LAS VEGAS -- Eric Byrnes may indeed be the D-backs' starting left fielder in 2009, but he is going to have to earn it.
That was the message the veteran received from Arizona manager Bob Melvin at the end of the 2008 season. Byrnes spent much of the year on the disabled list after he injured his right hamstring just prior to the start of Spring Training and wound up batting .209.
In his absence, Conor Jackson moved from first base to left field and played well. It's a position that Jackson has long wanted to play and with infielder Chad Tracy in the mix at first, there is going to be an odd man out.
"Essentially, we've got three guys for two spots if we're talking about left field and first base," Melvin said. "I told him he's done it before, so go out there and earn your playing time."
Signed by the D-backs as a free agent prior to the 2006 season, Byrnes hit .267 that year and followed it up with the best year of his career in 2007. One of the key ingredients on a team that won the National League West, Byrnes hit .286 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 83 RBIs and 50 stolen bases.
In August that year, the D-backs signed him to a three-year, $30 million contract extension. His contract guarantees him money, but not necessarily playing time.
"He had a good two years for us," Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes said. "I think to get the playing time this year that he had those two years, he will have to earn it with performance rather than on being the incumbent."
Before his recent deal, Eric Byrnes had never had more than a one-year contract during his career which saw him play five seasons in the Minors before finally sticking in the big leagues in 2003 with the A's. He was traded twice in 2005 before being released at the end of the year by the Orioles.
"Nothing has ever come easy for me in my career," Byrnes said. "I've had to battle for everything I've gotten in this game."
Because of that, the fact that he has to compete for playing time this spring does not faze him and he said in early November that his hamstrings were fully healed and he felt the best he had since tweaking them early in the spring.
"I understand the situation I am in," he said. "It doesn't bother me. You always have to earn things. There is always someone waiting to take your job. I'm going to work hard and play hard like I always do. If I am healthy and play the way I am capable, things will take care of themselves."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.