Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

I’ve never really understood the prodigal son quality that many Blue Jays fans attribute to Michael Young.

On July 19, 2000, Young, a middle infield prospect at Double A, was traded along with Darwin Cubillan to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Esteban Loazia.  Gord Ash, Blue Jays general manager at the time, can be forgiven for believing the team needed to improve its starting pitching if it was going to properly compete for the division after finding itself only a game and a half behind the Yankees.

At the time, Toronto’s rotation consisted of David Wells, Kelvim Escobar, Chris Carpenter, Frank Castillo, and 23-year old Roy Halladay.  With three young pitchers, there’s no question that a veteran arm would be useful, but it’s difficult to understand exactly what Ash saw in Loazia, whose best season to date saw him put up a 4.13 ERA, and that was three years previous with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

There’s a sentiment among Jays fans that Loazia was terrible for Toronto, but in reality, he pitched better in the second half of 2000 for the Blue Jays than he had ever done before.  Two things likely taint this memory: 1) A win – loss record of 5-7; and 2) Loaiza coming in second in Cy Young Award voting the year after leaving the Blue Jays through free agency.

It also doesn’t help that Young went on to establish himself as one of the better middle infielders in the league, by reputation if not by numbers, culminating in 2005 when he won the batting title.  Ever since then, Jays fans have considered Young to be the mythical one that got away.

Which brings us to today, when a disenfranchised Young has requested that the Texas Rangers trade him. And TSN’s Daan De Kerpel has written an article encouraging Toronto to welcome their prodigal son back with open arms.

For his career, the 34-year old Young is a .300 hitter, who posted five consecutive 200-hit seasons between the years 2003 and 2007 and led the American League with a .331 average in 2005.  Last season, he hit .284 with 21 home runs.

Having a .300 hitter on your team who once had five consecutive 200 hit seasons sounds great in theory, but let’s take a look at what those 200 hits are actually doing.  Young has only once hit more than 40 doubles, and never hit more than 25 home runs in a single season.  That would be fine if he was able to match his hitting ability with an ability to get on base, but Young has also never attained more than 58 walks in a single season, falling below the league average in walks every year of his career.

The numbers that he has accumulated throughout his career have benefited from playing at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington.  Compare his career OPS of .866 at home to his career OPS of .743 during away games.  That’s the drastic difference between a very good player and a rather average one.  Last season, Young’s away OPS ranked him 17th among third basemen, just below Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Young is owed $46 million over the next three seasons, which is a steep price for a player who would be 37-years old when his deal expired in three years. Money aside for now, would the acquisition of Young make baseball sense for the Jays?

Breathing aside, could you live in an environment without oxygen?

The most pertinent point is that Young could fill the team’s current hole at third base, which would allow the club to shift Jose Bautista back to his preferred position in right field. Travis Snider would then be slotted into left field, with the speedy Rajai Davis patrolling centre field. The infield would be offensively productive with Adam Lind and Aaron Hill on the right-side and Yunel Escobar and Young on the left.

I’ll even go the article one further.  Position wise, it actually makes sense for both teams to swap their unwanted players with the Jays sending Juan Rivera to the Rangers for Young.

As De Kerpel mentions, Young’s addition would free up Bautista to move into right field, where Jays manager John Farrell is believed to prefer his slugger play.  But Rivera’s addition to the Rangers lineup would add a much needed right handed bat to the outfield to spell relief for David Murphy and Julio Borbon against tough lefties.  Rivera could also get into the first base / designated hitter rotation with righty Mike Napoli and lefty Mitch Moreland.

Unfortunately, you can’t get past the fact that the Jays would be taking on $46 million over three years, while Texas would only be taking on $5.25 million for one year.

Young’s reputation as being a solid clubhouse presence would also be a plus for a largely young group of hitters.  He can hit for average and power, and while his defense isn’t great, he did capture a Gold Glove award in 2008 and perhaps some of his lack of range could be covered by Escobar.

What reputation is that?  We’ve argued a lot about how you can’t quantify leadership and how no one has any idea how individual players will respond to any given personality.  Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk has an interesting measuring stick that he uses to consider if Young is a leader.

Young’s “leadership” is obviously impossible to quantify like his hitting and defense, but it’s worth noting that prior to the Rangers’ run to the World Series last season Young had the third-most games of any active player without reaching the playoffs. That’s not his fault, of course, but it does speak to the idea that his “leadership” can somehow cause a team to out-perform their talent. Maybe it did last season, but a) the Rangers clearly aren’t too worried about losing it, and b) even with his leadership Texas has had just three winning seasons in his 11 years with the team.

In addition, we’ve already discussed how Young may hits for average but doesn’t hit for enough power or get on base enough for it to be useful.  His defense isn’t “not great.”  It’s abysmal.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this video.  I’m joking of course, but serious as a heart attack when I write that being awarded a Gold Glove award is meaningless (ahem, Derek Jeter), and probably enters an entirely new realm of meaningless when it’s won at a different position from the one he plays now.

Naysayers of the deal would point to the fact that Young’s advanced age means that he does not fit into what the Jays are attempting to do.

Age actually has far less to do with it than the possibility of being handcuffed to a ridiculous contract over the next three years, only a month after unloading the team’s previous albatross.

Maybe so, but if the club wants to seriously compete in the American League East in the next few seasons, they’re going to need to get an established player or two.

Yeah, just like those Tampa Bay Rays.  The team doesn’t want to merely compete in the American League East for the next few seasons (which acquiring Michael Young would hardly ensure), it wants to compete on a permanent basis.  In order to create a sustainable winner, contracts like Michael Young’s can’t be picked up.

The Jays would have to work out a deal with the Rangers, which could be difficult, Texas has already stated that they’re not simply going to give the talented Young away.

Any team willing to pick up Young’s salary can have him today for absolutely nothing.  The whole issue that Young has with the Rangers revolves around the team trying desperately to move him all winter, while telling him they weren’t, likely because the team realized how difficult it would be to find anyone willing to take him.

If the Jays decide to make a move for Young, money shouldn’t be a huge deterrent. In the last two-years alone, the club has saved around $145 million on their commitments to Alex Rios and Vernon Wells, not to mention the fact that they’re not paying any pitcher close to the $20 million that they would have paid Roy Halladay had they been able to keep him.

Remember how much we all laughed at Tony Reagins for taking on Vernon Wells?  This is the exact type of thinking that led to that move.  Spending money simply because you have it is a ridiculous policy that only serves to set back development and future budgeting.

It’s along the same lines as the fans who say, “It’s not your money.”

As Sam Miller explains in The Orange County Register shortly after the Wells trade:

Yeah, they’re not your home runs, either. Rooting for a team is a vicarious experience, in which you project yourself into the situation and take pleasure (or pain) from the achievements of others. Nobody is arguing that taking on a bad contract is going to have any literal effect on your standard of living. The argument is that a) you want your team to win games, b) getting good players helps win games, c) overpaying for good players hurts your chances of getting more good players or better players. So if (C) hurts (B) and (B) promotes (A), then (C) hurts (A). Bad contracts make you sad.

And that’s the bottom line.  Bad contracts should make Blue Jays fans sad.  And we should know that better than most.  In acquiring Michael Young, that’s exactly what we would be getting – three years of sadness.