When I hear the name Michael Young, it takes me back to summers in high school. There wasn’t a huge blogging community at the time and there wasn’t a whole lot even on official team websites – a lot of my information came from message boards, Beckett Baseball monthly to see who the newest prospects were (and their astronomical card values), and video games. MVP Baseball, at the time, was the first game to include Triple-A teams and more than 25 men per team. Each summer, as the All-Star teams were announced, I would pop in MVP into the Playstation and give some of the players I wasn’t able to see or see that often a test run. I had two favorites and they were both Texas Rangers: Hank Blalock and Young.
By the time those games came out, Young had established himself as a .300 hitter with some power and it showed in the game. I would override the computer to trade for him on my team, and in between jumping in the pool or playing Legion ball, Young was my secret weapon to get the Phillies their first World Series since 1980. Well, that and me also acquiring the exploding-on-to-the-scene Albert Puljos.
Eight years later, the rumors and reports suggest the Phillies and Rangers have begun talking about a deal that would send a “young, Major League reliever and a prospect” for Young and some cash. I have learned a lot in the last eight years. I have graduated from high school, college, and then got an advanced degree. I proposed, got married, and got a job. For most of those eight years, Michael Young was still a fine MLB player. However, that is not the case anymore.
Young Is Not an Upgrade
Let’s start with a simple question: which of the following lines would you prefer at third base next year?
.289/.335/.370, 5 HR, 0 SB, positive defensive value, regular third basemen
.277/.312/.370, 8 HR, 2 SB, negative defensive value, has not played third base regularly since 2010
How about if we did this?
.289/.335/.370, 5 HR, 0 SB, positive defensive value, regular third basemen. COST: ~$7 million
.277/.312/.370, 8 HR, 2 SB, negative defensive value, has not played third base regularly since 2010. COST: ~$16 million
Line A was literally a composite of everyone and anyone that played third base for the Phillies last year, including the $6.25 million mulligan that was Placido Polanco‘s 2012 season. The number of $7 million includes inflated and overly pro-rated salaries for Kevin Frandsen and Mike Fontenot to make the math easier. The second player is Michael Young.
As my colleague Corey Seidman pointed out at 2 AM this morning when the news broke, Young was not only “not good”, he was actually pretty bad. Corey wrote: “Young was 125th out of 143 qualifying players last year with a measly .682 OPS.” Some of the players who posted higher OPSs than Young? Delmon Young and Alberto Callaspo. Another head-scratcher: M. Young provided the least value among qualified first baseman in 2012.
The Phillies are currently only on the hook for a little over $550 K for Frandsen for 2013 – even if you assume the Rangers pick up more than half of Young’s deal, as was suggested by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Phillies are spending somewhere likely between $6 and $7 million on a player that is not a clear upgrade over a hastily assembled, motley crue of replacement-level players in 2012 that was below average to begin with (ranked 21st in the MLB in fWAR from third basemen).
Young Has Been Lucky Playing, and Lucky To Play, in Arlington
In 2011, Michael Young was an All-Star. In 2012, he was not. The biggest, jump-off-of-the-page, hit-you-in-the-face difference? His BABIP. Young’s BABIP took a 68 point dip in 2012 and, with it, fell his batting average by 61 points. Young, however, has regularly had very large gaps in between his BABIP numbers and his actual batting average, which could be a product of not striking out and not walking very much (13% and 6% respectively) or could be an indicator of being very lucky. Take, for instance the gaps in his 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons: 31, 51, and 39. These are unusually large differences between BABIP and BA that suggest Young in his best seasons, while excellent, had just a little bit of extra luck on his side.
It is also worth noting that Young has played in a line-up surrounded by Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz in the fourth-most run-friendly park in the Majors last year but has always had fairly large home/away splits. Don’t get me wrong, over his career, Young has been a very solid player, and his road stats would have kept him in the Majors for sure (.283/.326/.410) but his home stats earned him his contract: .320/.368/.479. 37, 42, and 69 point differences, respectively. Young’s 2012 was different (he actually split the other way by about 30 points), but the larger trend is the one to keep an eye on. In case you are wondering, Citizen’s Bank Park ranked 19th on that list with a computation that about 81% of the runs scored in Arlington would likely be runs in Philadelphia.
The Phillies Have Great Pitching, They Need a Great Defense
Yes, Eric Chavez is off the board and no, Mark Reynolds is not a good fit, but neither is Michael Young. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels pitching three out of every five days, I would much prefer an all-glove, no-hit third baseman to a sometimes-hit, no-glove third baseman. Young has not only not played that often at third base since 2010 but has also been particularly bad at the position over his career. The Young-at-third-base experiment for the Rangers began in 2009, and since he cost the Rangers almost 20 runs at third. He has been bad, but not as bad at first base, costing the Rangers about three runs over the last two years.
The “What Else Would You Have Gotten?” Factor
I can’t help but think when comparing salaries what I would have done or tried to sign with the money allocated to players. For argument’s sake, let’s say Texas in this hypothetical trade kicks in $10 million and the Phillies pay $6 million. Let’s also acknowledge that the Phillies are on the hook for Frandsen at ~ $550 K. For the same price as a hobbled Polanco in 2012, the Phillies are taking a chance on a player who has not played third regularly since 2010 with declining stats, who has rather violent, just short of extreme, splits. Assuming Frandsen isn’t going anywhere, and he shouldn’t, I would absolutely use that $6 million somewhere else.
The Phillies have a lot of holes and their depth in the starting rotation isn’t likely as deep as they believe it is unless Vance Worley is healthy and Jonathan Pettibone is Major League-ready. While both might be true, it is curious, as my colleague Eric Seidman pointed out yesterday, that the Phillies weren’t even in the discussion for Dan Haren, who went to the Nationals at a bargain one year, $13 million price tag. There are plenty more bargains like that to be had across the free agent landscape. I can’t say for sure what I would have used my hypothetical $4-10 million for, but if I had that money, and did not have to give any cost-controlled, Major League talent to sign a free agent player, like a Kevin Youkilis, I would make that move 100 times out of 100.
The news and rumors of the Phillies and Rangers engaging in talks for Michael Young jolted and scared me. On paper, playing fill-in-the-blank, it has the potential to be one of the strangest, worst deals for Ruben Amaro Jr. at a time when they need a series of moves or deals to compete but also focus on bringing in affordable talent over the course of several years. What is the end game with Young? Meaning, if he was acquired and had a great season, would he walk? How large of a contract would he want? I don’t see any scenario on or off the field that makes this deal a win for the Phillies unless the Rangers cover 80% or more of his salary. And then that begs the question: if the Rangers are that willing to pack his bags for him, why should the Phillies want him?