|From savior to expendable: How improved outfield depth led the Red Sox to let Marlon Byrd go||06.09.12 at 3:29 pm ET|
When the Red Sox traded for Marlon Byrd in mid-April, they were looking for someone to help fill the gaping holes in the outfield where players like Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury would have been if they were healthy.
Byrd stepped in and was at times a solid member of the Red Sox lineup, hitting .270/.286/.320 in 34 games, but he was designated for assignment following Friday’s game in order to clear a roster spot on the big league team for Daisuke Matsuzaka.
“Marlon came in here and kind of saved the day, and now he will more than likely do it with another team,” Bobby Valentine said. “Hopefully it’s not in our division or that is competing against us.”
That the Red Sox could part with Byrd attests to the dramatically different situation the club faces now than it did in mid-April. The Red Sox no longer needed Byrd partly due to the confidence they have in Darnell McDonald, who recently returned to the roster from an injury of his own. Valentine said that the final decision of who Daisuke Matsuzaka should replace on his return to Boston was between Byrd and McDonald.
“[McDonald] has had a little more history here, obviously,” Valentine said. “Coaches and all were much more familiar with him, and we feel like he might be able to give us a little more extra-base power when hitting against left-handers.”In 29 games this season, McDonald is hitting .190/.288/.381, with two home runs and six doubles. McDonald has been with the Red Sox since 2010, and has a .250 batting average in his three seasons in Boston.
Perhaps more significantly, the decision reflects the startling performance by Daniel Nava, who has emerged since his arrival in Boston as one of the Red Sox’ most consistent hitters.
“When we got Marlon there was a real need for outfield depth and Daniel has filled in very nicely there. He has done a great job,” Valentine said. “It looks like he is swinging the bat well from both sides. He is hitting some balls hard from the right side in a real small sample. He has had quality at-bats.”
In his 28 games with Boston this season, Nava is hitting .311/.443/.511, and has found success at the leadoff spot in the lineup. The switch-hitting left fielder has been a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox, as Nava spent all of 2011 in the minors after making his MLB debut in 2010.
Nava is not the only surprise performer the Red Sox have found in the outfield this season, with Scott Podsednik coming in and showing he can still produce from the batter’s box. Podsednik has been known as more of a speedster than a slugger throughout his career, but he has hit .364/.371/.515 in his 12 games with the Red Sox, including two doubles and a home run.
Even the emergence of Will Middlebrooks played into the decision to designate Byrd for assignment, as his production from the plate created a crowded infield that has moved Adrian Gonzalez to the outfield for 11 games so far this season.
Currently, the Red Sox are carrying four healthy outfielders in McDonald, Nava, Podsednik and Ryan Sweeney, as well as Gonzalez who is a first baseman that will play right field. But with Ellsbury, Crawford and Cody Ross rehabbing and on the path to return to Boston later this season, the Red Sox will have some tough decisions to make regarding what to do with their surprising outfield depth.
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