Just how desperate were the Philadelphia Phillies to sign a right-handed, power hitting corner outfielder with Major League experience? Desperate enough to forget what solid defense looks like? Desperate enough to jeopardize the playing time and development of a pair of young outfielders with a lot to lose by sitting on the bench (or wasting away in Triple-A)?
Because if the Phillies' signing of free agent outfielder Delmon Young does anything, it reeks of desperation. After months of searching for a bona fide, middle of the order threat to fill a corner outfield vacancy, the Phillies settled on signing Young to a one-year, $750,000 deal. (h/t: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports). Jeff Passan adds that if all incentives are reached, Young could earn as much as $3.5 million for one season.
While it looks like the kind of "low-risk, high-reward" type deal that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been pondering, take a look at the bigger picture. According to FanGraphs, Young cost the Detroit Tigers $3.2 million in value last season. That's right. Negative value.
That stems, first and foremost, from his inability to play the outfield. Young, who cannot play any position other than left field at this point in his career, has a weak arm, bad instincts and range that makes Darin Ruf a desirable option out there.
The Phillies are signing Young for his bat—don't be mistaken. But how valuable is a right-handed hitter that posted a slash line of .247 / .279 / .370 against right-handed pitching? Sure, he hit left-handed pitching well, but where is the upgrade here for the Phillies? What does Young do that John Mayberry Jr., in the same role, can't do better?
And while some will argue that the Phillies made a small financial commitment to a solid hitter against left-handed pitching, you have to understand that this isn't all about money. It's about playing time as well. For every at-bat that Young takes, that's one less for a better hitter like Ruf or Domonic Brown, which of course leads us to the next question: What happens to the Phillies' outfield now?
When you look at the Phillies' current depth chart, it isn't difficult to see that something has to give. They now have three right-handed outfielders in Young, Mayberry and Ruf. Brown and Laynce Nix are the lefties in the outfield, while Ben Revere will play center field.
The first thing that you need to ask yourself is this: What happens when Revere needs a day off? The only other center fielder on the roster is Mayberry, unless of course the Phillies decide to hold on to Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, which is a different scenario entirely.
So we'll assume that Mayberry is safe. Meanwhile, Brown and Nix are the only other right fielders on the roster, so they're probably going to hang around as well. The problem here is that this likely winds up being a platoon of some sorts.
The guy who is going to be on the outside look in, as things stand at the moment, is Ruf. The Phillies have the option of sending him to Triple-A to start the season, allowing him to play some left field and embarrass minor league pitchers.
When the dust settles, the Phillies have to look at their depth chart now and ask themselves this: Are we any better with Delmon Young getting at-bats as the left fielder? The answer is no. If Young is nothing more than a bench bat—a right-handed slugger pinch hitting late in games a la what Matt Stairs used to do from the left side of the plate—fine.
But we're still likely talking about one of Mayberry and Ruf losing a roster spot, and when you look at the entire package, regardless of what they're paying Young, you're losing a better player for the facade of "right-handed power."
If Young winds up being anything more than a seldom used bench bat, the Phillies are taking the bat out of the hands of a better player. That's not "low-risk, high-reward" in my book.
Update, 4:44 pm: Just in case this deal wasn't puzzling enough for you, Ruben Amaro Jr. has since met with the media and had this to say about Young's deal:
Amaro: Hope is Young will be everyday RF. Then says he may start year on DL.
— Matt Gelb (@magelb) January 22, 2013
That's right. The Phillies expect Young to be their everyday right fielder—a position that he has not played, at all, since 2007. Young is also coming off of ankle surgery to remove bone spurs last November.
This does change the logistics a bit. The Phillies seem to have their heart set on having a platoon in left field, so you can probably pencil in one of Darin Ruf and John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown. Who those players will actually be is a question that will be answered in spring training.
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