Before Brett Favre arrived in Minnesota, Delmon Young was the most controversial player to roam the Dome. Not controversial in the same way he was in Tampa, Young hasn't generated bad press for anything more than poor play, but controversial because he was traded for what is shaping up to be quite the King's ransom.
Without question, Young's stock dropped this year. After a disappointing 2008, many people looked to Delmon to rebound in 2009 and simply put, he didn't.
His season line at the All-Star break was an awful .266/.292/.344, for a guy who was supposed to be a speed/power OF, an OPS under .700 is unacceptable. Add in that he had as many CS as SB (two of each) while playing abysmal defense in left field and the consternation regarding his play is understandable.
But, in baseball, few things are as simple as they seem.
Part of the increased scrutiny of Delmon's play was due to his poor 2008, but a large part of it was the play of the men he was traded for. Matt Garza hasn't quite been the ace many predicted he would be, but a 1.26 WHIP and 3.95 ERA would have been more than welcome on the Twins staff the last two seasons.
Jason Bartlett's play dropped off substantially in the last few months, but for the first half of the season, he was as good as any player in the AL. He was an All-Star and was getting serious MVP chatter before declining as the season progressed.
Meanwhile, Brendan Harris was riding pine for the Twins, meaning the trade is shaping up to be Bartlett (the All-Star) and Garza (the LCS MVP) for Young (the .266 corner OF). Yikes. Is there any way this trade comes around and looks ok for the Twins?
I don't know if I'd go that far, but there is a piece in play here that hasn't garnered much press.
In April, Delmon was bad: .241/.276/.315
In May, he was worse: .236/.88/.236. Not a typo, his slugging and batting average were equal. Every one of his 13 hits was a single.
But something else happened in May, something that showed up in few box scores:
Young - DNP (Bereavement)
After fighting cancer for years, Delmon's mother finally succumbed to the disease, passing away on May 18.
Sympathies were expressed, Young's extended absence went duly unmentioned, but soon people were back to criticising the outfielder for his poor play.
"When he [Young] was asked if his father, Larry, was at the game to see his grand slam and 5 RBI. 'Yeah, I wish my mom could have seen it, too,' Young said."
That play was almost certainly one of the five biggest in Young's career (He's never played for a playoff team) and one of his first thoughts is "man, I wish my mom had been here to see it".
Young isn't much older than I am, and I know that if my mom passed away, I'd be a mess. Beyond a wreck. Given Young's passionate nature (he himself admitted as much after the bat throwing incident), is it any wonder that the death of someone so close to him would cause him great pain?
I don't know to what level he's still carrying that grief with him, but I know that it's a long process. Neal notes in the linked article that some in the media have seen a greater level of engagement in Young as the season has gone on, and his numbers bear that out.
August: .262/.279/.476 with 5 HR and 15 RBI (both season highs)
October: .625/.667/1.000 (ok, ok, small sample size, but hey, these are critical games!)
Having Young's bat as an asset in the lineup rather than a blackhole has helped the bottom of the Twins' order become much more productive as the season has progressed. Chances are good that the Twins would have missed Justin Morneau a lot more if Young hadn't posted his season high in extra base hits in September.
He still has a long way to go, but Young has time to get there. The question is: Will he continue that journey with the Twins or has he worn out his welcome with the team?
Once the season concludes, hopefully not for a few more weeks, the Twins will face a difficult decision about who stays and who goes in their crowded outfield. Young seems likely to be the odd man out, but there's good reason to keep him around.
Irrespective of those issues, Young has done much to raise his profile over the last few weeks. His .296/.317/.476 line after the all-star break is downright serviceable, and something he can build on in 2010.
Those decisions will come, but for now, the Twins simply hope Young can continue his hot streak as they fight tooth and nail for the last available playoff spot.