February 13, 2005

Despite moves, CF pool still tepid

For the second year in a row, the Phillies will begin the season with too many lukewarm bodies in center. Marlon Byrd, considered the future of the position a year ago, could have limited opportunities to prove himself in Clearwater.

It's no surprise the Phillies made centerfield a priority this winter, but for all the activity, the future of the position remains a mystery.

Marlon Byrd, cosidered the future a year ago, fell victim to a sophomore slump and enters spring training in limbo. Many scouts have written off the 27-year-old off for good, citing poor bat speed and a statuesque plate methodology that makes it difficult to adjust to pitches.

So in the first big move of the offseason, the Phillies traded for veteran Kenny Lofton, a favorite of new manager Charlie Manuel.

With the new faces at center, including Lofton, 38, and Rule 5 pickup and defensive specialist Shane Victorino, to go with Jason Michaels, recipient of a new $825,000 contract, and Byrd, it's astounding how similar 2005 is to 2004, despite all the shuffling.

Lofton will assume the starting role Byrd claimed in '04. Michaels returns as all-purpose outfielder and could platoon with Lofton. Victorino could assume a Doug Glanville-esque roll as a late-inning substitution, should the team elect to keep him. Ricky Ledee, now in Los Angeles, also factored into the mix last season, and that's about all Byrd is expected to do.

But in reality, the Phillies didn't improve so much as complicate matters in center, a theme that permeated the rest of Philadelphia's muddled offseason.

Placido Polanco was expected to sign elsewhere, but unexpectedly returned, costing the Phillies $4.6 million, and for now, is slated as nothing more than a high-priced utility player.

The Polanco resigning also impeded on the two-year deal to Tomas Perez, signed back in October. The Perez signing was intended to secure a flexible infield presence in the absence of Polanco. Last season under Larry Bowa, Perez quietly started 56 games, but should only expect half that, with fewer games at second and first.

For the second year in a row, the Phillies will start the season with too many bodies in center. The addition of Victorino handcuffs the team into giving him plenty of playing time in camp. Keeping him boxes out yet another roster spot that might otherwise go to a player with the best spring. If the Phils elect not to keep him, he must be offered back to the Dodgers for $25,000.

No player will feel the roster pinch more than Byrd. Unable to trade him, and electing not to play winter ball, it became critical for Byrd to get in his swings in Clearwater, and make the most of those swings in order to regain his status as a player with any kind a future in Philadelphia.

But even if Byrd suddenly figures it out, his stock in center won't rise above third in the depth chart, if he makes the team at all.


At 3:00 PM, Blogger el123chico said...

well, at least i'm glad i didn't spend $150 or more on that marlon byrd jersey when he was batting .300 his rookie year.


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