The Boston Red Sox have completed their deal with the Chicago Cubs for center fielder Marlon Byrd. The Red Sox will send the Cubs relief pitcher Michael Bowden and a player to be named later. The Cubs will be covering the majority of Byrd’s $6.5M salary. The move give Boston a center fielder to replace acoby Ellsbury who is recovering from a seperated shoulder injury and will be out for six to eight weeks. Jason Repko had been called up from AAA Pawtucket to fill in for Ellsbury, but the Red Sox lost Repko to a shoulder injury suffered when he collided with the Green Monster in the game on Friday night against the New York Yankees.
Byrd has been terrible to begin the 2012 season. He is currently hitting .070/.149/.070 in 47 plate appearances. Byrd still appears to be a capable defender, so he can add value even without being the near average hitter he was been throughout his career (career wRC+ 96) but the Red Sox are clearly betting that his struggles with the plate are less than the appear. There are reaasons to doubt Byrd’s hitting ability, but he has also gotten some horrible luck thus far this year. Byrd is swinging and missing more than normal, with a swinging strike rate 12.7%, a full 3% higher than his career average. His ground ball rate is also significantly higher than normal, at 59.4%. However, his terrible line does not reflect a complete lack of ability. He has just a .091 batting average on balls in play despite a 21.1% line drive rate. He could very well be in serious decline, but his current batting line is not a clear indication that that is the case.
Even if Byrd should be a bust for the Red Sox it is hard to argue against this deal given the cost. Michael Bowden has not been worthy of prospect status for close to three years and even in the middle of this horrible stretch for the Red Sox bullpen Bowden was not deemed worthy of a place on the 25 man roster. He still has some chance to be a a valuable major league contributor, presumably as a middle relief pitcher, but the Red Sox have more interesting options for that role in Junichi Tazawa and Alex Wilson. If the Cubs pay all of Byrd’s salary this deal could actually reduce the Red Sox luxury cap burden, though it is more likely that the deal is a break-even one financially.
The Red Sox needed outfield depth even before the injury to Jacoby Ellsbury and this deal could give them an excellent secondary option even after Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return. Given just how little they are giving up the possible rewards far outweigh the risk that Byrd is truly done as major league regular.