February 8, 2011
The BP Broadside
Michael Young Feels the Junk Drawer's Pull
Deposed Rangers third baseman Michael Young has demanded a trade, and no wonder; he’s trying desperately to stay out of the junk drawer. It’s hard to imagine that there is a single home anywhere in the world, no matter how obsessively organized and regardless of if its owner is wealthy or impoverished, that doesn’t have a junk drawer. Where else are you going to put those odds and ends which aren’t handy now, but might conceivably be useful again someday, like that hex wrench that came with that build-it-yourself bookcase you bought at Wal-Mart? Sure, it’s done now, but what if, someday, you buy another bookcase and somehow the hex wrench is somehow not included or goes missing? Then you’ll be happy for that mess of a drawer.
And if one day, while digging around for one of the homeless screws that also inhabit that drawer, you notice that there is not one hex wrench in there but five, that’s okay—when you buy that next book case, you can invite your friends over and you can all put it together at once. It will be like an old-fashioned barn-raising. But until such time as you do, it’s going to be a cold and lonely existence for those five wrenches, four pennies, three screws, two take-out menus from defunct Chinese restaurants, and Michael Young.
Young has long been a good player, but an odd one. Drafted by the Blue Jays in 1997, the Rangers committed a near theft in acquiring him in trade for Esteban Loaiza in 2000. His batting averages and home run totals have jumped all over the map during his career. In the last four seasons, he’s hit 9, 12, 22, and 21 home runs and averaged .315, .284, .322, and .284 again. He’s not big on walking, so his offense is driven by average, doubles, and those occasional home runs. Since he has never rated as a strong defender at any of the three positions he’s played (second and short in addition to third) his value has been dictated largely by those swings in performance, as well as whatever benefit he can reap from the Ballpark at Arlington—he’s a career .322/.372/.487 hitter at home, versus .279/.322/.411 on the road.
The result is a player who doesn’t quite look like anyone else, and it’s difficult to think of obvious comps for him that have played in recent years; the best choices might be former right-handed batting title winners/infielders such as Bobby Avila or Bill Madlock. There are two further considerations that make Young an odd duck. He turned 34 in October, and his bat quit in the second half of last season. Young batted just .262/.302/.401 after the All-Star break, and hit .254/.275/.343 in 16 post-season games. This may have been a transient slump or time may be passing Young by. If his bat has slipped, questions about his defense become all the more significant.
Finally, there is the oft-discussed matter of his contract. The highest-paid Ranger, Young is entering the middle year of a five-year contract that pays him $16 million a year. Not truly a great player, he’s compensated as if he is one, and will continue to be richly rewarded for what may be declining results through his age-36 season. All of this adds up to the proverbial riddle inside an enigma inside a corpse. Even if the team that acquires Young gets the Rangers to pick up a good chunk of the bill, as well they should given that the sellers are under the gun to make a move, they might get a third baseman who is a .260 hitter with 10 home runs and 40 walks who can’t field.
Young has entered dangerous territory for a third baseman, an age at which many of them find other work or go home. Consider how many players have reached 2,000 games at each position from 1901 to the present:
If you’re a third baseman and can’t field like one anymore, but your bat is still special, you get to go over to first base, as players like Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Darrell Evans did late in their careers. If you’re a third baseman who can’t field and can’t hit like a first baseman, you get put on the first train out of Dodge—or, in Young’s case, you get moved to designated hitter when Adrian Beltre, who is about 1.3 seasons away from becoming the 11th man to play 2,000 games at the hot corner, joins the team. This is the functional equivalent of the junk drawer—“What do I do with this thing I’m obligated to keep but can’t use? Oh, I know… I’ll just throw it in here with the expired stamps and that somewhat dry but salvageable felt-tip pen.” It is precisely the same plan the Yankees have embraced as the solution to the last year of Jorge Posada’s contract, though the Rangers are pulling the trigger five years earlier in their man’s career.
Young’s demand for a trade likely thwarts this assignment, a positive for the Rangers given that they had Mike Napoli lying around the yard, as well as the-third-time-is-the-charm attempt to rediscover whatever Chris Davis was doing right in 2008. They have options as far as hitters who can probably put as many runs on the scoreboard as Young would have, if not more. They also need a good place to park productive but oft-dinged players like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler.
So who can use the baseball equivalent of a dimming flashlight (another common denizen of such drawers)? Young’s no-trade clause reportedly limits potential destinations to the Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rockies, Dodgers, Angels, and Padres. Of those, several seem to have no urgent need to take a risk on a potentially fading infielder with a light bat and glove for his position. The Rockies have been rumored to be interested, and with the possibility that Young could serve as a dual caddy for Todd Helton and Ian Stewart, the idea isn’t completely daffy. Further, Young’s ability to take advantage of his home park is a skill, and though there is no guarantee that his ability to thrive in the Texas heat would mean that he could draw a similar benefit from the high (although humidor-dampened) altitude. Still, he might be able to exploit the park to a greater degree than, say, Jason Giambi and Jonathan Herrera have to date.
That’s what it has come to for Young, a six-time All-Star as a shortstop who, seemingly overnight, finds himself being regarded as not that special, not even by the team he has served so long. His feelings are hurt; he has been, he feels, “misled and manipulated.” And perhaps he was. But he would do well to remember that it might be better to gently fade into the twilight as a beloved ex-star and elder statesman in Texas than to be revealed as a faded journeyman while making a vagabond’s tour of the league’s westernmost outposts. People remember if a $100 bill vanishes from their wallet without explanation, but 50 cents? They’ll throw that in a drawer with the other flotsam and never remember they had held it in their hands.