Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Byrdman cometh

This just in: The Cubs have signed Marlon Byrd, the free agent outfielder whose name has lingered almost since the end of last season as a possible replacement for Milton Bradley. Byrd has talent, a decent hitter and good fielder (only 3 errors in 142 games last year), one of those guys who has always been kind of clutch (.285 BA w/RISP lifetime), which should make him popular at Wrigley. Plus, he's coming off the best season of his career in Texas, which came under the hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, whom the Cubs signed weeks ago.

What's not to like? Well, Byrd is 32, and his batting average has gone down the last three seasons as his playing time increased in Texas (His career highs last year were for homers--20--and RBIs--89--while he hit .283, south of the .307 he recorded in 2007.) He's also a righty, which I never cared about much before last winter, when the Cubs used righthandedness as an excuse for getting rid of Mark DeRosa. Now, the Cubs have taught me to care, but they bring in a righty to replace a switch-hitter (Bradley). The Cubs supposedly were looking at lefties Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, so what happened there? They lost out on Curtis Granderson, too, but it would have been nice to see the Cubs take a look at other lefty free agent outfielders like Johnny Damon or Randy Winn.

Still, if the Cubs get .275, 17 HRs, and 80 RBIs out of Byrd, and if he doesn't once fling a live ball into the bleachers with 2 outs, he'll be an offensive upgrade over Bradley (He could actually play centerfield while Kosuke Fukudome moves back to rightfield). Though, to clarify, those numbers would make him an upgrade over the Bradley of 2009. If you look at career stats, it looks an awful lot like a downgrade. At least, he's got a better glove.

Of course, there are intangibles: Maybe Byrd is a "good clubhouse guy." It is looking more likely that the Cubs will need those types of players in 2010 as they continue to take a pass on the big-time free agents. They have also been jilted this off-season by the likes of reliever Matt Capps, who felt like last-place Washington was a better destination than Chicago. The team that is shaping up for next year certainly doesn't look very much like the 97-win team of 2007, or even the 2nd place team of 2009.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that Carlos Zambrano could be trade bait, though the Cubs have denied it and Zambrano reportedly has been against waving his no-trade clause. Unless the deal is for at least two even-keeled, proven winners, I can't imagine the rumors will amount to anything.

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