Boston Red Sox center fielder Marlon Byrd dives to catch...

Boston Red Sox center fielder Marlon Byrd dives to catch a fly ball by Detroit Tigers' Gerald Laird during the eighth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. (May 30, 2012) Credit: AP

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Marlon Byrd arrived at spring training Friday -- one day before the official report date -- though it appears he already might have the inside track to a job in the Mets' outfield.

"This guy was one of the best players in the National League not very long ago," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "If he's the same player he was in Chicago a couple of years ago, we might have found ourselves the rightfielder."

Byrd, 35, fresh off a successful stint in winter ball, believes he'll "fit in somewhere in this outfield."

To do it, he will need a major bounce-back after hitting .210 with the Cubs and the Red Sox. He was released in June and suspended 50 games after testing positive for Tamoxifen, which can be used to mask side effects of steroid use.

Byrd reiterated his original statement, that taking the drug was a careless mistake and that he was not looking to enhance his performance.

"I think you have to be an idiot to test positive, and I was one of those idiots," he said. "So it's something stupid."

He also refused to back down from his continued association with Victor Conte, founder of the infamous Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, who has served jail time for steroids distribution.

Said Byrd: "I should have been doing what I've been doing the whole time, consulting Victor, because again, he's on the right side of the fence right now."

Torn on Santana

Johan Santana looks increasingly unlikely to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Though he'd back the pitcher's wishes, Collins said, "I'd prefer him not to [play], if it was up to me."

Wilfredo Tovar and Jordany Valdespin were the only two position players who did not report early to camp. But Collins said both are expected Saturday, when position players are officially required to report. Pitcher Jenrry Mejia is waiting to resolve a visa issue.