Many people in baseball, including Cubs manager Dale Sveum, feel Brett Jackson is ready for the big leagues.
”There are a couple of guys who are ready to play here, especially Brett Jackson,” Sveum said. “He is ready to play here.
Sveum has been effusive in his praise for Jackson, though he does admit the contact rate could stand to see some improvement. Still, he may well be the Cubs second best player already despite his lack of experience, especially when you take his complete range of skills into account.
He needs to go down and work on some of the adjustments. He has swung the bat really well in his last 15 at-bats...He brings so much to the table. In my nine years of coaching he is the best young player I’ve seen in a major league camp. He is the full package. The swinging and missing, he has to work on and cutting down strikeouts. He just brings a lot to the table.”
Although he mentions the adjustments and the swing and miss in his game, it appears the main reason that he isn't bringing him north is that there just isn't any room on the roster, but Jackson could force the Cubs hand soon,
”I think he is the type of kid that that will put the pressure on us to get him here one way or the other”
So where do the Cubs make room? Ideally they'd probably like to unload Alfonso Soriano but despite the big spring, his contract pretty much makes him an immovable object right now.
The other possibility is outfielder Marlon Byrd. Byrd is still a good player. He defends CF well, one of the premium defensive positions on the field, but is also capable of playing excellent corner defense as well. His bat is still solid. He's just one season removed from all-star status and a 4.4 WAR.
It's unlikely Byrd can be the kind of player he was in 2010, but he has a good chance of surpassing his 2011 numbers. Bill James projects him with a .275/.329/.412 season that includes 13 HRs. Combined with his plus defense, he can still help a lot of teams. He looks to be in better shape this spring and his hitting the ball well again. We've talked about the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians as possibilities, but David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution names the Braves as a potential suitor.
The Braves? Don't they have Michael Bourn in CF? Yes, they do and Byrd isn't going to be taking his job anytime soon, but the injury to Chipper Jones could force the Braves to move Martin Prado to 3B short-term and open up a spot in LF. The Braves also lack a backup CF'er and at this stage seem willing to go with Jason Heyward in that role, so that could use a defensive upgrade as well. Here is what O'Brien had to say,
If the Braves could get the Cubs to pay a large chunk of his $6.5 mill salary, Marlon Byrd would be a nice pickup. He’s very much available. Given the time that Prado might end up playing at third base, getting another proven every-day type of OF would be a good idea, in my opinion. He still plays a solid CF (eliminating need to move Heyward over as a backup to Bourn) and can play LF as much as needed.
Of course, if the Braves carry him then then don’t have room for (Drew) Sutton as an extra utility guy. But with Jack Wilson healthy now and able to play three positions, and Prado freed up to play third or even second if needed, I don’t know that they wouldn’t be better served carrying Byrd, a legit every-day OF, than Sutton.
O'Brien also notes that the Braves have had interest in Byrd in the past as they were rumored to be in on him when he was a free agent before the 2010 season. Any deal, however, will ultimately depend on how much salary the Cubs pay and/or the type of prospect the front office will demand in return.
Agreeing on Byrd's value will be the tricky part here. The Cubs may view him as a starting CF'er, which would give him more value than the Braves may be willing to part with, especially considering they plan to use him in LF, where his bat would be short, and then eventually as a 4th outfielder when Chipper Jones returns to play 3B and Prado returns to the outfield.
The Cubs, meanwhile, would like to open a spot for Brett Jackson, whom they think is ready to play from day one. Of course, this is not to say the Cubs will move Byrd just for the sake of moving him. As we've mentioned, they're in a position right now where they need to maximize the few assets they have to continue rebuilding.
It makes sense for both teams if they can make it work. Byrd is a good stopgap solution for the Braves. He may not play everyday for the whole season, but the combination of his ability to play all OF positions, the much needed RH bat, and the inevitability that Chipper Jones will miss a lot of time this season, it's reasonable to assume Byrd can get enough PAs to make it worth their while. It also can't hurt that he's a good clubhouse guy that will transition seamlessly to his new team.
Both teams have something to gain here, it's just a matter of hammering out a deal with which both sides can be happy.