Patience is a Virtue; Exploring Options is a Must

Marlon Byrd's struggles have reached a point where the Phillies may have to consider a change. Of course, last season, it was just about this time when a struggling Byrd - hitting .193 - went on a hot streak that pushed his average up over the .300 mark. In the classic tradition of Ron Gant, Byrd may simply be a late starter that doesn't heat up until the weather heats up. Even so, looking at other options may not be out of line.

Remember Ron Gant? He was a pretty good ballplayer, who would have been even better if not for a motorcycle accident that tore up his knee early in his career. Gant always did his best work when the weather got warm. Actually, he waited until it got downright hot most seasons. He just didn't like the first couple months of the season and no matter what he did to jumpstart his season, it always failed. Come June and July, Gant would go on a yearly awakening not unlike the 17 year cycle of the cicada.

As a minor leaguer, most chalked Byrd's slow starts up to playing at a new level of baseball. That too, is a condition that makes even future all-star caliber players appear to be in trouble. Last season, that was the excuse thrown out there as Byrd adjusted to the major leagues. Then, when he was moved into the leadoff spot and took off, others said that he just needed for Larry Bowa to show some confidence in him to get him going. Now though it's looking more and more like Byrd may simply be a slow starter. Some players grow out of it and others - Hello, Mr. Gant - go through it their entire careers.

One option is to simply wait it out. Byrd has always come around in the past when the weather warmed and there is no reason to think that this season will be any different. It's difficult for a team to wait out a prolonged and annual slump, but if the player is good enough, it's a situation that can be dealt with. You can give the guy some extra days off and keep his confidence up so that when June hits, so does he. After all, Byrd's almost 25 points higher this season than he was at this time last year.

Still, Marlon Byrd's career doesn't encompass enough "statistical data" to officially say that he is simply a slow starter. The concern is that as a young player, one of these times, he simply might not pull out of his early season slumber. Instead of hitting .364 in June like he did last season, he'll be saddled with numbers much closer to his current .220 mark and then there's real trouble. So, it would be adviseable for the Phillies to at least consider a Plan B approach.

First place to look is on the bench. Ricky Ledee was a decent fill-in last season for the slumping Pat Burrell and also helped when Byrd was in his early season woes. Still, we all know that Ledee isn't a full-time answer in center field. He is a prime utility player that responds well coming off the bench. That's his role and he knows it and accepts it. Ricky Ledee? Not a real strong option.

Next on the list is Doug Glanville. In his prime, Glanville was a decent center fielder and still shows some moments of strong play. There is a reason why as a free agent he went into January without signing anywhere though. His best days are behind him. Last season, Glanville discovered that he didn't mind being a utility player. He hasn't done a horrible job in the role, but even there, he would be replaceable. Glanville as the starting center fielder doesn't work unless you really believe that he is going to enjoy some sort of late career return to glory. Doug Glanville? Not an option.

How about Jason Michaels? Interesting option here. Like Ledee, Michaels did a decent job as a fill-in last season when given a chance to play. There are plenty of people both inside and outside of the Phillies organization that feel Michaels could be a quality everyday major league player. His best days are likely ahead of him and they're not likely to be in Philadelphia. Either through trade or free agency (when he's eligible) Michaels is likely to get a full-time chance somewhere. What would happen if you gave Michaels the center field job and told him that for a period of two or three months, he was going to be given every opportunity to show what he can do? Let him know that except for those days when he gets a simple day off, he could come to the ballpark knowing that he was going to be in the lineup. Again, interesting. Center field isn't his best position, but he could give way to Glanville or Ledee in late innings of close games to provide better defensive coverage. Jason Michaels? Worth a look and some strong consideration.

Next place to look is in the minors. Mark Budzinski has been playing center field for AAA Scranton. Budzinski is currently hitting .230 with a .299 OBP. Not inspiring numbers. Lou Collier is .324 with eight homeruns for Scranton. He's a veteran player with major league utility experience, but has never shown enough to be an everyday player. Plus, Collier is more of a corner outfield or third base type. Putting Collier in right and moving Abreu to center might make a little more sense if the Phillies wanted to go with Collier in some way. Jim Rushford is much more of a corner outfield type player and really couldn't be considered for a center field job in the majors. Jorge Padilla? This would be an interesting choice, but Padilla is hitting just .241 for Scranton. The good news is that he's been slowly raising his average. Still, this isn't September and the Phillies aren't in a position to give a rookie a major league try out. Basically, Scranton doesn't have much to help out the major league club with.

With the move of Elizardo Ramirez from Clearwater to the majors, might the Phillies consider moving someone from Reading to the starting lineup? Not likely. Still, we can take a look. Ryan Fleming and his .196 average isn't of interest. Really, the only player at Reading that you could consider is Jim Deschaine (3-19-.329) but even he doesn't have the numbers to justify a call to the majors.

Minor league options? Not really.

How about a trade? The Yankees are reportedly dangling Kenny Lofton to anyone who will listen. Lofton hit .296 last season and is at .278 this year with the Yankees. He swiped 30 bases last season, so he can still run. If the Yankees would part with Lofton for a reasonable price, the deal is worth making. However, unless you really feel that Lofton is the guy to put you over the top, you don't want to give too much. Certainly, top prospects like Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard are off the table. How about Placido Polanco for Lofton? If the Yankees have a weak spot in their lineup, it's at second base. Polanco answers that, it puts Chase Utley in the lineup every day and it brings in Lofton to take over in center field. Plus, Lofton could also be a pretty good mentor to Jimmy Rollins. Of course, if Rollins wouldn't listen to Tony Gwynn, why would we think he'll listen to Kenny Lofton? Kenny Lofton? Definitely worth pursuing.

Carlos Beltran anyone? Now, you're going to have to have the top prospects on the table. Plus, there is the dangling question of Beltran's pending free agency at the end of the season. If you can work out a deal where you can negotiate a deal with Beltran before making the trade, great. Of course, that means negotiating with Scott Boras. It also pushes Beltran's value - and price - much higher. While Beltran is a great player, is it worth giving up one of the top young players to get him, possibly for just a few months? If you're going to go after Beltran, now is the time because once every other contending team gets involved, the price jumps. Carlos Beltran? A great option, but a very expensive option.

There are other major league center fielders who could go on the block. Mike Cameron has been mentioned, but his struggles with the Mets are much like Byrd's struggles in Philadelphia.

One other name is sitting out there. Rickey Henderson. The eternally young Henderson is a member of the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. Henderson is hitting .267 with a .389 OBP in the early going of the Atlantic League season. He has already swiped seven bases. Along with Henderson's abilities comes his attitude and ego. Henderson's personality might not be one that would fit well on this Phillies team. Rickey Henderson? Only as a last resort.

There are options for the Phillies to explore. For right now though, the first option is to give Byrd a little more time. Is this truly just a case of a perennial slow starter or is there reason for much more concern about Byrd's major league abilities? While the Phillies may not have too much time to wait and consider the options, they should take some time. After all, this is the point in the season where Marlon Byrd may turn into exactly the kind of player that the Phillies want and need him to be. Byrd deserves some more time to turn his season around, but the Phillies also deserve the chance to at least consider where they go from here if things don't work out.

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