Byrd Lands in Cincinnati LF

It was no secret that Cincinnati was looking for an outfielder with the departure of two veterans. That search ended yesterday in a deal that acquired veteran Marlon Byrd from the Phillies in return for pitching prospect Ben Lively. The Reds exchanged the inherit risk of any prospect in return for the chances of the 37 year-old Byrd maintaining resurgence he’s enjoyed late in his career.

The biggest question in Cincinnati this offseason was who would be in left field next year after the departures of veteran OF’s Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick. That question was answered yesterday in the form of Marlon Byrd. The much-traveled outfielder will move from Philadelphia to Cincinnati in exchange for pitching prospect Ben Lively. The Phillies also included some cash in the deal.

The 37 year-old Byrd has seen MLB action in fourteen seasons with six teams since debuting with Philadelphia in 2002. The 6’0”/245# right-hander was not regarded as a power hitter earlier in his career but in 2009 at the age of 31 he cracked the 20 HR plateau, double his previous high single season total. Since then he’s surpassed 20 HR’s in two more seasons including last year when he hit a career high 25 while driving in 85 runs with a slash line of .264 AVG/.312 OBP/.445 SLG. Lifetime he’s played in over 1,400 games while slashing .278/.333/.427. Defensively he’s seen more action in center field, but has predominantly been in right field since his early 30’s which means he should bring an above-average glove to left for the Reds.

Normally there are some risks to bringing in a 37 year-old with more of his playing days in the past than in the future. It appeared that his career might have been heading out of the league after the 2012 season when the then 34 year-old he hit only one homer with a .210 average while splitting 47 games between two teams. However Byrd has been a late bloomer, at least in the power department, hitting 49 of his career 131 homer runs in the two seasons since. He cracked another one in postseason that Cincinnati fans will remember because it started the scoring in the Pirates’ defeat of the Reds in the 2013 Wild Card play-in game. It was that same 2012 season when Cincinnati brought in the veteran outfielder Ludwick who was coming off seasons of declining productivity and appeared to be on his way out of the league. Ludwick took advantage of the opportunity and resurrected his career with a solid year that was rewarded with a two-year extension. Unfortunately he was unable to sustain it, hence his departure and the deal to bring in Byrd who is one year older than his predecessor.

Byrd is under contract for $8 million in 2015 and if things go as planned he’ll hang around for another season after that. According to his deal an $8 million option vests in 2016 if he has 550 plate appearances next season. The timing of inheriting this contract incentive in Cincinnati is somewhat noticeable because it was an opening day injury that robbed most of Ludwick’s 2013 season and the Reds would eventually pay over $4 million to opt out of the final year of his deal. If the years catch up with Byrd and he’s not able to stay on the field then it becomes a team option

Byrd’s career has not taken a traditional path. It appeared he was going to be a classic top-lineup hitter when he cracked .300 AVG and finished fourth in the balloting for NL Rookie of the Year in 2003. However, he would not reach that level again until 2007 for Texas and had some lean years sandwiched in between. Now instead of continuing down the road toward sunset he’s redefined himself as a mid-lineup run producer that the Reds hope will continue. For a team coming off a campaign where they struggled to score runs like Cincinnati did in 2014, their lineup-at least on paper-is shaping up to be a potentially potent one. The addition of Byrd makes six regulars that have made All Star appearances plus a rookie of the year runner-up. The only thing left is for fans to keep their fingers crossed and say a few Hail Mary’s to keep their personnel on the field in the upcoming season.

The departed Lively was a fourth round selection out of Central Florida by Cincinnati in the 2013 draft. Soon after he crashed into some top Reds prospect lists after a phenomenal debut with a sub-one ERA during the short season at Billings. He essentially skipped low-A and sustained success at Bakersfield last year to force a fast track up to Pensacola where his numbers came back down to earth. The 22 year-old still finished with an AA ERA under four in just his second minor league season which figured to maintain or improve his status. The Reds got their outfielder without parting with one of the more coveted power arms in the system, but they did have to sacrifice a bright prospect which indicates their continued strategy to winning now despite coming off the disappointing, injury-plagued 76-86 campaign.

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