When Delmon Young came to the Twins, in many ways, it looked like a match made in heaven. He was right-handed, projected to have power, young and (maybe most importantly) cheap.
Instead he’s been a multi-car crash. On Tuesday we reviewed one of the more popular reasons why – his free-swinging ways. But there are other factors that have led to this trap that he and the Twins are in, some of which are his fault, some of which are the Twins, and one of which can be traced back to a truly awful decision by a man with whom neither party is currently associated.
Trap 1: The Twins moved Young to left field.
Never has it been so apparent to so many the difference between a right fielder and a left fielder as with Delmon Young. Right field would be perfect for Young, or as perfect as any position is going to be. In the Metrodome, right field is small and the attribute most necessary is a strong arm. Young played right field with Tampa Bay for a year and Baseball Prospectus’s fielding metrics listed him as average. With the Metrodome's dimensions, 'average' is a realistic prediction.
But in left field he’s been borderline brutal. Left field in the Metrodome is huge and requires a player with exceptional range. Young's loping run doesn't suffice. Furthermore, Young struggles reading the ball off the bat in left field. His routes are tentative and circuitous. Various defensive metrics indicate his defense gave up about 20 runs more there than the average left-fielder would last year.
It is so painful to watch that it actually makes fans angry. We can’t quite believe he’s that bad out there. But the evidence, both objective and subjective, is overwhelming. He is exactly that bad out there.
Would things be different if he were in right field? Probably. He’s got the range and arm that current incumbent Michael Cuddyer has. And last year’s numbers - .290, 10 HR, 14 SB - would be somewhat acceptable considering they were coming from a 22-year-old with some upside. But because he is such an enormous liability in left field, his defense erases any goodwill his offense (and age) might contribute.
And barring injuries, that’s not gonna change. Michael Cuddyer’s contract goes through this year and next, with a team option for 2011. Ditto Jason Kubel. Assuming they both stick around (and the Twins love to pick up short-term options) Young wouldn’t have a shot at right field until 2012, which is also the last year before he’s officially granted free agency.
If you’re looking for a reason to criticize the acquisition of Young, this is the safest place to start. Twins scouts, prior to pulling the trigger on this deal, needed to communicate just how dismal Young’s defensive range was. Of all the ways that the Twins and Young are trapped, this one is the most unforgivable.
Trap 2: Young’s Attitude/Coachability
I am purposely going to tread carefully here, because so little is concrete about Young’s supposed attitude and stubbornness. We know about the bat-throwing episode. We know about the screaming match at the end of 2007 with the Rays. We know that Ron Gardenhire recently said that Young isn't open to suggestions about his swing. And we know that in a Twins fan poll about Young’s demeanor on the field, it would be a two-horse race between “joyless” and “sullen”.
Last year the Twins, out of necessity mostly, tried the carrot, investing 623 plate appearances in Young. This year, there is decidedly more stick involved, with Young being the odd man out more often than any other outfielder. There isn’t much evidence that either has been effective.
But at some point, fear needs to start being a motivating factor, because if Delmon isn’t afraid, he should be. On this team he is a fourth outfielder who is losing at-bats. Barring an injury, that doesn't look likely to change. Perhaps it is in the back of his (or his father’s, or his agent’s) mind that he could be moved to a less competitive team that can afford to invest at-bats in a future payout.
But there is almost no incentive on the Twins side to make that happen. They'll get pennies on the dollar. And they hold his rights for another 3.5 years. They also control his playing time. And thus, they pretty much control how much he’s going to make in arbitration. Remember how we couldn’t get Luis Rivas to go away because he never good enough to be expensive, and always promising and young enough to gamble on?
That’s Young’s fairly dismal future right now. 3 ½ years of fans booing, teammates avoiding eye contact, and Young's financial advisor wondering where that eight-figure (or maybe nine) guaranteed contract went.
And the REALLY sad part for him is that he's likely past the point where he has any control over it. His playing time is no longer a result of how willing he is to adjust his batting stance. That train has left the station. Now his at-bats are dependent on how effective Carlos Gomez becomes at recognizing pitches, and how healthy everyone else stays. Of all the ways that the Twins and Young are trapped, this one is the most nauseating.
Trap 3: He isn’t one of us.
I went into this a little in yesterday’s sidebar. There have been protests, and it just makes me more belligerent and self-righteous on the subject, which isn't good. So I’ll expand just a little and then leave it alone.
There is no way the Twins ask their first overall pick to switch positions. There is no way Gardy lobbies to trade away his ROY candidate. And Twins fans, who waited for their golden boy for years, are probably far more patient of his struggles, and far more critical of the team for the lack of progress.
In short, there’s more of a spirit of shared responsibility in the mess. And there’s a lot more focus on the enormous long-term benefit of getting Young straightened out, and a lot less focus on whether investing time in him costs the Twins a game or two this year.
Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t think any of that is likely. Both sides are trapped on their side of the fence. This trap is just plain disheartening, because it was certainly the most avoidable.
Trap 4: That stupid major league contract.
Who in gawd’s name gives a 17-year-old kid a major league contract that dictates that he must complete with his minor league career by the time he’s 21 years old?. Hedley – I mean, Chuck - LaMar, the disastrous former GM of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, that’s who. And both the Twins and Young are paying for that.
Young, as we saw on Monday, never mastered Triple-A. He might very well be stalled because of the habits he developed in Double-A. And the best incentive to modify them – a possible promotion to the majors – wasn’t possible because he had to be in the majors by a certain time anyway.
It also blocks the Twins and Young from their best option at this point. If the Twins want to send Young to AAA, he needs to clear waivers, and that will never happen. (I’ll be completely honest here – I’m not sure if that can be any different if Young somehow agreed to allow it. I don’t think so, but feel free to correct me.)
Are there various machinations that could get him to Triple-A, like a DL stint for some unspecified emotional disorder? Probably, but we’re not talking about someone needing a 4-week refresher. Young’s stats in AAA are completely different than his stats from AA. And they’re remarkably similar to his stats in the majors. That stint is likely only effective if he’s willing to change some things, and frankly that might be the case at the major league level, too. A trip to Rochester needs to be an extended trip, or it’s more of the same.
And it’s all because some ding-a-ling gave a 17-year-old a major league deal. Oh, and he gave it to him with about 3 weeks left in the season of the first year, so the first of four options was essentially comped. And then, in the second season, despite Young dominating the High-A league, they kept him there the full year. Why not call him up to Double-A that year? For that matter, why debut him in the Arizona Fall League? Good lord. I'm rubbing my temples with one hand and typing with the other. This trap is easily the most frustrating.
So that’s where we are. A promising difference-maker is stuck in a fourth outfielder role for the next several years, trapped in at least four different ways. So where do we go? That’s the final piece of the series. And to be honest, I have no idea what it will say.