PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So much for a bench job, or even a platoon. Upon outfielder Marlon Byrd's arrival at camp Friday, Mets manager Terry Collins called Byrd the early favorite to win the starting job in right field.
"If you're talking about a guy who's in this camp who has a chance to make a huge difference besides Lucas Duda, it might be Marlon Byrd," Collins said. "This guy was one of the best players in the National League not very long ago. If he's the same player he was in Chicago a couple of years ago, we might have found ourselves the right fielder. I know he's that kind of talent."
When the Mets signed Byrd to a Minor League deal earlier this month, he looked primed to compete with Andrew Brown for the fifth outfielder's job. At best, it seemed possible Byrd could slide into a right-field platoon with Mike Baxter.
But Collins is banking on Byrd's ability to recreate his 2009 season with the Rangers, when he hit 20 home runs as a starter. As recently as three years ago, Byrd was a productive everyday player in Chicago.
The situation, of course, has changed since then, which is why the Mets were able to snag Byrd on a Minor League deal that was not guaranteed. The veteran struggled at the plate in 2011, then served a 50-game suspension in '12, when he tested positive for Tamoxifen, a banned substance.
"I think you have to be an idiot to test positive," Byrd said, noting he took Tamoxifen for a medical condition called gynecomastia. "I was one of those idiots. It was something stupid. I was not trying to cheat. It was a banned substance. It was not a steroid. But again, you take something on the banned list, you're going to get caught."
With that issue in the past, Byrd has since turned his attention to making the Mets' Opening Day roster. He may have an advantage over others in camp, considering he is already in game shape -- Byrd is fresh off a Caribbean Series championship with his Winter Ball team, the Culiacan Tomateros.
"I thought it was one of the really good signs of the winter," Collins said. "He's under the radar a little bit, but he has a chance to make a huge impact with us."