COMMENTARY | About a week before New York Mets fans saw pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie for spring training, Sandy Alderson made a minor signing. The organization agreed to a minor-league deal with outfielder Marlon Byrd.
The Mets were in desperate need of outfielders, and Byrd would be competing for a roster spot. Six months later, it's tough to think about where New York would be without his performance. After a tough 2012 campaign (for multiple reasons), Byrd has a shot at winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
In the last year of his contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2012, the outfielder was dealt to the Boston Red Sox on April 21. He put together a .070/.149/.070 line in 47 plate appearances before switching jerseys. He was much more productive in Beantown, hitting .270/.286/.320 with one home run and seven RBIs.
Once the calendar flipped to June, his season quickly went sour. He was released by the Red Sox on June 9, then news surfaced he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He was handed a 50-game suspension, and he didn't see any time in the big leagues after he was reinstated.
Entering his age-35 season in 2013, Byrd was out to fix his reputation, and looking for a chance at redemption. He decided to play winter ball to show he still had the talent to be on a big league roster, and he responded with a .308/.385/.571 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs in 247 at-bats.
With the outfield situation the way it was heading into spring training, Alderson and the Mets had nothing to lose by taking a chance on Byrd with a non-guaranteed deal. If he did make the team, he wasn't expected to play every day; he would be another right-handed bat to use in a number of projected platoons.
The veteran outfielder has been one of the most consistent hitters all season, and he has shown no signs of breaking down after appearing in 113 games and collecting 409 at-bats. He's been playing every day for most of the summer, and is hitting .286/.333/.523 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs. His power totals are the highest they've been since 2009 with the Texas Rangers, and he already has a career-high in home runs.
Byrd credits a lot of his success to Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who reworked the outfielder's swing. It's certainly paid dividends for the Amazins. In a season where Lucas Duda and Ike Davis have been sent to the minors, while David Wright has ended up on the disabled list, New York has still performed better than expected. The reason for the Mets to still be competitive is the veteran presence of Byrd in the middle of the order.
Collins has sung his praises of the 35-year-old for his influence on the younger players and his preparation before each game.
To further bolster his case to be considered the award, he's only the 16th player in MLB history to have a 20-homer season immediately following a year in which he hit only one.
Marlon Byrd wasn't expecting to become an everyday player at age 35 with the Mets this season. He was just looking for someone to give him a chance to fix his image. Alderson gave him that chance, and both sides have benefited greatly. He went from being a non-roster invitee in spring training to quite possibly the offensive MVP for the Mets, without much protection in the lineup.
His amazing 2013 season should be recognized by those voting for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Byrd has likely also played his way to a more lucrative contract this winter. It's amazing how one year can completely change a situation.
Matt Musico's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue, Mets Merized Online, and Rising Apple. He currently serves as the Executive Editor of MetsMinors.net.
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