Now that the Marlon Byrd signing is firmly in the rear view mirror, and we’ve all had plenty of time to process the move, we can reflect and consider just what it means for the Chicago Cubs. Was it really the right move? Was it a bad decision?
Interestingly, there seems to be a noticeable split in the punditry: the national media suggest the deal was a mistake, and the local cheerleaders suggest the deal was a great one. Compare this glowing write-up from the Sun Times:
”We worked very hard and wanted to come up with the right fit in center field, and we felt we explored every avenue, free agent- and trade-wise,” said general manager Jim Hendry, who signed Byrd to a three-year, $15 million deal. ”And it kept coming back to Marlon.”
A big reason for that is Jaramillo, who soon after being signed by the Cubs in October began promoting his former Texas pupil as a good option for the Cubs’ need in center.
Cubs officials said Byrd told Jaramillo repeatedly, from early in the offseason, that he wanted to come to Chicago. And once Bradley’s bad contract was shipped off to Seattle for Silva’s bad contract — along with $5.5 million in 2010 payroll relief that essentially covers Byrd’s salary and the difference in Silva’s — talks accelerated.
”I’m very excited,” said Byrd, 32, who said he spoke with Jaramillo at least every other week throughout the offseason. ”When I knew I had the opportunity to become a Cub, I was really hoping this would be my landing ground. When my agent called me and told me there was a very good opportunity of being there, I told him that’s where I wanted to be.”…
Byrd, who’s widely regarded as a fan-friendly, strong clubhouse presence and was named the Rangers’ ”Good Guy” by writers last season….
Offsetting the concern about adding yet another right-handed bat are Byrd’s history of hitting right-handed pitchers a little better than lefties — including a 56-point difference in average last season — and his reputation as being better-than-average in center field.
That adds to the overall upgrade in the Cubs’ outfield, with Kosuke Fukudome being allowed to move back over to his natural right field, where he’s considered one of the National League’s top defenders. Hendry’s offseason focus shifts to the next priority: getting another veteran relief pitcher, possibly through trade, and looking at potential backup outfield help.
If you read only that summary of the move, you’d think (a) Marlon Byrd was the top free agent outfielder on the market this year, (b) the Cubs signed him for free, (c) Marlon Byrd is going to dominate right-handed pitchers, and (d) Marlon Byrd is a great defensive center fielder.
Frankly, I’m not convinced of any of those things. For my part, I’m more persuaded by the national take on the deal: that no matter how you spin the backloading, it was too much money and too many years for a guy who should not be a starter on a team like the Cubs.
Keith Law’s take may have said it best:
Marlon Byrd is a nice fourth outfielder who could play every day on a non-contender, but he doesn’t handle centerfield well enough to play it every day on a team with aspirations of playoff contention and doesn’t hit well enough to play every day in an outfield corner. He boosted his overall stats the last few years playing in a good hitters’ park in Texas, posting a .290/.339/.415 line in 516 road PA over that time, a line that won’t cut it in left or right field, and he’s no better than average defensively in center, perhaps less if he has to play it 150 times a season. He replaces Milton Bradley and Bradley’s replacements, but even with the off year Bradley was more productive for the Cubs on a rate basis than Byrd was in Texas, and the Cubs have improved by less than a win between the pair of moves.
Paying Marlon Byrd $5 million per year (although the deal is backloaded, so his salary will be increasing as he ages and his value decreases) isn’t going to sink the Cubs, nor is it an enormous loss of value, but giving a player who shouldn’t be playing every day three guaranteed years into his mid-30s seems like a risky decision. And since it comes on the heels of a deal where they had to give away the last outfielder to whom they gave a three-year contract (a deal they only pulled off by taking back one of the worst pitchers currently on a 40-man roster), it makes even less sense. The odds are good that Jim Hendry (or his successor) will be trying to dump Byrd’s contract on another club before 2012.
Is there anyone here who believes that Marlon Byrd will be the starting center fielder in 2012? (or that, if he is, the Cubs won’t be terrible?) That’s a very expensive bench player right there, which, as Law points out, does not alone destroy a team. But it’s the combination of all of the Byrds, Miles, and Grabows of the world that could sink this ship – paying above-market money for mediocre players is never a winning strategy, whether that player is a starter or a bench player.
But here’s the thing: Byrd is a Cub now. He’s ours. So it’s time to adopt him, cheer for him, and get excited about the mere possibility that he could be a part of something special. Here’s hoping the “Rudy Jaramillo” effect has not been overstated. Here’s hoping that Wrigley Field proves to be just as groovy for Byrd as was Arlington.