While the Indians may not have too many high-quality options to fill their vacant outfield spots, they definitely have plenty of options. Collin Cowgill, Shane Robinson, Will Venable, Joey Butler, Robbie Grossman, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Tyler Naquin were all in the mix to make the Opening Day roster. Now there is an additional competitor – veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd, who spent last season with the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants. On Thursday, the Indians announced that they signed Byrd to a minor league deal. He’ll earn $1 million plus incentives if he manages to make the Opening Day roster. There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about this deal – if the 38-year-old Byrd does not make the team, the Indians are not out anything. If he makes it, the Indians have a fairly solid veteran that has hit 20+ home runs in each of the past three seasons.
There appears to be a bit of optimism regarding Michael Brantley’s return. Most early predictions said that, in the best case scenario, he was likely to miss most of April. But Brantley is already taking some swings, and may be ready even sooner than that. I’m sure that the Indians want ample insurance if something were to go awry, since Brantley is such a key piece of the Indians’ offense. They did sign veteran Rajai Davis to a contract this past offseason, but Davis and a couple of the names listed above hardly make up for the lack of someone like Brantley.
Perhaps my positive view of Byrd stems from his post-trade performance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. He hit .318/.357/.486 in 107 at-bats, and helped propel the team into the wild card game and the NLDS. In fact, that performance down the stretch helped him earn a 2-year deal from the Philadelphia Phillies worth $16 million. The Phillies traded him to the Reds prior to the 2015 season; Byrd was definitely not as good with the Reds and Giants as he was down the stretch in 2013. However, his second-half performance with the Giants was a line of .272/.301/.463, and Byrd still managed to hit 23 home runs split between the two teams. Even though he’s spent much of his career in the National League, Byrd did spend a couple of season with the Texas Rangers and a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox.
The Indians signed several veterans to brief, relatively low-cost deals this offseason. While I have never been extraordinarily impressed with Rajai Davis, he can serve as a relatively reliable fourth outfielder. It seemed like Mike Napoli hit a home run in every game I saw while in Arizona, and Juan Uribe looked sharp at the plate, despite arriving late to camp. If Byrd has anything left in the tank, this could be a very savvy, low-cost signing. The Indians haven’t spent a fortune this offseason, but I think they spent their money rather well.