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Was Marlon Byrd the Right Fit for the Cincinnati Reds?


The Cincinnati Reds have been searching for an offensive-minded left fielder for three years now. And while Ryan Ludwick had a few moments of success, he was often overpaid for his overall performance. The Reds finally addressed their biggest need by trading for Marlon Byrd from the Philadelphia Phillies on New Year’s Eve. Yes, the same Marlon Byrd the Reds should have acquired in 2012.

By adding Byrd, the Reds have filled a need, but that move is filled with many pros and cons. Let’s take a look:

The Good

As John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer points out, Byrd gives the Reds a big upgrade within the clubhouse. The Reds are in an awkward stage at the moment. Despite having veteran mainstays on the team such as Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, the 2014 season saw young stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco emerge as leaders on and off the field for the Reds. With Byrd now in the clubhouse, Cincinnati is essentially replicating their 2009 move when they traded Edwin Encarnacion to the Blue Jays for Scott Rolen. While Rolen brought offensive and defensive production to the team, his acquisition was mainly focused on bridging the gap between the “old” Reds and the new leadership of Votto and Phillips.

With Frazier and Mesoraco, the Reds have their core nucleus for many years to come. What the Reds envision from Byrd is to help teach these young players (in addition to Billy Hamilton) how to be successful leaders. While Votto and Phillips (along with Jay Bruce) have lead the Reds on the field, they have left much to be desired when it came down to leadership within the clubhouse. Much of that comes from the fact that they began their careers on the heels of the Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr. era in the Queen City. And those players saw success on the field, but were not known for their in-house leadership. That mindset has carried over in the years since their departure, and that is something Walt Jocketty and manager Bryan Price are looking to change heading into the next era of the franchise (2016 and beyond).

Aside from clubhouse leadership, Byrd is still a productive player at the age of 37. Byrd is just one year removed from his 2013 season in which he hit .291/.336/.511/.847 with 24 home runs and 88 runs batted in for the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2014, Byrd hit a career-high 25 home runs with 85 RBI and had a slash line of .264/.312/.445/.757. All in all, those are statistics that will be a welcomed addition in the middle of the Reds lineup, taking much of the run-producing pressure off of Votto and Bruce.

Looking through Byrd’s career splits, there is one area that stands out – his ability to produce with runners on base. It is an area in which the Reds struggled at times last season, but an area that Byrd has found success in his career:

Situation AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
None On .262 .300 .485 19 19
Runners On .266 .328 .394 6 66
Scoring Position .275 .337 .389 4 60
Bases Loaded .389 .389 .389 0 12

With Byrd’s production in the lineup, the Reds can expect hitters such as Votto, Frazier, Bruce and Phillips to see better pitches to hit. For the lineup protection alone, the Reds’ offense will be better off in 2015. If the Reds can stay healthy (unlike 2014), the Cincinnati offense should improve drastically from their 28th overall ranking last season. Aside from his offense, Byrd also provides above average defense that should be an upgrade from Ludwick’s tenure in Cincinnati.

The Bad

Well, yeah that’s not too appealing to insert into a lineup that featured four starters who struck out over 100 times last season. Byrd’s 185 strikeouts would have been the most for the Reds in 2014, only Jay Bruce came in a close second with 149. Striking out 29 percent of the time is definitely a liability for the Reds, especially when his .312 on base percentage in 2014 is taken into consideration. For a team that struggled to get on base (one of the three worst in the league), you would hope the team could find a left fielder with the ability to reach base more often.

While Byrd’s run-producing gives Reds fans hope as he bats between Votto and Bruce in the lineup, the three hitters seem as likely to get a hit as strikeout. While Byrd struck out 29 percent of the time last season, Votto struck out 22 percent of the time and Bruce 27 percent of the time. Fans can only hope that Bruce’s annual slumps do not coincide with any struggles from Byrd or Votto.

Many had assumed the Reds would target Seth Smith of the San Diego Padres after the team acquired Matt Kemp and Justin Upton. The Reds, however, felt otherwise as they have been discussing the Byrd trade with the Phillies since November. Even though the Reds are expecting clubhouse leadership from Byrd, they must receiver on-field production in order to make this trade successful.

In exchange for Byrd, the Reds traded RHP Ben Lively, the teams sixth ranked right-handed pitcher in the farm system. Though he wasn’t one of the team’s top pitching prospects, it is always dangerous to trade young successful pitchers and Lively has an ERA in the minors of around 3.00 in his short career. The Reds will argue that Lively’s path to the majors was blocked by players such as Robert Stephenson, but Lively’s arm could have been a much needed addition to a bullpen that struggled mightily in 2014.

Verdict

Upon initially hearing of the trade, I was not a fan of the move. While I still have my concerns, I have warmed up to the acquisition – especially considering the few viable options the Reds were faced with this offseason. Instead of trading away future cornerstones of the franchise, the Reds found a way to bridge the 2015 gap for relatively cheap. Not only does Byrd give the Reds a player to help during the leadership transition period, but he also gives the team a placeholder in left field until star prospect Jesse Winker is ready to man left field in either 2016 or 2017.

It has been evident that Bob Castellini did not want to totally rebuild the same year the Reds were going to be hosting the MLB All Star Game, and the acquisition of Byrd ensures that the team will at least not struggle as much as they did last season. Things couldn’t get much worse in left field than they were last year. Additionally, Byrd will give the Reds an interesting lineup in 2015, as Bryan Price will have his chance to finally put his stamp on the team going forward.

Here is a possible lineup with Byrd inserted:

  1. Billy Hamilton – CF
  2. Todd Frazier – 3B
  3. Joey Votto – 1B
  4. Devin Mesoraco – C
  5. Marlon Byrd – LF
  6. Jay Bruce – RF
  7. Brandon Phillips – 2B
  8. Zack Cozart – SS

If healthy, this lineup does have the ability to present issues for opposing pitchers. The Reds just have to hope the roster can find the health that was so elusive in 2014.

While some would have preferred the Reds sign Nori Aoki, as his OBP would have been a welcomed sight, Byrd gives the Reds another option to score runs even when other key run-producers are failing to do so. If Byrd can regain his 2013 form, this trade could quickly become a steal for Cincinnati. After enjoying the sandbox at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, his power should still enjoy the small left field wall at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

After finally shoring up left field, Jocketty and the Reds must turn their focus on fixing that woeful bullpen.

 

Cover Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Grant E. Doepel

Grant E. Doepel

Founder at Sports Grumble
Editor in Chief and co-founder of Riverfront City Sports and Sports Grumble, Doepel is a Cincinnati native who lives and breathes Queen City sports. A University of the Cumberlands graduate with degrees in Journalism and Communication Arts, Doepel still resides in the Greater Cincinnati area to provide easy access to the riverfront stadiums.
Grant E. Doepel

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