PHOENIX -- Until Eric Byrnes is told to leave the Oakland Athletics, he'll be happy to be here.
Byrnes was enmeshed in trade rumors all winter, with destinations from New York to San Diego mentioned for the energetic outfielder who's never played for another organization. After working his way from the low minors to an everyday job with the A's over the past seven seasons, he seemed destined to follow countless Oakland veterans out the door to bigger paychecks.
But none of the deals panned out, and Byrnes still reported to camp last week with the A's, who expect him to build on his breakout season.
"There's not a lot you can do about people talking," Byrnes said. "You just keep working out in the offseason, and you keep going what you need to do to keep your job. You can try to keep track of that stuff, but I try not to."
Byrnes earned a $2 million contract from the A's with a standout season in 2004, hitting .289 with career highs in nearly every offensive category, including 20 homers and 73 RBI. With his trademark eye black, floppy hair and nonstop hustle, he became a fan favorite at the Coliseum.
But his stellar season also increased his trade value. Arizona and the New York Mets tried to get him during the winter, and Byrnes once heard he had definitely been traded to the Padres. Most recently, Pittsburgh nearly acquired him just days before camp opened.
Byrnes usually is among the earliest arrivals at the A's spring training complex at Papago Park, but this year, he waited until the last day for position players to report. He said he was working on regaining the weight he lost while playing in the Dominican winter league -- but he also might have been waiting to see which team owned his rights.
"There's a little truth in everything," he told reporters last week. "It's been going on all offseason."
No matter where he ends up, Byrnes is determined to maintain his standards from last season, when he became a speedy contributor for a team that eschews stolen bases.
And Byrnes might even have to fight for his job in Oakland again. Mark Kotsay is entrenched in center field for the A's, but Bobby Kielty, youngster Nick Swisher and newcomer Charles Thomas -- another promising prospect acquired in Tim Hudson's trade to Atlanta -- will jockey with Byrnes for playing time.
"There's a bit of a logjam there," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "That's a good thing, though. I'd like everybody to go out there and play well. When you have some depth like that, if you handle it properly, you can have an 'A' lineup out there every day, depending how you use the guys. It's not like you have a big drop-off when you put in a bench player."
But even if the season turns out to be difficult, Byrnes finally knows he's capable of playing in the majors. Just ask all the teams trying to acquire him.
"It's a flattering thing, but it could also be a distraction if you let it," Byrnes said. "That's not what I'm thinking about at all out here. I'm just playing."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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