The Hidden Cost of Marlon Byrd’s Broken Face: The Nationals are Looking for a Center Fielder

Let me offer a couple preambles before I say some uncomfortable things.

First, Marlon Byrd’s injury was both scary and serious. I’m very grateful that the injury, although serious, is not going to have a dramatic impact on his quality of life.

Second, Marlon Byrd is, by all accounts, one of the finest men to put on the Cubs uniform. Beloved by fans and teammates, Byrd works hard every day, tries hard on every play, and – performance notwithstanding – is exactly the kind of guy you want on your team.

Ok. Now the ugly meat.

Marlon Byrd has gotta go.

There is no future for Byrd, signed through 2012, on this team. For years, his defense in center field has been merely adequate, and his bat – outside of Arlington – has not carried the position. If you take away his scorching first couple of months in 2010, he’s floated right around a .700 OPS for the Cubs, with no power and a whole lot of strikeouts. Those are numbers you could stand from a center fielder with a lot of speed and excellent defense. From Byrd, it’s a drag.

Even setting all that aside, everyone knows Byrd’s days are numbered as a Cub. If it’s not top prospect Brett Jackson – a center fielder by trade – taking his spot as soon as this year, it’s going to be one of the team’s other top prospects (of which there are an inordinate amount of center fielders – Matt Szczur, Rubi Silva, Evan Crawford) by the second half of 2012.

So Byrd, whose contract calls for a reasonable $5.5 million this year and $6.5 million next year (I know, call his skills weak in one breath and his contract reasonable in another – lay off), is one of the Cubs’ most likely trade candidates this year. And, hey, what do you know? He doesn’t even have a no-trade clause!

And then he broke his face.

While he’s recovering nicely, no estimates have been placed on his return. He’s only recently started to tip toe around physical activity, let alone baseball activity. And then, when he does finally start playing, there’s no telling how long it will be before that micro-second flinch, added to the approach of any human being who’s been within inches of a career-threatening – maybe life-threatening – injury, stops hindering his at bats.

In other words, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be well enough at any point this season to be traded before the trade deadline. Indeed, he may not be well enough this year to prove he’s worth trading for in the offseason.

The timing couldn’t be worse: the Nationals are reportedly looking for a center fielder, and are – sigh – “willing to overpay.” The Nats don’t think either of their in-house options – Roger Bernadina (not a CF) and Rick Ankiel (not productive) – can do the job, so they’re on the desperate side of things.

Even worse, the Cubs and Nationals already discussed Marlon Byrd earlier this season, so there appears to be interest. A deal wasn’t consummated at the time, I suspect, because the Cubs weren’t quite ready to call up Brett Jackson or to call it a season. If Byrd were healthy, it’s fair to wonder how that may have changed.

So, once again, the fates have conspired to screw the Cubs. It sucked to lose Byrd in the first place, but it sucks double to lose him and to lose the opportunity to trade him for the betterment of the organization. Hopefully Byrd manages a speedy and complete recovery this year, first and foremost for his own well being, and secondly, well, so the Cubs can dump him.

Like I said, it’s uncomfortable. But it’s true.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

16 responses to “The Hidden Cost of Marlon Byrd’s Broken Face: The Nationals are Looking for a Center Fielder”

  1. miggy80

    Sad but true. I think this train (2011 season) is coming off the tracks and a little affraid to see what type of train wreck is waiting around the bend (Z punching ______ in the dugout) feel free to fill in the blank

  2. jstraw

    Just like there’s a whole litany of “low points of the season” and a multitude of “the stat that shows what’s really wrong with the Cubs” and countless “the most inexplicable Mike Quade in-game move/non-move,” there’s a whole menu of “the least of our worries.” Right now, Marlon Byrd’s trade value feels like one of them.

  3. Spencer

    Cubs.com reporting that Byrd expects to be back in 4-6 weeks. At best, that would give him a month before the trade deadline and at worst 2 weeks to show what he’s got. Doesn’t seem likely he’s going to get traded unless the Nats or another team desperately need a CF.

  4. Hogie

    Oh man, I hope that there isn’t another broken face now.

  5. Raymond Robert Koenig

    How slow do your reflexes have to be to get hit in the face by a groundball? Wow!

  6. Raymond Robert Koenig

    Yeah, Baby! Swept at home by the team with the worst record in the N.L. 9 games out on June 1st. Come on, Ricketts, pull the trigger.

  7. Irwin Kass

    Byrd is not problem….Cubs don’t play small ball to make up for lack of homer hitters….would be battling for first place if every time a runner gets on with no outs, the batter, no matter who it is, lays down sacrifice bunt…. Great managers would insist that everyone buy into this..Quade has to ramp up his game if season is to turn around