Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said thisÃ‚Â about the Reds’ acquisition of Marlon Byrd: “We just felt he would be a great influence on our younger players, not that much different than Scott Rolen was when we brought him in Ã¢â‚¬â€ a true professional who plays the game the right way and leads by example.”
There are so many things wrong with that statement it’s hard to know where to start.
1. Marlon Byrd is no Scott Rolen.
Jocketty’s comparison makes me sick.
First, Scott Rolen was 34 when he came to the Reds, Marlon Byrd is 37. Scott Rolen had seven Gold Glove awards, Marlon Byrd none. Scott Rolen was a five-time All-Star, Marlon Byrd was chosen in 2010 because the rules said someone on the fifth-place Cubs had to be invited. Rolen led the Cardinals to three postseason appearances and had been in 32 postseason games. Byrd has suited up for Opening Days 13 times. He’s led that team to zero postseason appearances. Byrd did join the 2013 Pirates on August 28. The Pirates were in second place, one game out of first when Byrd arrived to Pittsburgh. At the end of the season, they were in second place, three games out of first. Byrd has six games of postseason experience.
Over 13 years, Marlon Byrd played for 8 different teams. Four times he was released or allowed to become a free agent. The Phillies had to pay to unload his contract. Once, Byrd was traded for Hunter Cervenka. If Marlon Byrd has ALL THE INTANGIBLES, why are teams so eager to let him walk out the door? Scott Rolen was never released or allowed to become a free agent until he retired.
Earlier thisÃ‚Â month, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg complained that the Phillies clubhouse with Byrd Ã¢â‚¬Å“lacked leadership as far as winning a baseball game everyday.”
2. Marlon Byrd is a questionable role model.
Yes, he plays hard. Marlon Byrd will run over the catcher, at least he did back when that was a legal play. But there’s more to being a “true professional” and positive role model than that. Marlon Byrd’s strikeout and walk rates indicate he’s abandoned patience at the plate and swings from his heels. He’s a lousy example when it comes to plate discipline.
In 2012, Byrd was busted for violating the leagueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s PED policy and suspended for 50 games. He tested positive for Tamoxifen, a drug that reduces (hides) the side effects of increased testosterone. Like just about every other player who has tested positive for PEDs, Byrd claimed the violation was accidental.
In 2013, Byrd hit more than 20 home runs for the first time in his career, at age 34.
I don’t care if Byrd used a banned substance to cover his use of other PEDs. Steroid use is a huge deal to some people and a non-issue to others. I’m on the latter end of that spectrum. But please don’t describe a PED user as a “true professional” who “plays the game the right way.” That’s some first class hooey right there. A colorful old friend of mine from Chillicothe, OH had a saying close to this: Don’t (spit) in my ear and tell me it’s raining.
3. The Reds are no longer a young, impressionable team.
When Scott Rolen came to the Reds in 2009, Joey Votto was 25. Drew Stubbs was 24, so was Chris Heisey. Jay Bruce was 22! Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart joined a couple years later, both at age 25. Those players soaked up Rolen’s veteran role model. Rolen was a World Series champion with Gold Glove habits and the young Reds players were inspired by his leadership. Even Brandon Phillips, who was 28, remarked about Rolen being a positive role model. I praised and defended WaltÃ‚Â Jocketty for that trade.
Today, those players are five years older. And, they themselves are now major league veterans. It’s hard to imagine Byrd, as an outsider, coming into the Reds veteran-laden clubhouse and having much influence, even if that was desirable. The only Reds players who qualify as youthful are Billy Hamilton (24) and Devin Mesoraco (26) and neither of them lack the quality of playing hard. What exactly do the Reds want Billy Hamilton to learn from Marlon Byrd?
The aging curve drops sharply for 37-year-old major league players. I hope Marlon Byrd can beat the odds, avoid injuries and defy gravity for six more months. I hope Marlon Byrd validates Walt Jocketty’s faith that he will repeat his 2013 season (.291/.336/.511) not his dreadful second-half of 2014 (.265/.308/.391). I hope Marlon Byrd disproves the doubters and critics and proves me wrong. Loud wrong.
Who knows if Walt Jocketty believes all the foolishness he’s saying about his expectations for Marlon Byrd. For the Reds sake, I hope not. Maybe he’s simply doing his best to cover for another failedÃ‚Â offseason for the Reds — an offseason where Jocketty said the team needed better OBP and fewer strikeouts. Yet Jocketty’s main acquisition moves the Reds farther and farther away from league average. He’s assembling what may be the worst hitting bench in memory. And I’m dreading the inevitable “overspend on the bullpen” move.
You may find this hard to believe, but I’m actually optimistic about the 2015 Reds. I expect to see the healthy return of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey and repeat performances from Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman. All of that overcomes my discouragement over another disappointing offseason.
Maybe the organization’s concern is that if Jocketty spoke the truth, the Reds would have a difficult time generating excitement and ticket sales for the upcoming season.
I held my nose and renewed my season tickets. But that doesn’t mean Jocketty’s rationalizations pass the smell test. Byrd is obviously a low-cost, one-year placeholder for Jesse Winker. That’s OK. I wish Walt Jocketty would say that instead of trashing by comparison a great player like Scott Rolen.