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When McDonald Returns, Time To Set Byrd Free

St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Marlon Byrd (23) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Marlon Byrd (23) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The Red Sox acquired Marlon Byrd on April 21, in exchange for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later, who turned out to be minor-league reliever Hunter Cervenka. The Cubs picked up the tab on Byrd, leaving the Red Sox only with the major-league minimum portion of his salary, and Boston received an outfielder who could play center field in the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury and the first non-roster outfielder, Jason Repko.

Byrd has improved since coming to Boston, but he still hasn't shown much in the way of usefulness. He's hitting .274/.290/.326 in 101 plate appearances with the Red Sox, and his defense looks like it's slipped slightly as well. He can still range, but he's made some questionable plays out there, to the point where he had been somewhat buried on the outfield depth chart.

Then came more injuries, though, and Byrd was thrust back into action. Now, with Darnell McDonald set to return from the disabled list in the near future, it looks as if Byrd's time with Boston is coming to a close.

Byrd does little that McDonald can't also do. This wouldn't have been true a few years ago, but here in 2012, that's the case. McDonald can pretend to play center if it's needed from him, and while he's hitting just .179 on the season, he's still showing plenty of power and patience -- that low batting average is likely a product of sample size and a .186 batting average on balls in play.

McDonald is under Red Sox control through 2015 as well, as he hasn't hit arbitration status yet, so there's little chance that Boston would simply cast aside a useful bench piece like this for the sake of keeping Byrd around for the rest of 2012.

There are other options the Red Sox could explore in order to keep Byrd, but those players have their own reasons to stick around. Daniel Nava is second on the Red Sox in OPS+ thanks to his .279/.432/.492 line over 81 plate appearances, and while he has an option left, he's also become the team's lead-off hitter likely until Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return from the disabled list. They've been lacking a real option here since Ellsbury was put on the disabled list seven games into the season, and there's no reason to remove one of the club's most patient hitters from the spot if it's working.

Scott Podsednik doesn't have an option, but he's at least hit in the short time he's been in Boston, more so than Byrd has at any point in 2012. He's next-in-line when a non-McDonald outfielder needs to make their way back to the 25-man, but he at least provides a different skill set than Byrd that could be used over the next few weeks. Like, for instance, as a pinch-runner who can actually run a little. Eventually, he'll be designated in order to open up a 40-man spot (likely in July), but it would be surprising to see him cut before Byrd.

That essentially leaves Byrd as the most-likely option to be cut now. In addition to clearing a 25-man spot for McDonald, cutting him can also open up a 40-man spot for Ryan Kalish, who is on a rehab assignment right now, one that is moving to Double-A Portland as of Thursday. Kalish doesn't necessarily need to come to the majors right away when his rehab ends, but he will need to be placed back on the 40-man roster, whether it's to remain in Pawtucket or to replace Podsednik in Boston.

It's unlikely Byrd would go unclaimed, but it's possible -- he hasn't exactly torn things up in 2012, with a combined line of .210/.245/.246. Still, someone is bound to give him a shot in their own injury-depleted outfield, but at least it would still be the Cubs picking up the tab. Cutting Byrd for McDonald is easily the move that makes the most sense for Boston, both now and in the coming weeks, when the Red Sox outfield slowly starts to look more like it was meant to.