Byrd Brings Big Bat and Experience to Tribe’s Roster

You’re a Major League Baseball veteran, hoping to hang on in the game. It’s been a month since other players around the league have started reporting to their respective spring training homes. Concerns about your future in your profession undoubtedly have to sneak in.

Marlon Byrd wasn’t done yet.

While his cohorts were soaking up the sun in Arizona and Florida in preparation for Cactus and Grapefruit League games, Byrd was working out with players at Pierce College, a community college in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, until the opportunity to come to Goodyear presented itself to the 38-year-old.

Byrd was another name on a long list of candidates to help a depleted Tribe outfield. Abraham Almonte was suspended. Michael Brantley was closer than expected to returning from his offseason shoulder surgery, but was unlikely to be ready by Opening Day. Lonnie Chisenhall was slumping and dealing with arm injuries that may have contributed to the poor results at the plate.

Other options in camp, including Joey Butler, Michael Choice, Collin Cowgill, Robbie Grossman, Shane Robinson, Will Venable, and Zach Walters, had not done nearly enough to secure the job early, while young prospect Tyler Naquin was forcing his way into the outfield. Byrd’s lengthy career, versatility as a corner outfielder, and his right-handed bat with a steady 20-homer production over the last several years, could catapult himself to the top of the list quickly if he could come in to camp with two weeks to make his case.

“I’m an old man, so I don’t think they’re going to put me in center field,” Byrd shared on March 18 from Goodyear. “A platoon, anything. I’m not expecting to come make this team and start. That’s not the case at all.”

Byrd made $8 million in each of the last two seasons and came painfully close to the same figure for this season in the Bay Area. Instead, he inked a minor league contract with a $1 million base if on the Major League roster and reportedly $2.5 million more in incentives.

His efforts immediately spoke volumes – he was not ready to call it a career. As the days passed, other names slowly dropped out of the competition. Byrd’s name was not among them.

The Indians announced that he would be on the 25-man roster to start the season, a move they made official on April 3 when they selected his contract from Triple-A Columbus.

He was in the Opening Day starting lineup against Boston lefty David Price and starting in left field. He was hitless with two strikeouts and a walk in four trips to the plate, but did knock in a run with a sacrifice fly. He got his first hit as an Indian with a single in four plate appearances on Wednesday night.

He will see time in the outfield, especially with Brantley and Chisenhall out, and likely at designated hitter as the season progresses. There is a possibility that the right-handed bat could ultimately platoon with the lefty Chisenhall in right field when he returns from the disabled list.

It was a crazy path for Byrd, one that became possible when the San Francisco Giants were very clear that they were going to look at more youthful options in the final days of the 2015 regular season after they were eliminated from the NL West and NL Wild Card pictures. While such a move is typical for teams on the outside of the playoff races, it was financially significant to the Giants and to Byrd – he was just six plate appearances short of an $8 million option in his contract that would vest if he reached 550 plate appearances.

In early November, the Giants declined their club option on him as well, paving the way to free agency.

Byrd is well traveled in recent years, as the Indians are his eighth organization in the last five years. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1999 and reached the Majors briefly in 2002 before getting regular work with the club prior to his trade to Washington in 2005. He signed his first free agent contract after the 2006 season with the Texas Rangers and spent three years there.

After those more lengthy stays, he has bounced around with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, back to Philadelphia, and over to the Cincinnati Reds before their August waiver trade of the veteran outfielder to San Francisco.

He was an All-Star in 2010 with Chicago and has hit 24, 25, and 23 homers over the last three seasons.

If the Indians get anything close to the production that he has provided over the last couple of seasons, he could be a big right-handed addition to a lineup that was notably devoid of power previously from that side of the plate. With the banged up status of the Tribe’s outfield, they will need him in the lineup and contributing regularly as he heads into the twilight of his big league playing days.

Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak

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