Byrd savors first All-Star selection
He spent September 2006 at home after the Nationals’ minor-league season ended. He went to a Phillies-Mets game to see some old friends from the Phils and prepared hitting tapes of himself to send clubs in Japan.
The Rangers signed him to a minor-league contract that December, then designated him for assignment at the end of spring training. He continued working out, watching the Rangers on television while at the gym. He cleared waivers, went to Triple-A and finally returned to the majors at the end of May.
Three years later, Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd is a first-time All-Star at 32, selected not by the fans — he did not even crack in the top 15 in the fan voting — but by his peers.
Over the next two days, Byrd will not command center stage like Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter. But for Byrd and other players who took long journeys to the All-Star Game — Reds reliever Arthur Rhodes, Pirates reliever Evan Meek, Blue Jays catcher John Buck, to name a few — the honor is that much more meaningful.
“It wasn’t easy,” Byrd said the other day, recalling his four-team, nine-year odyssey. “You know the potential that you have. But you start questioning, is there a spot for me?”
The three-year, $15 million free-agent contract that Byrd signed with the Cubs last offseason was one form of validation. But Tuesday night, when he is introduced with the National League All-Stars, will be the best validation of all.
Reds left-hander Travis Wood, making only his third major-league start, could not have looked more relaxed as he took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Phillies on Saturday night.
Wood, 23, does not bear a physical resemblance to Cliff Lee — Wood is 5 feet 11, 163 pounds, while Lee is 6-3, 190. But it is not an accident that Wood resembles Lee with his easy demeanor on the mound.
“He lives two minutes from him (in Arkansas), does charity work with him and began working out with Cliff religiously after Cliff’s Cy Young year in 2008,” said agent Darek Braunecker, who represents both pitchers.
Wood had struggled in ’08 after an in-season promotion to Double-A, going 4-9 with a 7.09 ERA. Lee taught him his cutter that offseason, and Wood went a combined 13-5 with a 1.77 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A in ’09.
They hunt together after workouts, and Braunecker said they are “cut from the same competitive and athletic cloth.”
“Unbelievable similarities,” Braunecker said.
The Rockies’ next movie: Cantu?
The Marlins have made infielder Jorge Cantu and outfielder Cody Ross available, major-league sources say, but are holding off — for now — on second baseman Dan Uggla and right-hander Ricky Nolasco.
Cantu, a potential free agent, would be ideal for the Rockies, an even better fit than Uggla, who likely will earn $10 million in arbitration next season. The Rockies want a right-handed, run-producing corner bat, and are unsettled at first without Todd Helton, who is on the disabled list with lower back stiffness.
The Rockies discussed trading infielder Clint Barmes and a prospect for Uggla last offseason. But if they added Cantu, they could use Barmes and Jonathan Herrera at second after Troy Tulowitzki returns from the DL in August.
The downside of adding Cantu is that it might force the team to part with Melvin Mora, who is well-regarded by his teammates and has a .359 on-base percentage since May 28.
For now, the Rockies will ride the Brad Eldred/Jason Giambi platoon at first and wait for Helton to return, knowing his defense, at least, is an asset. The team also might need bullpen help; right-hander Taylor Buchholz is struggling in his rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A.
Braves Hudson: underrated All-Star
Consider pitcher No. 1: 157-82, 3.42 ERA.
Now consider pitcher No. 2: 158-83, 3.35 ERA.
Pretty similar, right?
Pitcher No. 1 is Tim Hudson. Pitcher No. 2 is Roy Halladay.
Hudson, who turns 35 on Wednesday, rarely is mentioned in the same category as Halladay, 33. But while Halladay is slightly younger and has slightly better peripheral stats, Hudson’s career too often is overlooked.
Hudson had a rocky season with the Braves in 2006. He missed almost all of ’09 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But he ranks sixth in the NL with a 2.30 ERA, and one scout says he looks as good as he did in his Oakland days.
Smoak vs. Montero: the great debate
The Mariners sparked a lively discussion within the industry when they effectively chose first baseman Justin Smoak over catcher Jesus Montero in accepting the Rangers’ offer instead of the Yankees’ for Cliff Lee.
One rival executive prefers Montero and said Yankees Double-A second baseman David Adams was better than anyone the M’s received except Smoak. Others, however, like Montero only as a DH and project Smoak as an above-average hitter comparable with the Diamondbacks’ Adam LaRoche.
On another front, the Mariners’ trade for Russell Branyan — the act of a buyer, not a seller — looks all the more curious now that the team has acquired Smoak to play first base.
The M’s, just as they were when they had Ken Griffey Jr., are overloaded with first base/DH types — Smoak, Branyan, Mike Sweeney, Casey Kotchman, Milton Bradley.
Sweeney is on the DL with back spasms.
Around the horn
• Milwaukee manager Ken Macha might have saved his job with the Brewers’ weekend sweep of their personal punching bags, the Pirates. The Brewers in their previous series were outscored 34-5 by the Giants while getting swept four straight at home, increasing rumblings about Macha’s status.
• One more reason the Angels do not want to seek a first baseman who is under contract beyond this season: The team intends to pursue Rays All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford as a free agent, a move that likely would force right fielder Bobby Abreu to become a DH. That would prevent the Angels from using any first baseman they acquire as a DH after Kendry Morales returns next season.
• One scout predicts Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey will be an All-Star within two years, saying: “He reminds me of Ryan Braun when Braun first came up.” As for Posey’s catching, the scout notes that Posey has a strong arm and simply needs to refine his receiving skills. “The bat’s going to play,” the scout says.
• The Braves might not need to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder after all. Matt Diaz is 9-for-21 with four doubles and a homer in six starts since returning from a right thumb infection, and two of the team’s left-handed hitting outfielders, Nate McLouth and Jason Heyward, also are close to coming off the DL. McLouth, recovering from a concussion, went 4-for-11 with a homer in his first three games of his rehab assignment.
• One rival executive likes the Orioles’ expected choice of Buck Showalter as their next manager, saying: “You can’t find someone much more motivated than Buck to beat the Yankees. They’re going to need that edge. And he will bring that. They’re taking a risk, but they need a difference-maker. Buck’s got a chance to be that.”
• Jeff Bagwell left his job as a special assistant in the Astros’ front office to become the team’s new hitting coach but was not part of the decision to fire Sean Berry, sources said. The Astros told Bagwell that, regardless of whether he took the job, they intended to dismiss Berry. Bagwell will serve the rest of the season, viewing it as “a trial run,” according to a friend.
• The Dodgers would like to add a reliever as well as a starter with Ron Belisario on the restricted list, and one intriguing option could be right-hander Kenley Jansen, a native of Curacao who was the starting catcher for the Netherlands in the 2009 WBC. The Dodgers converted Jansen to a reliever last season, and he is a combined 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 21 walks at Single-A and Double-A this season.
• The return of the All-Star Game to Angels Stadium evokes memories of Bo Jackson’s mammoth home run in the 1989 game, and one player in Sunday’s Futures Game — Angels Single-A outfielder Mike Trout — actually reminded a scout of Jackson. The scout said he clocked Trout running home to first from the right side at a Jackson-like 3.8 seconds. Trout, 18, was the Angels’ first-round pick in 2009. “An animal,” another scout said.
• And finally, there is only one baseball player who would pull a LeBron and stage a one-hour television special to announce his free-agent decision. In fact, Alex Rodriguez probably has been kicking himself all week, saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”