Sunday, July 15, 2007

Young, Stupid and ... Changed?

Last September, the Tigers were struggling to score runs, and their DH was contributing to the problem. Dmitri Young was finishing off a sub-standard year, filled with legal and personal distractions, and he found himself in a 3 for 23 slump. And then he was not only released, but released during a rain delay.

It was a confounding move to make in the middle of a pennant race. The Tigers didn’t need the roster spot. They were likely going to the playoffs, and despite Young's slump, he had been one of their better hitters lately. And yet the Tigers
insisted the move was performance related:

"He's been struggling," [Dave] Dombrowski said. "I mean, you can see he's been struggling for an extended period at this point. We tried to get him out of it from a
performance perspective, but it just hasn't happened."

Added [Jim] Leyland: "We just didn't think the performance was up to snuff. Period."

Except that Young had been hitting .292 with an 835 OPS since he had rejoined the team. He had rejoined the team from an injured quadriceps, but apparently had also used the time to deal with alchoholism and depression, attending a rehabilitation facility in California for 30 days. That made some wonder whether a relapse might have prompted the release, but no smoking gun was ever discovered. Instead the additional digging turned up a few sour grapes in the clubhouse:
...a team source indicated that Young had become a distraction in the clubhouse
soon after he returned from the disabled list in July. There was support for
Young in his effort to overcome alcoholism and depression, but his state of mind
and dealing with his issues were preoccupying him by others' observations,
putting much of his focus on himself, rather than the team.

The Detroit News quoted a source that went a little further than that, calling Young "a growing cancer, someone who cared too much about himself, and not enough about the team."

Young has a slightly different explanation. He was dealing with some ugly legal issues at the time, and thinks the Tigers were afraid they would become a distraction, and that legal requirements would limit his ability to participate in the playoffs. Young had been charged with misdemeanor domestic assault for allegedly chocking a 21-year-old girlfriend in a hotel room.

That's the incident that one finds running like a thread through a miserable 2006 seaason. It took place in April with a girlfriend he had for a couple of years. The press got a hold of it in May, shortly after he had missed a few games due to the quadriceps injury. He played shortly thereafter, but was then put on the 15 day DL.

He missed a court date for the charge, which meant Young's lawyers needed to tell the court where he was. Shortly after that it was revealed that he had been at the rehab facility. He finally returned from the DL in July.

He was released in early September. In late September he was sentenced to one year probation for the domestic assault charge. He was also, at some point, told that he would need to stay in Detroit for 30 days and take breathalyzer tests, which likely he meant he couldn't have played on the road in the playoffs. Oh, and to top it all off, he was going through a divorce at the time, too.

Over the offseason, Young found an additional cause to some of his problems. In November,
he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes.

In fact, he spent four days in the Cleveland Clinic in Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., that month. Three of those days, he said, were spent in the intensive care
unit. His blood sugar level was at 893. The doctors told Young he should have
been dead.

Young said before the diagnosis, he would have mood swings, vision
problems, had problems losing weight and was constantly going to the bathroom.

"I was actually relieved [about the diagnosis] because it answered pretty
much every question that I had -- my mood swings, the inability to lose weight,"
Young said. "I don't have the spots anymore, but I had a lot of spots from the

He contemplated retirement, but was instead brought to spring training by Jim Bowden, GM of the Washington Nationals. Bowden was the GM of the Reds when Young was in their system, and calls Young "a very good kid" who is "extremely apologetic for the mistakes he has made in his life". Bowden also made sure that Young understood there would be a zero-tolerance policy.

Young was supposed to be a longshot to even make the roster - a backup to a backup. Instead, he's playing full time, hitting .337 and slugging .900. He's also right-handed, he's on a club going nowhere, and he's cheap, with a salary of just $500,000 this year. He is, from a purely on-the-field and business standpoint, a perfect fit for the Twins.

The Twins will need to judge for themselves whether 2006 was an aberation, a year that just sprialed out of control for a "good kid". Or possibly whether the diabetes diagnosis has led to a more structured life, one where personal demons might be easier controlled. Their answers, likely being gathered in private, will probably detemine if we find him in a Twins uniform in August.


Walter Hanson said...

Lets see:

For starters isn't Young a switch hitter. So a left handed bat for that baggie can't hurt.

Okay assuming Kuebel is playing left who will DH under normal circumstances. Cirlo, Tyner, Redmond, and Rodriguez. I think Young has out homered them as a group. Not to metion he's hitting a solid .300 plus.

Even if he drops off he will drop off with power compared with the group mentioned above. Not to mention he will hit for a higher average.

A person to play first will be nice so we don't go through the Cirlo, Cuddeyer, and Rodriguez week again.

That's three good reasons. Not to metnion despite baseball's insane salary market where might Young get more playing time let alone money. Playing time does matter unless you're shopping at the end of the career just to win a championship.

What do you think?

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

John said...

This is one of those cases where you have to trust the Twins. I researched him mostly because I wanted to find out more about what these 'personal problems in 2006' were all about. They were uglier than I had hoped.

But you also get the feeling that things spiraled out of control when he went through his divorce, leading to a log of these other problems. That doesn't mean he's a saint in the clubhouse, but it sounds like he's added a little structure to his life, and that might be enough. Along with the ugliness, there is plenty of hope.

So I gotta trust the Twins on this one. They've got to be researching Young, finding out how he's doing this year, and getting buy-in from the coaching staff. If they don't get him, I'll assume they found some things they couldn't stomach.

jon from dc said...

John: On the pure need, salary, and talent level, I've thought the Young to the Twins trade made sense for a while, and thought he coudl be had for the Twins 3d or 4th best young healthy stating pitcher. The diabetes problem explains a lot. For what it is worth, here in DC, he's looked on actually as a positive in the clubhouse, sort of as a "I've been there, I know, don't go there" and there is a lobby (hey, that's what we have in DC) to keep him around and pay him if there is any doubt about Nick Johnson's health.
jon from DC