Of course they did.
Last week, Jeff wrote about “What Delmon Young Was”, and he closed with these two paragraphs:
I haven’t yet figured out how Delmon Young hit that pitch for a home run. If you watch Young’s highlight videos, you’ll see similar batted balls that come off the bat faster than it seems like they should. That raw talent of Young’s hasn’t deteriorated with time, so it lingers on, a living sign of what Young was, and of what Young was supposed to be. Watch that home run, and only that home run, and you might think “this guy is amazing, he can hit anything out.”
Young, it seems, always believed that to be true, and while it’s never too late to try to make changes, it can get too late to actually make them. Talent alone got Delmon Young to the majors. Young either hasn’t worked hard, or he hasn’t worked smart. Young at 26 was the same as he was at 21. The same, but bigger, and a whole hell of a lot less promising.
When trying to figure out what team would give Young a contract this winter, it basically boiled down to figuring out what organizations didn’t place a high value on the base on balls, favored traditional offensive metrics over the kinds of things we write about here on FanGraphs, and would see Young as still having the potential to be a good player. The Phillies check every box on the list, and were in search of a right-handed corner outfielder. This should have been an obvious match for a while.
On its own merits, this deal probably isn’t worth quibbling over. Young is a replacement level Major League player with enough interesting skills to be worth a flier, and it’s not like the Phillies spending $750,000 on Young is going to prevent them from affording a better player. At this kind of salary, you’re buying guys who have more flaws than strengths. The Phillies are paying Young a salary that tells him that he’s not worth a Major League starting job. They didn’t give him starter’s money, which suggests that they understand his limitations.
But, we can’t really just evaluate deals like this on its own merits. The question for the Phillies isn’t whether Young is worth $750,000 or not, but whether he’s worth playing over guys they already had in the organization. Specifically, is he worth playing over Domonic Brown?
Brown has seen his stock fall a long way from when he was the game’s best prospect a few years ago, and he wasn’t even particularly good in Triple-A last year, so it’s hard to say that he’s earned a starting job on a team that has its sights set on winning in 2013. If we’re going to point out that Young has been a replacement level player during his time in the Majors, we should point out that Brown has too. 500 plate appearances isn’t as definitive as 3,500, but Brown is 25-years-old and has yet to produce any big league value. That’s generally not a great sign for a player’s future.
Even if we believe that Brown is likely to take a significant step forward, he’s probably still not going to be an effective hitter against left-handed pitchers. He’s never hit for much power against LHPs, even in the minors, and he doesn’t do enough other things well to be a useful corner outfielder without hitting for power. Getting him a platoon partner was a legitimate need.
And, while Delmon Young isn’t anything special, he is a right-handed bat with some history of success against southpaws; a 117 wRC+ in over 1,000 big league plate appearances. Given his lousy defense, that still doesn’t make him any good, but Brown’s not a plus defender either, and Young is almost certainly going to outhit Brown against LHPs. So, strictly from that standpoint, this is an upgrade.
The question is whether that upgrade is worth making if it also tempts Charlie Manuel into making Young more than just a part-time player. Young has been a full-time player for most of his career, and at age 27, he probably prefers to remain a full time player, given that he’s not yet settled into the veteran reserve part of his career. Having Young around may very well give Manuel the false pretense of having a regular outfield option other than Brown, and that’s when this deal could come back to harm the Phillies. If Young plays against right-handed pitchers while Brown sits, then the advantage gained by having an upgraded bat against lefties could easily be canceled out.
But, we shouldn’t presume that the Phillies will misuse Young and anoint him as an everyday player. The salary they gave him suggests that he’s not being envisioned as a regular starter. The public comments about the type of player they were searching for suggest that they were looking to complement Brown’s skills, not replace them. There’s a decent chance that, as a part-time lefty masher, Young might turn out as a decent role player. I’m not going to kill the Phillies for making this move. There is some logic to having him on their roster.
But we also can’t ignore that this could be the first step to a colossal mistake. If they waste regular at-bats on Young, then this move could make them worse off than if they hadn’t signed Young to begin with. And that’s likely the fear that many Phillies fans are experiencing right now.