Hot, Cold, Furious
Hot: Eric Byrnes was gangbusters in the last game against the Dodgers and the first game against the Padres. He got 7 hits, four of which were XBH, including HR 20. He got 5 RBI. We were hoping this was the start of another hot streak.
Cold: Eric Byrnes struck out in his last PA in the first game against the Padres and 5 times in the next two games. He was as cold in his last two games as he was hot in the two before that. We note, however, that the Padres pitching in the last two games was stellar and that the entire D’Back offense was kept in check. (Chad Tracy also K’d 5 times in the last two games, and Chris Young’s RBI yesterday, the only D’Backs run of the game, came on a groundout).
The move to bring Meredith in, just as Byrnes was coming to the plate with runners on first and second in the sixth inning, was brilliant managing on the part of Padre skipper Bruce Bochy. Not only did the change deny Byrnesie a third look at Mike Thompson, but Meredith is a sidearmer, so he gave Byrnes some very different angles than Thompson did. We understand why Byrnes struck out in that inning. Meredith, who earned his 10th hold yesterday, has a sick ERA of 0.89.
Still, we know that part of the picture over the last two games was that anxiousness that takes Byrnes over from time to time, the anxiousness that we saw in the first K of his current spate of K’s (6 in his last 9 PA’s). Up against the great, but more familiar, Trevor Hoffman in the 9th inning, Byrnesie K’d again, swinging and missing at balls. Hoffman was on his game, striking out the side in that inning. But we could see in Byrnes’ body language that he committed to swinging at what became strike 3 even before the ball had fully left Hoffman’s hand. And that ball was even further outside off the plate than strike 2 had been. We have watched enough of Byrnesie’s PA’s to know he knows the strike zone. When he starts swinging wildly at balls, we know he’s gotten anxious.
Obviously, Byrnesie wants to win. He’s the team’s homer leader, he has 33 doubles, there were two runners on base, and anyone who saw the end of this year’s All Star Game knows that Trevor Hoffman can blow a save with the best of them. But we think there was something more at play here than the will to win; we think Byrnesie is trying to prove himself, so that the Diamondbacks will want him as an everyday player next year, even with Chris Young on the scene. And when Byrnesie tries to prove himself, rather than just be himself, ugly things (like 6 Ks in 9 PAs) happen.
On August 30, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com filed a story that quotes Eric Byrnes saying that he would like to be a Diamondback in 2007. This is in accord with things he has said on KNBR sports talk radio in San Francisco.
If Eric wants to be a Diamondback next year, DTLFL can support that. We don’t mind getting more use out of our Diamondbacks/Byrnes/22 T-shirt, our authentic D’Backs road cap and our Diamondback-colored Byrnesblog jersey. We want for Byrnesie what he wants for himself. And we know he genuinely likes the D’Backs. But we also know he wants other things, e.g. a multi-year contract and the opportunity to play every day, which are two material expressions of confidence in and respect for him. Will the D’Backs supply these things?
According to Gilbert’s story, AZ GM Josh Byrnes (no relation) wants to have Eric back. But the questions are for how long and in what capacity. And already there is talk of Byrnesie the backup:
Furious: DTLFL was furious to hear one of the AZ broadcasters talk about the possibility of having Byrnes spelling Chris Young in CF next year. So furious, in fact, that we shot off this email to KTAR, which was handling the broadcast:
"I am watching the game from Oakland, CA via MLB TV and I heard one of you suggesting that next year Eric Byrnes could spell Chris Young in CF.
If Chris Young is to be the CF in 2007, one of two things needs to happen to Byrnes, either he is moved to LF after Gonzo’s $10 Million option is not picked up, OR he is traded to a team that needs an everyday CF or LF.
Eric Byrnes needs to play every day. He’s not a part-time bench player and a guy who can hit 20 homers should not be one."
Throughout his career, including this year, Eric Byrnes has been the second choice, a guy a team used because they could not immediately have whom they really wanted. In Oakland, it turned out that the Athletics wanted Mark Kotsay in 2000, the year that Byrnes made his MLB debut. They also wanted Jay Payton sooner than they got him. But he signed with San Diego instead of Oakland. When the A’s were able to sign Kotsay to a three-year extension and Payton became available from the Boston Red Sox, Byrnesie knew he was done in Oakland.
