After a lost year, Marlon Byrd has exceeded all expectations this season by batting .263 with 15 home runs, 49 RBI, and an .804 OPS through 77 games With the Mets unlikely to make a run at things, many have logically speculated that the club will attempt to sell high by the trade deadline later this month. Then again, maybe not.
During an appearance on MLB Network Radio this morning, Mets special assistant to the GM J.P. Ricciardi indicated that the team won’t move Byrd unless they are overwhelmed.
Byrd is unlikely to be a contributor on the 2014 team, so it would be silly to dismiss the possibility of a trade entirely. And teams often say things like this in order to drive up prices. But the Mets had a similar situation last year with Scott Hairston and ended up keeping him. It ultimately comes down to whether the team prefers the chance to win another couple of games with Byrd over the possibility of receiving a lower level prospect in return. Recent history suggests they may stand pat.
Looking for another weapon to combat left-handed pitchers, the Nationals picked up Scott Hairston from the Cubs on Sunday night, a source told FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal.
Rosenthal says the Cubs will get a minor league pitcher in return.
Hairston had to be expecting a bigger role than the one he found in Chicago after signing a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cubs in the offseason. He ended up getting just 98 at-bats in the Cubs’ 86 games and hitting .163/.225/.398 with seven homers and 18 RBI. Last year, Hairston hit .263/.299/.504 with 20 homers in 377 at-bats for the Mets.
Unfortunately, Hairston isn’t looking at an expanded role in Washington, not as long as the team’s starting outfielders stay healthy. Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth are all everyday players, and the Nats aren’t going to pick one to start benching against lefties, although they do want to give Harper more time off as he deals with a sore knee. Hairston has no experience at first base, so he probably won’t be of any help there. However, he will be an upgrade over Tyler Moore as a late-game option off the bench.
The Nationals will be the seventh team for the 34-year-old Hairston. He’s still looking to go to the playoffs for the first time in his 10 big-league seasons.
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Chicago Cubs.
The Big Question: Is Theo Epstein pushing the Cubs any closer to contention?
He most definitely is, but it’s doubtful to show up in the standings this year because the other teams in the National League Central are — on paper — quite clearly superior. Epstein has helped breath life into the Cubs’ minor league system since taking over as team president in October 2011 and he has been making incremental roster improvements in free agency with the help of talented general manager Jed Hoyer. But the lovable losers are not built for championships yet.
Starlin Castro is entering his age-23 season and has already tallied 529 hits in 445 career major league games, but he had a .323 on-base percentage in 2012 and his defense rates poorly at shortstop. He may become a superstar one of these years, but he’s not there now. Though you probably don’t want to tell him that. Castro will bat second in the Cubs’ lineup this year behind 33-year-old center fielder David DeJesus, who registered an underwhelming .263/.350/.403 batting line last season. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo does pretty much everything well and should hit third for Chicago for many years to come, but he still has some developing to do. Alfonso Soriano is the Cubs’ cleanup man and made plenty of noise in 2012 with his 32 home runs and 108 RBI. But he’s a liability in the outfield and he turned 37 years old this winter.
And the batting order takes a sharp dive from there. Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston will share time in right field. Luis Valbuena will start at third base until Ian Stewart recovers from a quad injury. Welington Castillo will start behind the plate, and Darwin Barney and his .654 career OPS will man second base.
This is not a good offense, and it looks especially poor when stacked against the lineups of the Reds, Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates. With the Astros gone, the National League Central is no longer a breeze.
What Else Is Going On?
- The rotation is fine right now and could actually be pretty good once all the pieces are in place. Jeff Samardzija, who will serve as this year’s Opening Day starter, posted a cool 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 180/56 K/BB ratio across 174 2/3 innings in 2012. It was his first full season in the starting rotation and he absolutely flourished. Edwin Jackson was signed to a four-year, $52 million free agent contract this winter and Scott Feldman was brought in on what could be a bargain one-year, $6 million deal. Matt Garza should return from his lat strain by early May and Scott Baker should be recovered from Tommy John surgery by the end of April. Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva are solid fill-ins.
- The Cubs have been trying to trade closer Carlos Marmol since last summer but have been unable to work anything out. The wild 30-year-old right-hander had a 1.54 WHIP in 2012, yielding 45 walks in 55 1/3 innings. If the Cubs do figure out a way to part with Marmol this season, newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa will likely slide into the ninth-inning role. The 32-year-old from Kochi, Japan had a 1.77 ERA and 11.8 K/9 in 12 years of Nippon Professional Baseball before deciding to head overseas this offseason.
- About that rejuventated minor league system. The Cubs signed Cuban defector Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract last June and then watched the 21-year-old outfielder bat .338/.398/.513 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games at Low-A Peoria. Albert Almora was the sixth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft and carries high upside as a center fielder. Javier Baez, the ninth overall pick in 2011, hit .294 with an .888 OPS, 16 home runs and 24 stolen bases last year between two different classifications of Single-A. The 20-year-old shortstop could eventually push Castro to third base.
- There’s no better atmosphere for a midsummer baseball game than Wrigley Field, but the structure needs some care. Which is why the new Cubs ownership group — led by chairman Tom Ricketts — is hoping to break ground on a massive $300 million renovation as soon as the 2013 regular season comes to a close. All of the logistics are still being worked out, but the plans look really great.
Prediction: Last place in the new-look, five-team National League Central.
UPDATE: So much for that. Carrie Muskat, who covers the Cubs for MLB.com, writes that Bourn to the Cubs is “not happening.” Could this be a case of Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras, making a last-ditch effort to create a market for his client?
8:06 PM: There’s been plenty of chatter over the past couple of weeks about a possible match between the Mets and Michael Bourn, but otherwise the market for the free agent outfielder has been eerily quiet. However, it seems there is one potential landing spot that has flown under the radar.
The Cubs currently project to begin the season with Alfonso Soriano in left field, David DeJesus in center field and a platoon of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston in right field. If the Cubs were to swoop in and sign Bourn, they could move DeJesus into a corner and try to find a suitor for Soriano, who still has two years and $36 million left on his contract. Of course, they’d have to eat a big portion of his remaining contract to make that happen and Soriano has the ability to veto any deal.
While FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has also listed the Cubs as a possibility, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times doesn’t see Bourn coming at a steep enough discount to be a realistic fit.
Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports that the Cubs have finalized their two-year, $5 million free agent contract with Scott Hairston and designated Tony Campana for assignment to clear roster room.
Hairston will get regular playing time in right field this season in Chicago after batting .263 with a solid .803 OPS and a career-high 20 home runs across 398 plate appearances last season for the Mets.
Campana could draw interest from other teams because of his raw speed. He boasts 54 career stolen bases and has been caught only five times since breaking into the major leagues in 2011. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .264/.308/.299 in 2012.