One of the turning points of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise was when they dealt outfielder Delmon Young, just a year removed from being the top prospect in baseball, to the Minnesota Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. After the 2007 season, the Rays purged themselves of both Young and Elijah Dukes, two players with plenty of talent but who lacked the temperament to be cornerstone players for a franchise hoping to turn its fortune around. It’s hard to deny that the Rays were wrong. Dukes played a couple years with the Nationals before getting arrested several times and Young hasn’t come close to living up to his billing, ending up as essentially an average hitter (98 OPS+) with poor defense. Young did, of course, hit out of his mind for the Tigers in the postseason to become their franchise’s playoff home run leader, but year after year, Young has done about as much to hurt his franchise’s hopes to make the playoffs as to help them. The Phillies were the latest team to recognize that, designating him for assignment and placing him on release waivers. And now, according to Marc Topkin, both Young and the Rays are interested in the possibility of a reunion. What is happening?
There are a couple of reasons why Delmon Youngdid not develop as planned. The first is that he ended up filling out to 6’3″ and 240 pounds and you will never find a 5-tool player who is 6’3″ and 240 pounds. The second is that his plate discipline never came along, which aside from the obvious side effect of limiting his on-base percentage has also prevented him from ever tapping into his tremendous raw power on a consistent basis. But despite it all, Young is still relatively young (excuse the pun) as he will turn just 28 in December, and he still has some talent. For a player with no discipline and poor pitch recognition, is downright incredible that Young is a .283 career hitter in nearly 4000 MLB plate appearances–that tells you just how talented he is. And against left-handed pitching, Young remains excellent, managing a .306/.343/.477 career line in 1118 PA’s. Delmon Young still deserves to be a major league player somewhere. Could Tampa Bay be that place?
The Rays just designated Ryan Roberts for assignment and it seems like he will be out of their plans for good. Young presents an option as not just a fellow right-handed bat that is formidable against lefty pitching but one that isn’t a train wreck against righties (.706 career OPS) and can play the outfield. Under usual circumstances, playing both second and third base like Roberts does would be more valuable than playing the corner outfield spots, but the way that the Rays are currently constructed with Desmond Jennings on the disabled list, Young’s ability to play left and right field is more valuable. In addition, Young could be an option to spell the lefty hitting Luke Scott at DH against left-handed pitching, which would also help because the Rays will want Young playing defense as little as possible. Young has never really been a reserve, but he’s willing to settle into such a role, the Rays could find a spot for him.
Yes, Delmon Young fits on the Rays as a righty-hitting backup outfielder and designated hitter. But if the Rays were so determined to get rid of him in 2007, why should anything be different seven years later? The answer is that the Rays’ team philosophy has made a complete 180 since then. The Rays don’t get rid of players with attitude problems, they accept them with open arms. The Rays believe that their clubhouse is strong enough to deal with players with personalities and get the most out of those players. They traded for the much-maligned Yunel Escobar and we have watched him enjoy a breakout season in a Rays uniform. Why should Young be any different. If the Rays believe that Young’s abilities can help their team, they will have no qualms signing him. And while Young’s biggest contribution to the Tampa Bay Rays franchise so far has been getting traded, maybe he could make something positive with his own play as well.