The unrealized potential of Endy Chavez and Marlon Byrd will need to be resolved in new settings as the Nationals and Phillies swap center fielders.
This is a clear case of two players in need of a change of scenery. The fact that two divisional rivals swapped 27-year-olds at a premium spot should indicate the hopelessness the Phils and Nats felt.
If I had to pick sides, my instincts tell me it’s better to have an aggressive swinger that’s undisciplined (Chavez) than a guy with a slow bat and declining speed (Byrd). Chavez adds more to the current group than Byrd did, giving the Phils a running threat off the bench.
More interesting than predictions, however, is how these young center fielders reached this point in the first place, especially Byrd, who was once touted with five-tool potential. His signed-and-sealed collapse in Philadelphia represents one of the fastest falls from grace in team history.
Last year in my July 30 post, I reflected on Byrd’s marvelous season in 2001 for Double-A Reading. He finished at the top of the Eastern League in nearly all offensive categories: first in stolen base percentage (.865); second in runs (108); third in stolen bases (32); fourth in batting average (.315); and the biggest surprise — fifth in home runs (28), RBIs (89) and slugging percentage (.555). At the end of the season, Baseball America crowned him “Most Exciting Player” in the EL, finishing two homers shy of 30-30. The only other EL player in history to accomplish it was Jeromy Burnitz.
Like a lot of truths being realized about Larry Bowa’s true effect on team performance, it seems the current core of managers couldn’t get what Reading manager Gary Varsho got from him in 2001, when Varsho called him “a perfect package.”
Bill Conlin, appearing on "Daily News Live" Monday, mentioned that Phils manager Charlie Manuel wasn’t Byrd’s No. 1 fan despite working with his stroke last season as a special advisor. The team’s overall agitation is understandable as Byrd was a prime example of a guy that should have played winter ball but didn’t.
In spite of a winter playing Xbox, he had a pretty good spring, but then again, that turned out to be a lousy indicator for season performace (Gavin Floyd was probably their best pitcher, while Cory Lidle totally sucked).
Nothing will ever symbolize Byrd’s lost promise more than a never realized trade this winter, when the Brewers backed out of a straight up deal swapping Byrd for Jeff Bennett, who’s now pitching for Triple-A Nashville.
Instead, the Phils get a Triple-A player facing identical problems.
Washington manager Frank Robinson and GM Jim Bowden begged Chavez to be more selective at the plate and bunt for hits to utilize his speed. Instead, he drew only 30 walks in 502 at-bats last year, hit .212 and had a .257 OBP, well under what's needed for a leadoff man, or even a No. 8 hitter. Frustrated by his unwillingness to change this spring, they sent him to the minors a week from opening day.
"We tried with Endy," Bowden said. "I don't think I can help Endy. I hope Philadelphia can, but I couldn't do it.”
It sounds to me like Chavez needs someone that can speak his language, and the Phils may have just the person.
There’s no better hitter right now than fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu. Abreu is the exact opposite of Chavez at the plate – painstakingly patient and ultra-selective. Along with countryman and super-teammate Tomas Perez, they could help him.
In his debut Sunday, Chavez tripled and nearly bunted for a hit, going 1-5 hitting out of the two-hole. Though he's third in the center field depth charts behind Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels, the Phils will start by using him as a pinch runner of the bench. Lofton is expected to return to the lineup tonight.
Based on pure entertainment, he’s a real physical livewire, different than the slow plodders throughout the rest of the lineup. I think it's a good trade for the Phils, and a good second chance for both players.