December 5, 2008

Trading Delmon Young could be a big mistake

Manager Ron Gardenhire doesn't see Delmon Young (left) starting in 2009, at least not right now.
By this point, I am more than certain that most (if not all) of you have either seen or heard Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire's comments regarding next years outfield. During a Q&A segment at an Agricultural Trade Show in Fargo on Wednesday, Gardenhire discussed what he believes his 2008 starting outfield will be:
"Those three guys (Span, Gomez & Cuddyer) need to play every day. Delmon is in the mix. He’s a helluva player, a helluva talent. But to me, those three guys should be your outfield and then you go from there.
Delmon Young is coming off of a 2008 season in which he failed to live up to the extremely high expectations put on him by the team and the media that would be hard for any 22-year-old to live up to. That has now lead to to non-stop rumors since the Twins were eliminated from playoff contention.

During his tenor with the Twins, former GM Terry Ryan was ridiculed to no-end for his reluctance to trade pitching for hitting, despite having a surplus of capable arms. After Ryan stepped down, new GM Bill Smith's first move was acquiring outfielder Young (and others) for pitcher Matt Garza (and others), however a year later the Twins already feel the urge to abandon ship and trade Young after just one season.

Garza and the other players traded to Tampa Bay went on to have a great season in which they helped turn a hopeless franchise around and helped lead them to the World Series. This in part is (at least in my mind) one reason for the Twins feeling disappointed in Young. The Twins saw their former players help turn a franchise from bottom-dwellers to near-champions and are taking their frustration (and regret) out on the player that they traded for. Is it possible to think that if Johan Santana lead the Mets to the World Series (with the Rays missing the playoffs, and continuing their routinely bad performance) that the Twins would probably be pretty disappointed in Carlos Gomez in nearly the same way that they currently are in Young? In my mind, I think the success of the former players could very well be playing a role in why there is a lot of negativity towards Young.

Surely Young looked lethargic in left field and really didn't seem to "bust his ass" on every play, however left field is about 20 feet larger on both the line and in the alley compared to right field, which in my mind should account for something. At the beginning of the season this wasn't such a big deal considering that Michael Cuddyer (who may be just as slow, if not slower) was in right field. However the moment that Cuddyer got injured and Denard Span came up and became a regular, everyone started discussing Young's defense. The Twins should have made the switch to play Span in left with Young going back to his natural position in right field, immediately. I know for a fact that the media would be discussing Cuddyer's lack of range (the same way that they are talking about Young's at the moment) if Cuddyer played along side Gomez and Span who together may be the fastest outfield-duo in the entire league. In other words, nearly everyone looks slow in the outfield alongside Span and Gomez.

As much as I like the leadership that Cuddyer provides for a young team; his age, salary, production (or lack-there-of) and health concerns really show why the Twins would be better off trading him over Young. Young is under team control through 2013 and likely will make as much money (maybe a little more or a little less) as Cuddyer in his 3-years of arbitration that Cuddyer will make over the next two years with the Twins.

In terms of salary, the Twins are under the "cap" what many would have (a few years ago) predicted we'd be at in 2009, however there's no doubt that the Twins would like to move Cuddyer's salary to help sure up another position of need. The Twins have needs at shortstop, third base and in the bullpen. The Twins are currently aggressively pursuing free agent Casey Blake to play third base while it's still a complete mystery who they intend to fill the other positions with. Moving Cuddyer and at least some of his salary could allow the Twins to sign contract extensions to a few players who could certainly use them (Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel for example).

There is no doubt that Young is a much more valuable bargaining chip in comparison to Cuddyer, which would make sense why the Twins at the very least would listen to offers for Young. However, the Twins could be making a very bad mistake by trading a 23-year-old over a soon-to-be 30-year-old, while both of their respected values are lower than what they could (and should) be.

Opening day is still about 4 months away, and nearly anything can happen between now and then. I am not really concerned about Gardenhire's comments in terms of it being a "read between the lines" for the Twins going out of their way to trade him. But if they aren't going to play him in 2009, then would it just be better to trade him now and get what you can before crippling his value by sitting him?

Personally, if the Twins don't trade Cuddyer then I would like to see the Twins keep all of their outfielders (using them in a rotation which has been explained here). Bill Smith at the very list entertained that notion with this quote:
"Everybody said it wouldn't work, but the Red Sox didn't do too bad,"
He is referring to the 4-man rotation that the Red Sox used throughout the 2008 season with Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay, Coco Crisp, J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury. La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune agrees and believes that the Twins should just sit tight and see where they're at come the Trade Deadline next July.

Players' values are generally quite high around the Trade Deadline and teams generally are willing to overpay for a player to help push them over-the-top. Outfielders are one position (along with pitchers) who generally are a hot commodity at this time. And come July there could be an injury, which would make the decision to keep all of their outfielders a great one. But if everyone is healthy, the Twins could get pretty valuable in return and that pretty valuable player could push the Twins over the top for the rest of the second half next season or put them in great position for 2010 when the team moves into Target Field.

The Twins have options, I just hope that they decide to stay with Young and hopefully trade Cuddyer. Nick Nelson believes that the Twins could be trying to increase Cuddyer's value by making jabs at Young and I'd love to see that be the reason for all of the negativity towards Young. If it is, it's could certainly pay off. If not, it's still looking to pay off since according to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:
"With the ankle limiting his workouts, Young gained several pounds. But after giving the injury two weeks to heal following the season, he returned to the gym. Since then, he has been shedding pounds and adding muscle at the Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara."
This obviously started before Gardenhire's latest comments, however Young is already indicating that he wants to turn things around:
"I've got things to fix with baseball and with my body."
I am sure people are sick of me defending Young, and since he has been one of my favorite players since he was drafted (being that I've been a Rays fan for a while and I totally disregarded the bat incident) I know I am a little impartial. I just hope that you see why the Twins would be better off keeping Young in as non-biased of a way that I can tell you.