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If the Rangers allow Marlon Byrd to escape in free agency this offseason, it will be a bigger setback to the Rangers than you might imagine.
For a team full of impressionable youngsters with incredibly bright futures, the departures of savvy veterans Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones will already be felt in the clubhouse. In speaking with Rangers players, it is quickly ascertained that the value that each of these players brought to the table in terms of coaching and mentoring was beyond significant. I'm not saying that Texas should have gotten into a bidding war over either of them. I'm just emphasizing that their value extended far beyond their modest statistics.
The same can easily be said for Byrd, although his statistics last season were far from modest. For a guy who left camp having secured little more than the role of fourth outfielder, Byrd came up huge for his team when injuries called him into action.
As his role continued to increase in importance throughout the season, he answered the call every time. When injuries kept Josh Hamilton out of centerfield, Byrd stepped up with phenomenal defense. In an offense that struggled at times, he delivered with unmatched consistency. He produced in every role they piled on over the course of the season. For a guy who is admittedly not a cleanup hitter, Byrd came through when they needed him batting .306 with 11 homers, 14 doubles and 39 RBIs in just under 200 cleanup at bats.
He commands immense respect in the Rangers clubhouse as one of its indisputable leaders. Rarely do you run across a more well-rounded and rational athlete. Ask him if he thinks Julio Borbon is ready to take over in centerfield, and without pause he will tell you that Borbon is more than ready. He's a veteran. He sees the big picture. Though it potentially means losing the position he held for 100 games last season, he doesn't hesitate to tell you his young teammate is ready. Keep in mind, Byrd only payed centerfield for his team last year because that's where they needed him. He's more than capable of playing all three outfield spots. Borbon's official arrival defensively and having room for Byrd on the roster are entirely unrelated.
Although their outfield picture does appear to be crowded with Hamilton, Borbon, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy and Byrd, the Rangers need to look long and hard at all of their options before allowing such a significant piece of their franchise to get away. Keeping Josh Hamilton healthy is one of the top priorities for this team. For that reason, making Hamilton the full time DH makes perfect sense. What's wrong with Byrd in left, Borbon in center, Cruz in right and Murphy as the fourth outfielder?
With the Rangers ownership situation in turbo limbo and the winter meetings fast approaching, Byrd's chances of remaining in Texas appear slim. He'll likely be coveted by teams who go after but unsuccessfully land prize free agent outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Once Holliday and Bay sign, Byrd will become a fairly hot commodity. Chances are that the Rangers financial scene will still be in a debilitating Fritz Von Erich headlock at that point.
Meanwhile, it's hard for Rangers fans to look down the street in the division at the way the Angels operate and not feel a tremendous sense of envy.
The Angels liked the production they got from 35-year old veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu last year so much that they wasted no time in signing him to a $19 million, two-year contract. Although Abreu had significantly more walks and steals than Byrd (who had more home runs and doubles), their numbers are not entirely dissimilar. In fact, they're close enough to think that their teams might have had similarly panicked reactions to the thought of losing their valuable contributions in free agency.
That's not by any means to say that Byrd deserves the same bloated contract that Abreu received, but rather to point out that good baseball organizations find ways to keep their most important players.
You may not have realized it, but that's exactly what Marlon Byrd has become. One of this team's most important players.