Eric Byrnes looks like he could be both a cautionary tale and an opportunity for the Twins.
The outfielder was released by the Diamondbacks on Friday after playing with them for four years. It was a productive four years for Byrnes, less so for the Diamondbacks. Originally signed to a couple of reasonable one-year deals, Byrnes reached free agency immediately after a .286/.353/.460, 50 stolen base season for the NL West winning Diamondbacks. The popular player was rewarded with a 3-year, $30 million contract.
He's come nowhere near league-average production since. The last two years he's struggled with injuries, mostly hamstring in 2008 and a broken hand in 2009. After trying for months to find someone to trade him and his $11 million contract to, the DBacks admitted defeat and just released him Friday. I suspect we'll hear his name more than once as an example of how to be careful extending 30-ish outfielders when Michael Cuddyer nears free agency after 2011.
But for now, he represents an opportunity. The Twins need a fourth outfielder.
And this is where I caution anyone from throwing the two words "Jason Pridie" into the comments section. He's now 26, he posted a .295 OBP in AAA-Rochester last year and he struck out 152 times versus 30 walks. I don't care if he can navigate the outfield like a dragonfly on Red Bull, he is of little to no use unless you can designate a hitter for him. Has anyone ever done that? Let their pitcher bat and used the designated hitter on a whifftastic fielder? Is that even legal?
Byrnes is a decent answer for a choice I didn't want the Twins to have to make. Previously I thought they needed to decide between a fourth outfielder that could backup Denard Span in center field versus a veteran who could push Delmon Young to keep his head on straight. Byrnes has mostly played left field while with the Diamondbacks, but he played center field with the A's, and his career UZR there is positive. I don't think he's someone you want to trot out there everyday, but serving there in case of an injury is acceptable. And by all accounts, he brings it every day,plays good to above-average defense and sports a career OPS higher then Delmon's.
The biggest problem is that he's already being paid $11 million, so you can't just outbid someone for him. You have to convince him that the Twins are a desirable place for his career to bloom again, and that isn't going to happen if someone else offers him a starting spot. But if not (and that's possible given the bloated FA outfield market) convince him he just needs to beat out a very young, mostly disinterested, defensively painful, strike-zone-blind outfielder and he'll be the starting left fielder for a contending team.
That's not a bad sales pitch. For Eric Byrnes, I mean. Might want to not dwell on that too much in the next Twins Territory spot.