited for a part-time role as a traditional fourth outfielder, which the Indians lack right now.
With Byrd added to the roster Manny Acta could give days off or games at DH for Shin-Soo Choo or Michael Brantley. His inclusion to the current roster also makes the duplication of Duncan and Matt LaPorta unnecessary. Acta and Chris Antonetti could, if they so choose, elect to send LaPorta down and add Jason Donald to the roster in order to spell Jason Kipnis or Asdrubal Cabrera. Or, as many fans have been clamoring for, the Indians could take a look at Jared Goedert.
Baseball is a game of risk and expectations and it’s not often that a player comes available that meets the exact needs of a team—a right-handed hitters who has success against lefty pitchers and can play all three outfield positions—in the middle of a season. There isn’t much to lose financially, and with him in the fold Cleveland wouldn’t miss Cunningham in the event of his likely corresponding DFA. Plus, if Byrd proves to be a disappointment between now and the trade deadline, the Indians can scour the trade market for an adequate right-handed bat.
Signing Marlon Byrd would be a low-risk, high-reward move that could instantly address some of the team’s biggest needs. What are the Indians waiting for?