As a former 35-year-old myself — I held the position for twelve months in the late 1990s — I am cheered by Marlon Byrd’s two home runs Wednesday night and the role they played in the Mets’ drubbing of the Nationals. Byrd is considered ancient, washed up, capable of playing for no better than a desperate dweller of the second division that was doing somebody a favor when they signed him. Plus he’s 35. Talk about a relic…the guy has been in the majors since September 2002! Why, that’s a whole 22 months before David Wright arrived!
It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. Nobody was amending their “what outfield?” cracks when Byrd landed amid the Mets’ pasture of uncertainty in Port St. Lucie. There was no sense of we’re only dealing with two-thirds of a mess because this Marlon Byrd, he who had suffered beanings and bannings in the previous two years, was gonna clear everything up.
He hasn’t. Yet on a team in which Razzies could be awarded to many, Byrd’s not close to being in the bottom five, which is like being one of the best players on a good team. Or, put another way, Byrd has actually been one of the best players on this bad team.
You know who leads Mets qualifiers in slugging percentage? Marlon Byrd (.489).
You know who’s second among qualifying Mets in OPS? Marlon Byrd (.799).
You know who has as many homers (8) and doubles (7) as perennial All-Star backup David Wright and only four fewer RBIs (28 vs. 32) in eighty fewer plate appearances? Why, yes, that would be Marlon Byrd.
Your up-to-the-minute Mets WAR offense/defense (not counting pitching) leaders, according to Baseball Reference: Wright, 2.9; Murphy, 1.3; Byrd, 1.3. Then comes Omar Quintanilla at 0.3 — “Quintanilla,” if you’re not sure, is Spanish for “been here a week”. Then there are two guys at 0.2: Andrew Brown, about whom you’ve forgotten; and Jonathon Niese, and this is for hitting and fielding only, mind you.
These may be somewhat narrowly selected criteria and they may reflect as much on the company Byrd is keeping as anything (hey, we said it’s a bad team), but, y’know…it’s pretty decent in context. Marlon Byrd has risen ever so slightly above the morass and shown himself over the season’s first third — give or take a menacing fly ball here or there — as a shade beyond the prevailing sub-mediocrity that has defined our year thus far.
So, yeah, while I’m philosophically aligned with the argument against reflexively leaning on decrepit veterans when we could be learning just how, uh, crepit our youngsters are, not all dogma hunts all the time. Byrd, for example, is hitting .556 lifetime against Dan Haren after last night. Prior to Wednesday, in 16 at-bats, he was hitting .500. It would have been irresponsible to not deploy him last night of all nights.
Rick Ankiel’s extended audition suggests he can sit down, maybe even pack up. Marlon Byrd, however, isn’t the same guy, whatever temptation exists to clump every limited-future outfielder into one large Hefty Bag. I don’t grant him 30 straight starts based on last night, but I don’t dismiss him altogether based on 35 years of age. Plus, it’s the first week of June. It’s waaaay too early to commit to every flawed Triple-A outfielder on the basis of our not yet knowing just how flawed they are and what it will take to fix them. If Nieuwenhuis is sizzling, sure, bring him back. If Cowgill isn’t, then, no, don’t. There has to be some balance struck between “we’ve given up” and “we’re trying to compete nine innings at a time.” Ankiel doesn’t really help you compete. Byrd kind of does.
Of course it’s not too early for showcasing veterans. The best-case scenario for Byrd is he’s splashing around in the fountain of youth and leading the Mets, at 37 or 38, to grand things. The next-best? That he continues to hit occasionally competently for another six weeks and nets you something promising by July 31. Now that Shaun Marcum has regained major league credibility, I’d consider him in the same realm. Some contender might have a use for a “proven” right arm and you benefit accordingly. So let’s run Byrd out there semi-regularly and Marcum every fifth or so day. And then, come August 1, when the Mets’ season is only technically still going, you play every kid you have.
Until then, enjoy Marlon Byrd when he’s homering twice and succeeding intermittently. He’s more or less your third-best everyday player. If that’s what’s facing you every day, sometimes you have to relish what the day presents.