April 01, 2005

Byrd joins Howard in Scranton

A day after Ryan Howard was sent to Triple-A, center fielder Marlon Byrd also got word he will start the year in Scranton/Wilkes Barre.

Byrd put together an excellent spring, batting .390 with a homer and 10 RBIs in 14 games, making a strong case to make the team as a backup. Byrd’s demotion means infielder Jose Offerman will stay on as a left-handed bat off the bench and Kenny Lofton will start in center.

BPF Take
None of this is surprising to the BPF. In fact, Byrd's story since October has gone exactly as I'd envisioned it would.

There was a lot of blame assigned following last season, and center field drew a lot of the focus. Byrd was an awful sophomore, slugging a meager .321 and only getting on base to the tune of .287. His midseason demotion to Triple-A was justified, and in hindsight, should have happened earlier.

So when the wrath of Philadelphia came crashing down in October, Byrd took a hard fall. Labeled the team’s future center fielder just months before, GM Ed Wade reacted, dangling Byrd for pitching and trading for veteran center fielder Kenny Lofton.

The team was right in bringing in Lofton. They couldn't go forward in '05 with uncertainty at the position. There was a chance Byrd might never come around, and hesitation in playing Jason Michaels too much for fear he’d get exposed at the plate and in the field.

But I never agreed with the majority opinion that Byrd must be traded. In keeping him as a third option at center, I asked readers to step back and look what the team had. He's young, gifted defensively, played stellar baseball in the minors and hit for pop, on top of a solid rookie debut.

Good center fielders are a commodity, and when Byrd was nearly traded to the Brewers for dime-a-dozen relief pitcher Jeff Bennett, I almost lost it.

Here’s something else I don't get. There's a general attitude that if a player isn't good enough to make the 25-man roster, they have no value to the team. In my November 18 article, "Tip-toeing around Scranton," I studied how Triple-A has devolved into baseball’s black hole, when it should really be a holding tank for players like Byrd and Ryan Howard – young, talented, but blocked by proven veterans. If nothing else, Ed Wade has a stack of chips to toss on the table and get a pitcher.

Before spring training, I had a hunch Byrd would reemerge and force officials to reconsider, and that's precisely what happened. I also predicted both Howard and Byrd starting the year in Scranton, and still maintain that’s the best spot for them.

Lofton is the man you want to start the season, and maybe even finish it, but Byrd is your best long-term solution and an asset other teams will trade for.


At 2:18 PM, Blogger will travel said...

I agree with you..It would be fun to see Howard and Byrd play at SWB if it were not such an awful stadium. I wonder if that stadium stll has that ugly rug instead of grass?


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