Bourn or no Bourn, Byrd eyes spot on Mets' roster
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Out here, Marlon Byrd is starting in right field and batting fourth for a Mexico team that's playing against the Dominican Republic in Thursday's Caribbean Series final. Back in the U.S., reports continue to run rampant regarding the Mets' interest in signing free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn.
Byrd signed a Minor League deal with the Mets earlier this month, and his chances of making the club out of Spring Training will take a hit if Bourn indeed decides to make Flushing, N.Y., his new home.
But Byrd's rooting interest is different than you might think.
"I want him to sign," Byrd said. "He's a good friend. We were in Philly together [while Bourn was coming up through the Minors and Byrd was in the big leagues]. I know free agency is what you work for, and it's supposed to be a happy time in your life. It's got to be very stressful not signing yet. But he has one of the best agents in the game [Scott Boras], so everything will work out for him."
Spring Training will decide whether it works out for Byrd, the 35-year-old right-handed hitter who was an All-Star with the Cubs in 2010 but is coming off a 50-game suspension.
For now, Byrd is expected to compete with Andrew Brown for the fifth-outfielder's job. The Mets have three left-handed-hitting starting outfielders in Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter, plus a capable right-handed-hitting reserve in Collin Cowgill.
Byrd doesn't sound very interested in starting the 2013 season at Triple-A.
"I have one goal, and that's to make the team," Byrd said. "I have no goals other than that."
In 11 Major League seasons, spent with five organizations, Byrd has hit .278 with a .336 on-base percentage, slugging .413 while mostly playing center field. Last year, he hit just .210 with one homer and nine RBIs in 47 games for the Cubs and Red Sox. Then, in June, he was suspended after testing positive for tamoxifen, a medicine designed to block the effects of estrogen in the body.
The resulting inactivity prompted Byrd to play in Latin America for the first time this offseason. He batted .318 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in the Mexican Pacific League, then came into the championship game 6-for-21 with six RBIs for the Yaquis de Obregon.
"After my suspension, I didn't get picked up by another team and I felt like I needed to get some at-bats, work on my game," Byrd said. "There are a lot of things that, when I got my release from Boston, didn't feel right -- my swing, my mechanics. I wanted to play more baseball and work on my game.
"Playing the game always helps, and sitting at home doing nothing doesn't really help."