Byrd-to-Cubs deal not dead yet
Texas outfielder's slow spring doesn't deter potential suitors
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers outfielder Marlon Byrd has one outspoken supporter. His name is manager Ron Washington and that support hasn't wavered, despite Byrd's slow start this spring."Marlon's going to hit," Washington said emphatically. "I don't care what the Spring Training numbers say. He's going to hit, there's no doubt about that." Washington isn't the only one with faith in Byrd. The Cubs apparently think highly of the veteran outfielder, too, because with just a little over two weeks to go in Spring Training, they are still talking to the Rangers about Byrd. The Cubs are looking for a right-handed-hitting center fielder to go with Felix Pie and are willing to give up outfielder Matt Murton. The Rangers want young pitching in return and the Cubs aren't willing to part with the names that have been brought up. The chatter continues. Nothing is hot, but the talks aren't dead. Byrd admitted the rumors have been on his mind but he has other things to focus on in camp. He went into Friday's game with just three hits in his first 29 at-bats, while David Murphy was 10-for-25 (.400) with two home runs. The Rangers outfield continues to be an area of intrigue and not all of it surrounds whether Milton Bradley will be ready to play right field on Opening Day. Just as intriguing is what's going on in left field. "It will play itself out," general manager Jon Daniels said on Friday before the Rangers' game with the Kansas City Royals. "In our park, with the demands of the position and some of the health history, my sense is Ron will get all four [outfielders] into a regular mix." Daniels emphasized the mistake of making evaluations on 30 at-bats of Spring Training. He said the Rangers have an idea of what Byrd brings to the team offensively, but also his defense and clubhouse leadership. The Rangers remember what happened last year. Byrd was a huge boost for the Rangers in 2007 when he arrived from Triple-A Oklahoma on May 26 and he hit .307 with 10 home runs and 70 RBIs in 109 games and 414 at-bats. He also did a remarkable job of moving around and playing all three outfield spots. At the end of the year, he was the Rangers' starting center fielder and cleanup hitter.
But Murphy also made an impression when he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox on July 31. He spent the final two months of the season with the Rangers and hit .340 in 43 games and 103 at-bats. Murphy has carried that success into Spring Training. Byrd has yet to do so."It's going to be tough," Byrd said. "David is making a bid to be the starter and the guy can play. They're looking to find him a way to get his 400, 500 at-bats. It's going to be a battle for all four of us." The Cubs went into Spring Training with Pie competing for the center-field spot while being flanked by Alfonso Soriano in left and Kosuke Fukudome in right. Murton, who hit .281 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 235 at-bats last year, is in reserve. Pie has been sidelined with a groin injury for the past week but is expected to be ready for Opening Day. He is likely to win the job. Cubs manager Lou Piniella is confident Pie will be ready to start.
"As long as he's fine, and there's no reason to assume he won't be," Piniella said Friday. "With what we have in camp, he'll be our center fielder."Pie is a left-handed hitter who was 4-for-36 off left-handed pitching last year, which is why the Cubs have interest in a right-handed-hitting center fielder. The Rangers and the Cubs have had ongoing communication since the offseason and Byrd is aware of it. "It's still on my mind," Byrd said. "Until somebody comes up to me and tells me that it's dead, it's still on my mind. If something comes up that makes sense and helps the team, I'm sure that [Daniels] will pull the trigger. He knows what he's doing. But if it doesn't help the Rangers, I'm sure he won't do it." Byrd just needs to hit. The manager is expecting it and confident it will happen.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.