GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Long rumored to be interested in adding outfield help, the Cleveland Indians have brought in veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd for a physical. Byrd was spotted riding up to the Indians' complex in his Tesla early Thursday morning, prompting speculation that a move was afoot.
“I’m an old man, so I don’t think they’re going to put me in center field,” cracked the 38-year-old veteran. “A platoon, anything. I’m not expecting to come make this team and start. That’s not the case at all.”
Said Indians manager Terry Francona during his morning presser: “He’s here taking a physical today, so being respectful of the process ... he’s taking a physical. When it’s appropriate, we can talk about [his role]."
Byrd is a veteran of nine other organizations, and split the 2015 season with the Reds and the Giants, arriving in San Francisco via an Aug. 20 trade. Between the two teams, Byrd hit .247/.290/.453, slugging 23 home runs. He has also shown a significantly better bat against left-handed pitching, putting up an .820 OPS versus southpaws last season (against .717 versus RHPs), with an .802/.742 split on his career.
“I’m coming in on a minor league deal, it’s a tryout,” Byrd said. “I did it in 2013, with the Mets. I was coming off the suspension, they were the one team that came in and gave me the shot. Same thing, there’s no promises coming in. I’ve got to come in and make the team and impress, not going off reputation or anything.”
Byrd says he’s been keeping in shape to prepare for the phone call that did finally come. “I live right outside L.A., so I was at Pierce College, facing some of their guys, hitting a lot on the slider machine, try to get it up to 70 to 80 miles per hour to try to simulate game speed as much as possible. Doing my own running, doing my own workouts, doing everything but actually playing the game, taking fly balls, running the bases.
“I thought, with the numbers I’ve put up the last three years [averaging 24 home runs per season], I’d have more takers than just one team,” Byrd said, though he was realistic about what some of his other statistics might have suggested to teams. “You look at the numbers, the average went down, the on-base average went down, the strikeouts went too high, not enough walks. I am older in age, maybe teams weren’t looking for that. I can’t speak for other teams, I can just speculate. But there was something that the Indians saw, that they wanted to take a chance with these last three weeks.”
Byrd will be challenged to show the Indians something quickly.
“I’m going to find out. I’ve never done it in three weeks, I’ve always had that six-week span to prove something,” Byrd said. “But three weeks? I don’t know, I’m going to test that out for the first time.”
Asked if it was exciting to get checked out by a team expecting to contend, Byrd was enthusiastic despite being on the outside looking in, at least for the time being. “Exciting? Everything about this team, this organization,” Byrd said. “Can you name a better one-two-three-four in the game than their starting pitching? You’re talking about the excitement you’ve got [Mike] Napoli coming in, [Juan] Uribe coming in, Yan Gomes being healthy, [Michael] Brantley coming back quick. [Francisco] Lindor, [Jason] Kipnis, no one even talks about him and he hit like .800 for a month. It’s a very exciting team.”
The Indians’ outfield picture is complicated. The biggest factor in play is starting left fielder Brantley’s return from shoulder surgery. He’s expected to play in a minor league game on Thursday, which will give the team a sense of the timetable for his eventual return.
With Brantley expected to ultimately resume full-time duties in left, flanking Rajai Davis in center, right field is the open question that Byrd might help answer. Lonnie Chisenhall is perhaps the established internal choice to play right field, where he made 40 starts in August and September after being moved off third base, but he has struggled in spring training, going 1-for-21 while playing through forearm tightness that has limited his availability. But Chisenhall hits from the left side, suggesting obvious platoon possibilities with Byrd.
Among the Indians’ other veteran outfield options on the 40-man roster are Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler, with non-roster invitees Michael Choice, Shane Robinson and Will Venable also potentially in the mix. Prospect Tyler Naquin is still in camp, too, and is leading the club in hits with 12 and hitting .444.
Asked about a Cactus League outfield mix that includes so many experienced alternatives, Francona said, “I don’t think you can go into it with a blank slate, because you’d be setting yourself up to make some mistakes. I think you need to know what a guy has done in the past. I don’t think you need to hold a guy to it, like if he looks like he’s improved or made an adjustment. Or maybe the role’s different. A lot of it is the role. So many times a guy has a great spring and he’ll make the club as a utility player, but then he doesn’t hit.”
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.