He was exiled to the Colorado Rockies, the cellar dwellers of the 2005 NL Worst the day after the All-Star Game. Not that they were trying to trade him, said the A’s front office, when the trade was made. Yeah, right. That is why we heard trade rumors (including Byrnesie to the Diamondbacks) throughout the winter following his then-career year of 2004. That is why A’s fans endured the "way not ready for prime time" minor leaguers playing left field through the first awful two months of the A’s 2005 season as the A’s looked for someone to take over when they unloaded Byrnes. When he got to Colorado, he was told to get a hotel room rather than an apartment because they might trade him again before the non-waiver deadline. And sure enough, they sent him to Baltimore after 15 games.
Byrnes had high hopes for what might happen in Baltimore. When he was traded, Orioles manager Lee Mazilli called him and told him that they really wanted him, and that they were looking at him as their left fielder for the 2006 Opening Day. But Mazilli was fired six days later. And Byrnesie found himself on a team heading downhill after suffering pitching problems, a drug scandal, and questions about the heart of the de facto team leader, Miguel Tejada. Sound familiar? (especially if you have been reading what Diamondhacks has been saying about D’Backs Crown Prince Chad Tracy lately). Unsure of the situation, he stayed in a hotel, living out of a suitcase, the rest of the season. Any wonder he had a bad year?
Now Byrnes would like to stay put, and be the everyday player he knows he can be. But for Byrnes to be an everyday player with the Diamondbacks in 2007, assuming Chris Young is the CF and Carlos Quentin is the RF (sharing with switch–hitter Jeff DaVanon, if the latter fully recovers from surgery to repair a split ankle tendon suffered on August 5), the D’Backs are going to have to let go of LF Luis Gonzalez. Byrnes has a lot of experience in left field and is willing to go back there.
For most of the year, the D’Backs have been expected to not pick up Gonzo’s $10 million option. But they may change their minds. Like the recently traded Shawn Green, Gonzo’s best homer-hitting days are behind him. But he’s now leading the National League in doubles, and he’s leading the team in runs scored. His batting average is respectable again and he’s one of the 6 D’Backs (as is Byrnes), with 60 or more RBI. Gonzo can still cover ground in left. And he’s still popular with the fans, a fixture in the community through years of charity work.
If, indeed, Gonzo stays on, Byrnesie will end up relegated to the bench, a part-timer behind Young and possibly Quentin, and even possibly DaVanon because he’s right-handed and DaVanon is a switch-hitter who hits better left-handed. (Regular readers of this blog have seen us complain about BoMel’s obsession with lefty-righty percentages all season). We also know that the D’Backs have Scott Hairston in the minors and they haven’t had the chance to evaluate him because he got injured in his major league debut. He plays LF. We’ve been hearing about "the prospects" and the strength of the AZ minor league system all year.
And we know, through the example of Tony Clark, that a player can have a great year and be relegated to part-time status the next year despite it. In Clark’s case, he was a older player ready to become a part-timer, and his 2006 season, which has been more abysmal than Byrnes’ 2005, may have been hampered by the shoulder injury that eventually put him on the DL for three dozen games. Byrnes is not in the same situation. He’s younger and injury-free.
But that doesn’t mean the D’Backs won’t settle on a Gonzo/Young/Quentin & DaVanon outfield, or a Hairston/Young/Quentin & DaVanon outfield, leaving one of this year’s team offensive leaders on the bench. It would be a "have your cake and eat it, too" scenario for the D’Backs, who would be playing their prospects, keeping a lefty in the outfield via keeping Gonzo and/or the switching hitting DaVanon (or another lefty/switch if DaVanon can’t rehab effectively), and having Eric "Pop in His Bat" Byrnes on the bench. Except that Byrnes is not a great pinch hitter, and if his production falls off from lack of playing time in such a situation, other teams that might have been willing to trade for him this off-season will be mistakenly exhaling in relief that they didn’t take a flyer on Byrnes, who will be 31 next season. They will figure he peaked in ’06 and is now over the hill. Nothing could be further from the truth for this high-energy guy who has never been on the DL and who can do no better than appear in as many games as he did in 2004 (143) but we doubt he will.
We actually are impressed with what we have seen of Chris Young. We understand why the D’Backs want him in CF. And we get the idea behind the marriage of convenience that Byrnes and the Diamondbacks made last December. Byrnes needed a place to prove that 2005 was an aberration. The D’Backs needed someone to hold down CF while Chris Young got a bit more experience in Triple A. They were not expecting to get all that they have gotten from Byrnesie this year. They were not expecting that he would be the team’s leader in homers–they were probably figuring on Tracy for that–and stolen bases (both absolute number and success rate)–they were probably figuring on Counsell or Hudson for that. Yes, they got more than they planned for from Byrnes. Now what do they do?
