Could Marlon Byrd fill the center field void?


I remember a time when Marlon Byrdwas a fan favorite in Washington. Although Byrd’s numbers were less than overwhelming (a combined .245/.318/.366 line in his two seasons in D.C.), he was one of those guys that who played the game the right way and had one of those big, contagious smiles. One that could almost make you forget the team’s crappy record. That was a time of miserable losing seasons with no signs of hope for the years to come. However, it certainly wasn’t Byrd’s fault. In fact, I’m welcoming the Cubs to trade him back home to D.C.

The Nationals are currently in search of a new center fielder, as the production they got from that position last year (largely from Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina) was average at best. With Ankiel gone, that leaves Bernadina as the man most likely to take the job next year, though Mike Rizzo seems confident that Jayson Werth can take over at some point. Other than making one of the top defensive plays of 2011, a backward diving catch in center field, Bernadina did not give much reason for the Nationals to want to make him their permanent starting center fielder other than a lack of other options. He is a fourth outfielder at best.

Ok, bear with me here as I dish out my own special way of thinking – Natelli Logic (something you guys will begin to get used to). The 2012 Nationals outfield is currently projected to have one of the two following lineups: Werth in right field, Bernadina in center, and Michael Morse in left; or Bryce Harper in right, Werth in center, and Morse in left. Bernadina, ignoring that one stellar catch he made last season, is a pretty mediocre option to use as a starting center fielder and Werth is much better tangibly and intangibly in right. Another factor to keep in mind as you read my madness, is that $8 Million Adam LaRoche will be the first baseman going into the season. You should also know that I, like many Nats fans, am not a big fan of LaRoche. Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about Marlon Byrd. So, let’s continue. How does Byrd fix all the issues I listed above? Well, it’s pretty simple but I might need a few words to explain.

For starters, Byrd will instantly be the best center fielder on the Nationals, and will certainly be the everyday starter, thus kicking both Werth and Bernadina out of center. Mission 1, check.

Next, we have this issue of potentially having Harper in right field. But with Werth now not in center, we can easily just shift him back to right field, his natural position. This allows the rookie offensive phenom to focus on the thing he does best, raking. Keeping Harper away from a defensive position where he is often called upon to make the clutch plays as a rook will take some of the pressure off him on defense, clearing his mind so he can go yard on offense. Operation “Don’t Spoil Your Phenom’s Career”: Check.

Now we are going to kill two birds with one stone. I am going to solve my LaRoche problem and also fill the whole that this solution creates, all at the same time (aren’t I talented?) Continuing, no matter what the award-givers say, Morse was the Breakout Player of the Year last year. No questions asked. Morse hit a stellar .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs, while getting on base 36% of the time (.360 OBP). This was while Morse was mostly playing first base, filling in for the injured LaRoche. I’m going to stick with the old adage that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and argue that Morse should stay at first base, and the Nationals should ditch LaRoche and his hefty salary. I respect what LaRoche has done in the past, but Morse is the better player right now. Of course you guys are saying, “But wait, Michael! Now there’s no one in left field! Oh goodness!” Well, allow me to re-introduce you to our favorite phenom, Bryce Harper. Remember him? I last left him out of the lineup while I went to make some more tweeks. Now there is room for him. If all goes to plan, Harper will end up playing left field instead of right, as plays out of left are often much more routine, and Harper will have a lower risk of injury via attempting some game-saving throw from right field. I believe he can do it, Harper is the Percy Jackson of baseball; a son of the gods. However, there’s no sense in risking injury to such a promising player who’s not even old enough to drink yet. Not to mention, there’s not a defensive sacrifice by moving Harper to left. Werth is quite capable of playing a solid right field, and has a quality cannon to control the opposing running game.

Wow! All those benefits by simply getting one player? Hard to argue against that….

So anyway, acquiring Byrd fills the Nationals need in center field, and when accounting for Byrd’s $6.5M salary, saves them approximately $14.3M for the 2012 season, and $20.7M for the 2012-2013 offseason (when Byrd’s contract expires) as to going out and chasing the best bat available in Prince Fielder. This substantial savings could go towards signing a young, long-term center fielder such as Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino, or B.J. Upton next year in free agency. A Byrd deal benefits Washington on the field and in the checkbook, both now and later.

But, acquiring Byrd is not just a “cheaper than Fielder” guy, nor is he there just to be a place-holder. He also adds both offensive and defensive improvement from the platoon of players that roamed center last season.

Despite those poor numbers (mentioned earlier) during his stint in Washington, Byrd has been a productive player at the plate over the course of his career. A career .281 hitter, Byrd had a .276/9 HR/38 RBI line in 2011, which, average-wise, was a 36-point improvement from the numbers that the group of . His .324 on-base percentage was also 25 points higher than the combined .298 that came from Nationals center fielders last season.

Byrd is also a much better option defensively than either Werth or Bernadina. For starters, Byrd has played 798 goes in center field (732 started), which is over 700 games more than either Werth (123 – 97 started) or Bernadina (97 – 83 started). Now to get more statistical, Byrd has posted a 4.821 zone rating in his career in center, while Werth has posted a 3.663 ZR and while Bernadina has posted a 9.183 ZR, his sample size is much smaller, and frankly, we all know that Byrd is the better all-around player.

What kind of package would it take to acquire such a beneficial player? Well chances are, Theo Epstein and his minions will be seeking prospects in return for Byrd, as Chicago is currently going through a rebuilding mode, trying to turn around a seemingly insurmountable hundred-plus year old curse. I propose that Mike Rizzo offers a package of 3B Matt Skole, CF Eury Perez and cash for Byrd.

Now let’s take a look at each of the players that would go to Chicago in this proposed deal.

Skole was drafted this past year by the Nationals in the 5th round, and played his first pro season at Low-A Auburn, where he hit .290 with 79 hits, 48 RBIs and 5 home runs in 272 at-bats. I know Skole can’t be traded yet, because he was drafted quite recently, but I the Nationals could just do what the Indians did last year in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, where they’d agree upon trading their recent draftee, and just wait to trade him until the day he is eligible to be moved. Skole adds a young, promising 3B to a farm system that currently lacks the depth it will require if the Cubs want to turn this thing around. Their current top third base prospect, Josh Vitters, appears to be major-league ready, so adding Skole will provide some prospect insurance for if Vitters doesn’t pan out at the big league level.

Eury Perez is a solid center field prospect, who was originally signed four years ago out of the Dominican Republic at age 17. Over the past four seasons, Perez has emerged as a potential leadoff hitter who provides tons of speed, but still needs to work on plate discipline. Hopefully the Cubs would see how promising having Perez and Starlin Castro at the top of their lineup in a few years would sound, and they’d buy on Perez, despite his questionable batter’s eye. They would have reason to be hopeful, as Perez decreased his strikeouts by 11 this past season, going from 74 in 2010 to 63 in 2011. Perez also swiped 45 bases this year for High-A Potomac, so he has the stats to back up his raw speed.

Cash is really self-explainable; who doesn’t want more money?