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Marlon Byrd: The Big, Bopping Bat the Reds Need?

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Is Marlon Byrd the big right handed left field bat that the Reds have sought for years? Bigger question: Will it matter?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(Ed Note: For more team and player previews and everything you could ever want to know about the 2015 Reds and much, much more interesting tidbits about your favorite team, why not give the 2015 Redleg Annual a try? Buy it now!)

Biographical
Name: Marlon Jerrard Byrd
DOB: August 30, 1977
Born: Boynton Beach, FL
Hometown: Marietta, GA

Tale of the Tape
Position: Left Field
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6'0" Weight: 245lbs

Notes From the Past
Marlon Byrd is a 1995 graduate of Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. While I was mostly preoccupied with learning how to tie my shoes and and really only concerned about making sure I got chocolate milk for milk time in kindergarten, Byrd was winning state championships and being named All-State in both baseball in football.

Byrd started his college career at Georgia Tech, where he planned to play both football and baseball. As a college freshmen Byrd made a decision to do something I think every testosterone fueled college aged male has at least pondered and/or done once in their lifetime: "I can totally karate kick that door in." In doing so, Byrd seriously injured his leg, causing muscle damage that would require surgery. I have no reports on the status of the door, but just thinking about a guy built like a young Marlon Byrd kicking a door hard enough to sustain damage in the kicking leg, I'll just assume the door is no longer with us. RIP, Georgia Tech door.

The injury not only caused muscle damage but also presented circulation issues in Byrd's leg. He also developed a serious infection that had many doctors suggesting that the only "fix" was to amputate the leg. Marlon refused and underwent multiple surgeries to correct all of the issues in his leg. During this time, Bryd missed two years of athletics and, due to immobility, saw his weight rise to 300lbs+.

Once finally healthy and completely unfit for major college baseball, Byrd transferred to Georgia Perimeter Community College where he dedicated himself to his body and his craft. He was selected by the Phillies in the 10th round of the 1998 Amateur Draft.

I won't spend a lot of time on the year by year minor league recap, since Marlon was doing this while dinosaurs were still hitting home runs at such an inflated pace during a time that baseball turned a blind eye (we're a long way from that, no?). But, he was named the Phillies Minor League Player of the Year in 2000. Before 2002, Baseball American named Byrd the #1 prospect in the Phillies system, #26 on the top 100.

Unfortunately, there is another quite unseemly (this is an understatement) blip on Marlon's strange history: a domestic violence charge in 2002. According to three witnesses, Byrd allegedly pulled his girlfriend at the time out of a car by her hair, and also punched her. The woman declined to press charges, but the county followed through before dropping them a month or so later. Police indicated that the woman had red marks on her chest, bruising and swelling on her elbow, broken fingernails and a bleeding finger. The Phillies mandated that Byrd enter their program for counseling and anger management, and to also abstain from alcohol. Which, when you consider what extent alcohol could've played in the "karate kick the door" incident in college, it probably wasn't such a bad idea for young Marlon to stay away from the sauce.

It's a troubling fact, no doubt, and it makes me a little bit (more) uneasy about the trade. From all reports, Marlon is great in the clubhouse. And, all of this took place more than a decade ago. It's still something that makes me take pause and wonder about the man behind the bat and away from the stadium.

Make your own opinions.

The Major Leagues
Marlon Byrd finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting in his first full big league season (2003) and the future looked quite promising for the Philly youngster. However, his production fell off a cliff the next season and more quickly than anyone could have predicted, Marlon's time with the club was drawing to a close. He was traded to the Washington Nationals after only five games in 2005.

Byrd's time in Washington also yielded little before he was finally designated for assignment in July of 2005. He signed as a free agent in Texas but failed to make the big league roster out of training camp. After suffering outfield injuries, Texas called Byrd up in May of 2007 and Byrd subsequently made the most of it. He forced his way into the everyday lineup, batting .400 in the month of June. He continued his breakout in 2008, a year that saw him get on base almost 40 percent of the time and also post a career best 122 OPS+. In his final year in Arlington, Byrd broke out in a different way. It was a year that saw him trade OBP discipline for power swings, as he doubled his home run total over one year to 20 and batted in 89 runs.

Byrd parlayed 3 strong seasons with Texas into a three year, $15 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. He turned in another solid season in 2010 for the Northsiders, being selected to his first All Star game. The home run totals declined, but he belted 40 doubles and played a decent center field. However the next year Byrd suffered a power outage, hitting only nine home runs and 22 doubles while watching his slugging percentage dip under .400. Then, after just under 50 ABs batting .070 with a -38 OPS with the Cubs in 2012, Byrd was dealt to the Boston Red Sox to finish out the rest of his contract. Byrd would be suspended 50 games for violating the performance enhancing drug policy, and that was that for 2012.

