Ode to Byrd

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We lost another Cubs legend today as Marlon Byrd has been traded to Boston.  Of course I use the word “legend” tongue-in-cheek as I normally do with guys like Ryan Theriot and Koyie Hill and Mark DeRosa, but all of those guys were important in some capacity to the Cubs at some point in their careers in pinstripes.  Byrd is no exception.  Here, we say goodbye to a good teammate and a guy who was simultaneously over- and underappreciated.

You will recall that Marlon Byrd was one of Jim Hendry’s last major free agent acquisitions with that three-year, $15MM deal he signed right before the 2010 season.  Marlon was a good guy, very friendly, appreciated the fans, and played hard.  He even had time to throw together a quick blog every now and then, something Reed Johnson used to do.

At $15MM, the contract was incredibly team-friendly and basically asked Byrd to provide one win above replacement (WAR) each season of that deal.  Byrd has provided at least 4 WAR over his past two seasons, essentially paying for his contract in spades.  Anything they got out of him this year was gravy, but unfortunately he started in a huge slump and lost a lot of favor with the fans.  I think his defense has also declined a bit as I’ve observed that he takes some goofy routes to fly balls and just doesn’t look right.  Part of that could just be age, as he turns 35 this season.  Part of it is just that he is a solid but unspectacular player.

The problem is that like Jim Hendry, the Cubs fans looked at Byrd’s last year in Texas, when he hit 20 homers in a hitter’s park, as the norm.  The good news is that Hendry had the good sense to ink that team-friendly contract.  Byrd was an excellent defender in 2010, his debut season as a Cub, and was the long All-Star representative.  If you recall, he came into the game in the later innings and with some solid baserunning, scored an insurance run off Brian McCann‘s double.  He later made an awesome play to force David Ortiz at second base on a line-drive hit.

Byrd was never a power hitter though.  He’s a solid defensive player who hit for average but didn’t take a lot of walks and as said, doesn’t hit for much power.  He probably got spooked when he got hit in the face last season in Boston, causing him to miss a substantial amount of playing time.  He wasn’t meant to be a middle-of-the-order guy and was definitely not to be the best hitter in the lineup (i.e. shouldn’t have batted third ever), mostly because of all the ground balls he hits.  His Cubs debut where he hit a home run against Atlanta is more the exception than the norm.

I have nothing bad to say about Byrd.  He performed to his contract and he played hard every day and always with a smile on his face.  Cubs fans are supposed to like that, but I guess that changes when the player sucks ass.  Be glad for the two seasons where he didn’t completely suck, and was actually All-Star caliber.  But don’t hate the guy because he doesn’t deserve it.

As for the gravy part, since Byrd already paid for his contract with his good play over the past two seasons, the Cubs basically looked at his $6.5MM salary this year as surplus and they gladly shipped it to Boston so they could get Michael Bowden and some other guy back.  While it doesn’t seem like it, Marlon Byrd was an asset to the organization and will be missed.  He probably should have been traded in 2010 or 2011 though, but better late than never.  Best of luck to you, Byrd.

 

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