In the spirit of the day, the Chicago Cubs may be on the path to selling off a number of valuable parts. If that proves to be the case (make sure you emphasize that “if” before flying off the handle), there’s a player whose name will start to pop up: center fielder Marlon Byrd.
You may recall that Byrd has been trade candidate of tepid legitimacy for the better part of a year. As a good defensive, decent offensive center fielder, signed to a reasonable $6.5 million in 2012, Byrd would have some value on the trade market. But, as a 34-year-old who will be a free agent after 2012, Byrd doesn’t necessarily have a lot of value to the Cubs if they don’t plan on making a run in 2012.
Jon Morosi recently wrote on the subject of a Byrd trade.
There hasn’t been much trade buzz surrounding Byrd, which is hard to figure. Byrd is entering the last year of his contract, and prospect Brett Jackson should be ready to start in center field for the Cubs in 2013. The Nationals, looking far and wide for an everyday center fielder, could be a fit; Washington has good organizational pitching depth, which is precisely what the Cubs need. The Marlins are an intriguing possibility, if they trade Hanley Ramirez and move Emilio Bonifacio to third base. The Reds, Giants, Cardinals and Mariners could upgrade in center field this offseason.
The Cubs entertained some unspecified interest in Byrd at the trade deadline this year, but, pursuant to Jim Hendry’s preference not to deal anyone whom the next GM might want to retain, the Cubs never engaged in serious discussions with any teams about Byrd. If the market is as broad as Morosi suggests, discussions on Byrd should become more serious this time around.
The main issue I see in moving Byrd before the season is Brett Jackson’s readiness to take over in center field from day one in 2012. Some see Jackson as ready – he put up good numbers in split time between AA and AAA last year – but others see a kid who’s just 23, and strikes out a whole lot against minor league pitching. And, though it’s not always the most popular point, it’s worth noting: by bringing up Jackson to start the year, rather than mid-year, the Cubs start Jackson’s arbitration clock a year early, which could cost the Cubs millions down the line.
Another consideration is Byrd’s value in the clubhouse. I’m not one to harp on the value of chemistry, but there is something to be said for a veteran presence – especially an excellent one like Byrd’s – in a clubhouse expected to be full of younger players.
If the Cubs decide to move Byrd, even if a number of teams are interested, the Cubs probably can’t expect much more than salary relief and a decent – but not great – prospect. If (see how that “if” keeps popping up?) the Cubs move a guy like Matt Garza or Sean Marshall, you can expect the chatter on a guy like Byrd to pick up.