Rangers sign Byrd to one-year deal

Rangers sign Byrd to one-year deal

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers hope Marlon Byrd can turn his career around in Arlington under the tutelage of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo in the same way Gary Matthews Jr. did while he was here.

The Rangers signed Byrd to a one-year contract on Friday. Byrd, 29, is a candidate to play center field, but the club is expected to pursue other options at the position.

"The understanding is he's coming in here to compete for a job," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.

Byrd, a right-handed hitter, split time with the Washington Nationals and the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs in 2006. He batted .223 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 78 games before being designated for assignment on July 15. He then joined the Zephyrs and batted .271 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 46 games.

Once a top prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies, Byrd was their 10th-round pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. He was their starting center fielder in 2003, batting .303 with 86 runs scored, 28 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 11 stolen bases in 135 games and 495 at-bats.

"He's a guy we loved coming up through the Phillies system," Daniels said. "In 2003 he was a Rookie of the Year candidate. The last few years his career has gone in the wrong direction for whatever reason.

"We've had some guys like that here who had ability, but hadn't been productive and ended up having some success. It's a low-risk, decent reward chance to take. He's eager to work with Rudy. We'll see if we can't get him turned around."

Byrd was fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2003, but he slumped to .228 in 2004 and lost his job. He started the 2005 season on the disabled list with a broken finger and was ultimately traded to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Endy Chavez.

Right now the Rangers have Byrd, Brad Wilkerson, Frank Catalanotto, Nelson Cruz and Freddy Guzman to play the outfield. Byrd and Guzman are the only true center fielders in that group, although Wilkerson has played there before and may again in 2007.

If Byrd doesn't end up as the Rangers center fielder, he does give the Rangers a right-handed bat to go with Wilkerson and Catalanotto, who both hit left-handed.

"He's a solid defender who can play all three outfield positions," Daniels said. "He has a good arm and good instincts."

Kenny Lofton and Jay Payton are still the two free-agent center fielders that have drawn the Rangers' interest. Matthews started in center field for the Rangers in 2006, but has since signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Rangers also continue to pursue free-agent pitcher Barry Zito and may be preparing to make an official offer. But they are looking at other options and one could be Phillies right-hander Jon Lieber. The Rangers have had interest in him in the past.

"There are still some other things we're looking at," Daniels said. "We can't afford to look in just one place."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.