Cleveland Indians: Marlon Byrd Gives Team Depth In Outfield

Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Marlon Byrd Gives the Cleveland Indians Outfield Depth

To be honest, the Marlon Byrd signing surprised me.  The buzz all this week was that Tyler Naquin was making a strong bid to win the center field job and that Michael Brantley could possibly be ready by opening day.  If those two things pan out, that would leave Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall to platoon in right.  While neither of them has hit much in spring training, it seems very likely that both will make the team.  Even if they decide, for whatever reason, that Naquin isn’t ready, the only way that impacts Byrd’s chances of making the team is if they make Davis, who is 35 and hasn’t played more than 50 games in center since 2011, the everyday center fielder. 

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If those four are on the roster opening day, that would leave Byrd as the fifth outfielder.  The Indians frequently don’t even carry a fifth outfielder, and when they have it has usually been someone with some versatility; essentially, Mike Aviles was the fifth outfielder for much of the past three years.  Jose Ramirez has seen some time in the outfield in Arizona, so he appears destined to do the same this year.  Byrd would have some value as a pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter, but that is not generally how the Indians use the last spot on the roster, except for Jason Giambi.  Makes you wonder if they’ve talked to Byrd about being willing to go on the disabled list every time they need an extra reliever.

There are still enough outfielders in camp to fill the International League, and that doesn’t include Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier.  It’s hard to see how the Byrd signing is good news for Collin Cowgill or Joey Butler, who have struggled in Arizona and are now competing with Byrd for corner outfield playing time.  Of those with major league experience, Will Venable has the best pedigree to play center field, but he has looked terrible at the plate.  Neither Shane Robinson nor Michael Martinez has ever hit on the major league level, but both have gotten a lot of playing time in Goodyear and have done well.  Robinson can play center field and Martinez plays everywhere, so one of them could fit well as the 25th man.  Martinez plays like a maniac, and smiles constantly; a good attitude may not win games but a bad attitude could certainly lose some.

Despite all this, I believe Naquin will be the opening day center fielder.  He has looked great in Arizona, and if he’s not ready now he probably never will be.  There’s really nobody else in camp who can play center field well who has an upside close to Naquin’s.  If it’s not Naquin it will probably be Venable.  Davis can backup at all three spots, which is good because Brantley will still be working his way back to 100%, Chisenhall is still Chisenhall, and Naquin probably will sit against tough lefties.

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Then if there’s a twelve man pitching staff (which isn’t always a guarantee with Francona), that leaves one more bench spot, assuming Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez have the others locked up.  That would probably come down to Byrd, Venable, and Martinez if they value his versatility.  Of those three, Byrd has the best chance of helping to win games.