SECOND MOVE: MATOS COMES, BYRD GOES
[July 14th] -- Jim Bowden didn't waste much time in making his second post-All Star game roster move. So far, so good.
Luis Matos, rumored to be coming to Washington as early as Wednesday, signed with the team late Thursday and will be a reserve outfielder for the remainder of the season. Marlon Byrd, given every chance to win a starting position in the Nationals' outfield, has been designated for assignment. Because he is out of options, he will have to go through waivers -- if he clears them, he'll likely accept assignment to 'AAA' New Orleans.
What happened to Marlon Byrd? Did anything "happen" to him? He had a wonderful rookie season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003, batting .303-7-45 with a solid .366 on-base-percentage. That was his last good year in the major leagues. He hit .228 in 2004 with an abysmal .287 OBP. A few games into 2005, Byrd was traded to the Nationals for Endy Chavez in one of those "change-of-scenery" trades. He was red-hot in his first month in D.C., hitting in the high .350's for most of May and June. It was Byrd's bat, as much as anyone's, that helped propel the Nationals to that twelve game winning streak and a 51-30 first half record. He hit a wall, however, and was back in the minors just a month or so later. After working with batting coach Mitchell Paige in New Orleans, he returned in September and showed real power for the first time in his career. "If he gets to play reguarly, Marlon Byrd has the ability to hit 20-25 homers one day" said Jim Bowden at the end of last season. This year, however, he's only hitting .223 with a .317 OBP. Frank Robinson said that Byrd was having "mechanical issues" that he needs to work on over the winter. I can accept that. I googled "Marlon Byrd" and "Phillies" and found an article where the Phillies GM was quoted as saying that Byrd is a pure hitter when he's "on," but he tends to get in a "funk" and doesn't swing the bat properly at times. Translation: "Marlon Byrd is having "mechanical issues" with his swing. Last year, Byrd was the team's best hitter the first couple of months of the year, then suddenly couldn't hit the ball off a tee and was demoted to New Orleans. How can a player go from being a solid hitter to a very bad one in just a game or two? "Mechanical issues." Marlon Byrd, like so many players, will develop bad habits at the plate. When that happens, he simply can't hit. Even guys like Albert Pujols can develop bad habits during the year. So why doesn't Pujols get sent down when his mechanics get mushy? Because of his talent level. When guys like Albert Pujols gets into a funk, when his swing isn't just right or when he dips his shoulder or when he doesn't set his feet properly, his immense talent takes over and can, in many cases, mask his poor mechanics. Guys like Marlon Byrd, however, have relatively low-level skills, and rely on their mechanics for their success. Time and time again, Byrd's manager and GM has made it clear: he will only be a successful major league player if every part of his game is working properly. And that's too bad, because I've always liked him. My guess is that he won't clear waivers. Another hitting coach on another team will say, "Hey skip, I can fix that swing" and he'll be claimed by somebody.
Luis Matos is an intriguing signing to say the least. Dare I say that he is a "toolsy" player? The Orioles selected him in the 10th round of the 1996 draft. He hails from the same town in Puerto Rico as the just acquired Felipe Lopez. Perhaps that figured into the deal. In six major league seasons, Matos has a career .260 batting average and a .316 OBP. At first glance, there isn't much of an improvement over Marlon Byrd. But Matos does have more power, and has the ability to drive in more runs. He has had two acceptable seasons, in 2003 (.303-13-45) and 2005 (.280-4-32). This year, he was hitting .207 with a .278 OBP when he was designated for assignment. His real downside is his that he makes Nick Johnson look downright healthy. He's missed significant time in five of his last six seasons, and they aren't "chronic" issues; "stuff" just seems to happen to him.
In the end, it's a slight positive for the Nationals. When comparing Matos to the "mechanically sound" Marlon Byrd, Byrd wins hands down because of his overall health. But if you compare the "problematic" Byrd, then Matos is the clear winner.
In the end, I'm not sure this deal matters. Matos is simply another Alex Escobar with all the talent in the world who, through injuries and missed opportunities, has yet to show he belongs in the major leagues.
And probably never will.
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