The New York Mets took a flier on Byrd in 2013, signing him to a minor league deal in February, and he played better than ever for the Mets. He slugged an impressive career high .518 for the Mets before being traded post-Matt Harvey injury. In a post deadline waiver claim trade, the Pirates received the hot slugging Byrd and John Buck for some minor league fodder on their way to their first playoff birth in, like, I think it was 100 years.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty was presumably asleep that whole day.

Philadelphia welcomed Byrd home last offseason, signing him to a two year pact worth $16 million. Predictably, he didn't continue his very solid 2013, but he did add positive worth to an all around negative team in Philly, posting a 110 OPS in his age 36 season.

Contract

Signed 2 year/ $16 million deal with Phillies in 2014, vesting option for a 3rd at 550 PAs for another $8 million.

Acquired by the Reds on December 31, 2014 for minor league RHP prospect Ben Lively. Happy New Year.

Stats

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

Scouting Report
via The Baseball Cube

Speed: 63
Contact: 42
Patience: 39
Batting: 71
Power: 59

Defensive
via Fangraghs Fan's Scouting Report (2014/Career)

Instincts: 56/58
First Step: 48/58
Speed: 44/55
Hands: 55/60
Release: 55/54
Arm Strength: 57/51
Arm Accuracy: 57/50
Overall: 53/55

2015 Projections

PA HR R RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG DEF WAR
Steamer 514 16 52 58 3 .246/.294/.403 -5.9 0.3
ZiPS 563 26 74 91 2 .271/.314/.481 -3.2 2.6

PITCHf/x Hitter Profile

Looking at 2015

The Reds acquired Marlon Byrd to be the big hitting right handed left fielding bat that they've long sought after during the run for this core group of players. This is a role that Ryan Ludwick admirably filled during the second half of 2012, and Jonny Gomes filled in the latter half of 2010. There are plenty of red flags for both Marlon's case to become this bat and for the plan in itself.

Marlon will turn 38 in the last month of the season and there are plenty of legitimate questions about how long he will be able to sustain this late career renaissance. With age comes limitations, father time catches up with all of us, blah blah blah. But, there's also cause to revisit the 2012 PED ban that he served in 2012. Byrd tested positive for a drug called Tamoxifen. It is a drug that blocks the effects of estrogen in the body. Byrd has always been forthright about the suspension, maintaining he never took the drug to gain an unfair advantage.

"I made an inexcusable mistake. Several years ago, I had surgery for a condition that was private and unrelated to baseball. Last winter, I suffered a recurrence of that condition and I was provided with a medication that resulted in my positive test. Although that medication is on the banned list, I absolutely did not use it for performance-enhancement reasons."

And Byrd has always had a good attitude about addressing the suspension. Tamoxifen is a generic version of the drug Nolvadex. Byrd claims that while Nolvadex was listed as a banned substance, he didn't see Tamoxifen on the list which cause him to believe it wasn't illegal. Basically, he didn't do his due diligence, for which he's taken complete responsibility.

The drug is used to treat breast cancer patients. Does Byrd have cancer? He's never said as much, so it's doubtful. However, the drug is useful to players who take steroids that convert to estrogen, as it blocks the effects of estrogen on the body. Basically, for someone who is taking steroids, taking this drug would prevent the creation of breasts. But, don't take my word for it, take the internet's word for it.

The elephant in the room is Byrd's relationship with BALCO clinic founder Victor Conte. The two are close, and Byrd continues to take his legal supplements. Byrd's continued his relationship with Conte, much to the dismay of Major League Baseball. There are no obvious reasons, or maybe any reason at all, to not believe Byrd; he's never strayed from the story and he's not ever afraid to address it. And I'm not even saying that I really care about the "cheating" aspect of the issue. What I do care about is a possible 100 game suspension for a guy the Reds traded a decent pitching project for. Money for nothing, prospects for free?

Even without all of that noise, there's a very real chance that due to advanced age, a totally clean twilight Marlon Byrd may just not be very good. In a season where the team is spending $4 million dollars on Byrd and $4.5 on Ryan Ludwick to not play left field, a dud season could be the nail in the coffin for this team.

Then, there's the question of the plan in general. The team has yet to actually show a unified plan for the future ("to contend or not to contend, that is the question" -Walt Jocketty, probably). If the team is good and healthy, and Marlon can continue to defy his age, it could be a good move for the Reds... to a point. He may be the offensive spark the Reds need to generate runs and subsequently win games, but to what end? If Byrd gets 550 PAs in 2015, his $8 million dollar option vests for 2016, making it yet another lofty contract for the Reds to navigate around.

Educated guesses would think that the Reds have a handle on this situation and won't let it happen. They were not trading for a 39 year old player making 8 million dollars a year. However, we've seen this team make shaky decisions in order to win now. If the Reds are close and Byrd is hitting, is this organization really going to sit him down to look toward the future? I don't have an definitive answer for that.

I'm not sure Walt Jocketty does, either.