We think that it’s high time for a team to commit to Eric Byrnes as a starter for several years,as a first choice, rather than as a placeholder, or as a part-timer. Time has come for Byrnes to find a home with a team willing to give him a multi-year contract; we think a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year would be fair. Time has come for a team to tell him, even before spring training, that they want him to START 145-150 games in CF or LF.
We think Byrnes has turned in a good year, but would perform even better if he didn’t have to think he was fighting for his job every day. Time has come for him not to feel someone breathing down his neck for a while. Time has come for a manager to have full confidence in him. Time has come for him to have a regular place in the lineup. (We’ve seen him start everywhere except third and ninth this year, and since he has pinch-hit for some pitchers, he has, in effect, batted ninth). It’s time for him to have a well-defined role in the offense. (We like him in the heart of the order).
Time has come for Byrnes to know that if he slumps, as all players do, he’ll get the opportunity to work it out at the plate. The Diamondbacks let Shawn Green take three weeks to get going. Gonzo and Orlando Hudson took months to warm up at the plate. We can’t help but feel that if Byrnes had had the .137 lifetime average that Gonzo had against Woody Williams, we would not have seen him in the lineup the other day. Time has come for Byrnesie to be treated with the respect due to someone who is going into the last month of the season as the team’s leader in homers and stolen bases. Will the D’Backs do right by Byrnes or will they assume that he has peaked, that they got lucky to get more out of him than they expected when they signed him, and relegate him to backup duty? (Again, we think that’s an ill-fitting role, given his record as a pinch hitter).
DTLFL wants to see Byrnes with a team that will accord him the same respect the Padres give their CF Mike Cameron, a player 3 years older than Byrnes, and whose 2005 season prematurely ended with a horrible injury. He has 19 HR to Byrnesie’s 20, 20 Stolen Bases to Byrnesie’s 18, a .265 Batting average to Byrnesie’s .278, in other words, statistically they are similar. But Cameron has something Byrnes does not have: the sense that he is an integral part of who the Padres are, and they are going to keep him, whereas the D’Backs are not quite sure what to do with Byrnes.
If the D’Backs decide to keep Gonzo and start Young and Quentin in 2007, the best thing they could do, for Byrnesie and for themselves, is to trade him to a team that really needs him as an everyday player, preferably getting in return the pitching they need to get deep into the playoffs.
As for the last month of the season, breathe deeply, Byrnesie, be patient at the plate, and be yourself rather than trying to prove yourself. There are still some milestones for you to achieve this year, provided you get the chance and are not benched because management needs to "evaluate prospects."
We are sorry to know that Aaron Rowand, CF of the Phillies, is out for the remainder of the year with a broken ankle, and that Padres pitcher Chan Ho Park is suffering from a rare disease called Merkel’s Diverticulum that has caused intestinal bleeding. He is also lost for the year, but we hope the recent surgery he had has corrected the problem. We are keeping fingers, toes and eyes crossed that the heart palpitations of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz are related to stress and dehydration and nothing worse, and that the enlarged lymph nodes of his pitching teammate Jon Lester are an infection and not cancer. We would also like to see Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano get away from the injury cycle that has keep him off the field for several years now. The latest problem is broken ribs from a recent car accident. Again we wish good luck to D’Backs’ No. 4 outfielder Jeff DaVanon on surgery and rehabilitation to heal the split tendon he suffered on August 5. We know we don’t have a comprehensive list here, but we wish EVERY player a speedy recovery from injury or illness, whether or not the medical problem has landed them on the DL.
On the positive side of the medical ledger, Mariners’ reliever Rafael Soriano has been released from the hospital after taking a line drive to the head. Minnesota’s young star pitcher Francisco Liriano has been throwing on the side and may join the Twins bullpen, and the D’Backs have shortstop Craig Counsell and reserve 1B Tony Clark back after they each missed 3 dozen games on the DL. Congrats and good luck to all players coming back from illness or injury.
Although the Boston Red Sox have grown on us since 2004, and although the A’s have been annoying us ever since they announced at the beginning of 2003 that they would not make an offer in 2004 to retain 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada, we still like Barry Zito and are pleased he beat the BoSox yesterday. In a sport that practically deifies pitchers who throw north of 95 MPH, Barry Z. gets his job done with a nasty curveball.
Readers of DTLFL will be relieved to hear that we have to not run on so long for a few days to prepare for special programming on KPFA on Monday. (A brief announcement on that will appear later). The D’Backs are in the nation’s capital for the weekend, and needless to say we are hoping Eric Byrnes will stay in the heart of the lineup and do great things. Homer 21 and stolen bases 19 and 20 would be nice.
Kéllia "Do right by Byrnesie, D’Backs!" Ramares