So…Marlon Byrd

byrdie

 

The Giants have just finished losing to the Cubs for the fifth time in five tries this year, so let’s divert our attention from the gory details of the game (and Matt Cain’s continued spiritual de-pantsing) and instead toward the newest Giant, Mr. Marlon Byrd. Byrd was acquired from the Reds about five days ago and he instantly ingratiated himself to Giants fans everywhere by walloping a home run in his first at-bat with the team last Friday. Byrd had hit 19 home runs with Cincinnati this season and the Giants wanted him for his power while Hunter Pence is on the mend.

Naturally, upon hearing that the Giants had acquired Byrd, the first thing I did was rush to all the relevant prospect web sites to find out who they had given up for him. The answer is Stephen Johnson, a 24-year-old Double-A reliever with big time strikeout totals but also big time control problems. In terms of projects, this guy seems especially project-y, so that allayed my immediate fears that the Giants had lost their minds and traded Tyler Beede or something to get Byrd. The chances of Johnson ever contributing to a major league ball club in any meaningful way seem remote, but I guess youneverknow.

The Giants are smack in the middle of a hellish stretch of the schedule where, from August 6 to September 3, the worst team they’ll face is the Washington Nationals, who are currently under .500 but talented as heck and everybody expected them to be a World Series contender. Everybody else the Giants have faced or will face in that stretch is either going to be an easy playoff team or will miss the postseason by a hair. So yes, whoever drew up this part of the schedule for the Giants needs to be punched in the throat. Bring on the Rockies already!

Quite conveniently, the Giants lost Hunter Pence and Joe Panik, two of their best hitters, just in time for this stretch. That’s where Byrd comes in. Byrd is an emergency fill-in to help ride the tide in this brutal month and should be perfectly serviceable in that role. The point of Byrd as a Giant is that he’s a power threat and he’ll help recover some of the oomph lost in the lineup as long as Pence is out.

Once the lineup is fully healthy, Byrd will go back to being a bench bat and will have his uses as a late-inning power threat when rosters expand next week. He’s hacktastic and won’t make any fans of whatever is left of the OBP-is-life crowd, but he’s a nice player and a nice stopgap pickup. Honestly, when all is said and done, unless the Giants make the playoffs and Byrd goes all Cody Ross over the team’s playoff opponents, Byrd is probably going to follow Ryan Garko and Orlando Cabrera into the dustbin of midseason acquisitions who we totally forgot were Giants like two years later.

Are you ready for some Marlon Byrd fun facts? Yes…yes you are. Don’t even pretend that you aren’t excited about the 37-year-old fringe corner outfielder.

–Once upon a time, Byrd was a fairly highly-rated center field prospect for the Phillies, and in 2003 he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. Baseball America ranked him 26th on their top prospect list before the 2002 season, and I even remember drafting him way back then in the late rounds of a keeper league I was in. Byrd hit a perfectly impressive .303/.366/.418 as a rookie with the Phillies in 2003, but then completely lost his way the following season and began a long baseball odyssey of barely hanging on with some really bad teams and almost washing out of the game entirely.

–I say he almost washed out of the game, but that’s not entirely correct. He almost washed out of the game…twice. After phailing with the Phillies, Byrd was traded to the then-horrendous Nationals, and when he didn’t do much there, he hooked on with the Rangers, and had a few solid seasons as the starting center fielder in Texas (breaking the 20-home run mark for the first time in 2009). Byrd signed with the Cubs and made the All-Star team in 2010 for a crappy Cubs team, but had to watch from home as his former Rangers teammates won the American League pennant. Byrd then started to fade with the Cubs and by 2012 it looked like his nice little unlikely career renaissance was coming to an end.

But no! The Mets, desperate for any hitting at all, threw Byrd a bone in 2013 and he responded by hitting 21 homers with them and three more after being traded to Pittsburgh. Since the start of the 2013 season, Byrd has smacked 69 home runs and slugged .470 while playing for five…count ’em, five…different teams. He’s carved himself out a nice, if strange, little major league niche as a rent-a-slugger signed in the offseason by bad teams with the intention of being flipped to a contender at the trading deadline. That’s exactly what has happened to Byrd in two of the last three seasons.

— He was a PED guy! Yep, many either forget or don’t care due to the eternal double standard with performance-enhancing drugs and baseball players, but Byrd was suspended for 50 games back in 2012 for testing positive for a banned substance (he was also connected to Victor Conte and BALCO, which generally didn’t portend good things back then).

Not that we should get angry about Byrd’s past (supposed) PED use, but it never ceases to amuse me that many in the baseball media spend so much energy spewing fire and brimstone about Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, or (worse) speculating about guys like Jose Bautista using steroids, while giving the scores of lesser players who failed tests like Byrd (and Mike Morse, remember!) what amounts to a free pass.

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