Center field as really been a black hole for the Chicago Cubs during the 2000’s.
They started off the decade with the legendary Damon Buford and over the last 10 years have had players like Gary Matthews Jr., Corey Patterson, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds, and Kosuke Fukudome patrol center field.
Either players they had playing center weren’t very good overall (Patterson), or not very good defensively (Soriano), or were a short-term solution (Edmonds). Today, the Cubs hope they have finally found a long-term solution to their center field problems–at least for the next three years.
According to Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago, the Cubs have signed former Texas Ranger Marlon Byrd to a three-year, $15 million contract. Not a bad start to the new year for Byrd.
I hate sitting on the fence with these type of free agent deals, but I am very torn on this one. Half of me sees the positives to this deal and the other half sees the negatives.
As far as the positives go, I definitely see a few.
First and foremost, the contract is not an albatross. A three-year deal at essentially $5 million a year will not break the Cubs’ bank. What’s the harm in paying your starting center fielder $5 million a year?
Second, the signing of Byrd allows Fukudome to move to his natural position of right field. Fukudome looked out of place in center last year and this move will improve the Cubs’ outfield defense.
Byrd isn’t the best defensive center fielder in the world, but having him in center and Fukudome in right is an improvement over Fukudome in center and Milton Bradley in right.
Lastly, Byrd is coming off a career year with the Rangers in 2009. Byrd hit .298 with 20 home runs and played in a career high 146 games in 2009.If Byrd can produce those numbers with the Cubs, then this is a great deal for the Cubs.
And it’s with that last paragraph, where I start having my doubts about Byrd.
Haven’t we seen this act play out before us time and time again? A mediocre player has a career year in his free agency year, earns a nice contract, and then never lives up to that deal.
That scenario has been a time honored tradition in baseball for the last 25+ years.
Byrd’s only other year of significance in he majors was back in 2003 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played in 135 games that year hitting .303 with seven home runs, a .784 OPS, and 11 stolen bases.
Since that year, Byrd has been a fringe starter/forth outfielder with the Phillies, Washington Nationals, and Rangers. Byrd never lived up to the hype that made him one of the Phillies’ top prospects in the early-2000’s.
Ironically for me, Byrd has a lot of former Cub Gary Matthews Jr. in him. Matthews too, was a fringe starter/forth outfielder for most his career, then had one great year with the Rangers in his free agency year, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed him to a huge contract.
Now Byrd’s contract isn’t nearly as bad as Matthews was, but the similarities are there.
Another concern I have about Byrd is his home and road splits. Last season in Texas, his home OPS was .873 and his road OPS was .740. That is a huge difference.
Byrd was the Cubs’ first big signing of the offseason and they will need a lot more than him to get where they need to be. I look at the Cubs’ roster as of today, and I feel it’s significantly worse than it was just two years ago.
Unless a lot of Cubs’ players have bounce back years in 2010, it looks like next year is going to be another frustrating one in Wrigleyville.
You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg