« Sing a new song | Main | Viagra wasn't working well enough? »

O's make a splash by getting Byrnes

The Orioles finally made a trade, sending Larry Bigbie to the last-place Colorado Rockies for Eric Byrnes in an swap of outfielders. The transaction was announced in the middle of Friday night's game. Here's a link to the story from Saturday's Washington Post.

Byrnes, 29, is headed for his third team in 16 days, as he came to the Rockies from the Oakland Athletics on July 13. He's probably best known for the hustling, highlight-reel catches he made for Oakland over the past few years. Scouting reports and statistics rate him as an above-average corner outfielder defensively. He can also play center, where he is about average.

He's not a bad hitter either. This year he hit .266/.336/.474 (BA/OBP/SLG) for the Athletics, numbers roughly in line with his production in 2003 and 2004. (Keep in mind that Oakland's stadium deflates offense slightly.) A right-handed batter, he has slightly above-average power for a corner outfielder and knows how to use his speed to steal an occasional base (37 SB with an 86% success rate in his career).

Better luck today—and tomorrow

This deal makes a lot of sense for the Orioles. Byrnes makes the team better in the short term and should continue to be productive over the next couple of years. Frankly, it's hard to see why the Rockies didn't just hold on Byrnes, a proven regular who is not terribly expensive. The Denver Post wrote that “Rockies scouts have long coveted Bigbie,” implying that the Rockies think Bigbie, who is gifted athletically and was a first-round pick out of college in 1999, eventually will be a better player than Byrnes once he puts it all together. And since the Rockies aren't going anywhere this year, they can afford to wait. Colorado would benefit if Bigbie finally harnesses his talents on offense, although that's far from a sure thing.

On the other hand, Thomas Harding, the Rockies' beat writer for MLB.com, wrote that Bigbie could be headed next to the Boston Red Sox for catching prospect Kelly Shoppach. That would be an illogical move for the Red Sox, who aren't in a position to take on a work in progress such as Bigbie and could use Shoppach as insurance should Jason Varitek go down.

For now, the acquisition of Byrnes gives the Orioles an immediate boost in production from their weak-hitting outfield. Defensively, Byrnes is as good as or better than Bigbie. He also could fill in for Luis Matos in center should Matos continue to struggle offensively or get hurt yet again. Offensively, Byrnes is decidedly better than Bigbie right now; Byrnes's bat is mature, while Bigbie's has regressed at a time when it should be peaking.

Byrnes also addresses the Orioles' shortage of outfielders who can hit left-handed pitching. In his brief major-league career, he has tattooed lefties to the tune of .303/.360/.536. However, he's been far less effective against righties. At .249/.322/.411 off them in his career and just .229/.304/.354 this year, he may be a candidate for a platoon. Still, with Eli Marrero out until September at the earliest, the Orioles needed another right-handed hitting outfielder, and Byrnes fits the bill.

One reservation I have about Byrnes is his tendency to go all out afield, putting himself at increased risk of injury. Whereas Bigbie cruises smoothly around the outfield and occasionally slides to make catches, Byrnes is known for diving to the grass and crashing into outfield walls in pursuit of batted balls. They don't call him "The Human Crash Test Dummy" for nothing. I was surprised to discover that he has not suffered any major injuries in his professional career. Whether that is because of a sturdy constitution or just good luck is beyond my knowledge.

Byrnes will cost the Orioles a bit more than Bigbie in the near term. Byrnes is making $2.2 million this year, his fourth full season in the majors, and will be eligible for raises in salary arbitration for the next two seasons before earning the right to become a free agent. Bigbie is making close to the league minimum this year, having served less than three full seasons in the majors; he'll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in the upcoming winter. Baltimore should have no problems accommodating Byrnes's salary into its payroll, though.

Bye-bye, Bigbie

Bigbie may someday hit as well as Byrnes is hitting now, but that's hardly a certainty, and anyway the Orioles just got tired of waiting for his bat to come around. Bigbie is already 27, and most big-league regulars have adjusted to big-league pitching by that age. He showed signs of becoming a productive player in 2003 and 2004, but this year he just never found a groove at the plate. His 2005 batting line was .248/.314/.374 after he was taken out of tonight's game. That might have been acceptable if he were a catcher or a middle infielder, but the average American League left fielder this year has hit .280/.336/.439. Bigbie was just not cutting it at the plate, so he was an obvious candidate to go. Don't be surprised, though, if his bat suddenly awakens in Colorado, where he will encounter reduced pressure in more than one sense.

Update (July 31): There's a funny anecdote about Byrnes in today's Baltimore Sun:

A fan raced onto the field during a May 15 game against the New York Yankees, and headed toward Byrnes, who gestured as though ready to make a tackle. The man veered to one side and tried scaling the wall before Byrnes grabbed him and held tight until police officers arrived on the scene.

"I guess looking back on it, it might not have been the brightest thing to do," he said.

Manager Ken Macha agreed, believing it was too risky, and Byrnes was hauled before Major League Baseball security officials.

"The guards at the stadium seemed to appreciate it, as did the Oakland police department," he said. "They gave me a bunch of goodies the next day - handcuffs and a baton."

I wonder if he's found any use for those "goodies"...


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 30, 2005 1:46 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Sing a new song.

The next post in this blog is Viagra wasn't working well enough?.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33