COMMENTARY | Free agent outfielder Delmon Young has seen his share of controversy over the years. His inconsistency on the field has rivaled his indiscretions off it, becoming relevant when you begin to consider him an option to upgrade the Philadelphia Phillies' outfield. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has surveyed his roster and come to the decision that the dice are worth rolling on Young, who signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Phillies on Tuesday. With performance bonuses and incentives, the deal could be worth upwards of $3.5 million.
It's no secret that although the Phillies have added center fielder Ben Revere and third baseman Michael Young, this offseason hasn't exactly been a juggernaut. Amaro's search for outfield help began to smack of desperation as the music kept stopping and seats continued to fill up on other major-league rosters.
Young was considered one of the top three prospects in baseball coming into the league as a 20-year old in 2006 with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was the first overall pick of the 2003 draft. The younger brother of the affable Dmitri Young, Delmon's early career featured signs that the ability that had him so highly-touted was real while exhibiting an immaturity both on and off the field that left teams leery.
While in the minors, something in Young's cloudy mind told him that firing a bat at the home plate umpire would be a good idea. Just last season, that same murky brain matter decided that New York City is just the place to throw a load on and direct anti-Semitic slurs at its citizens. Those are just the bookend incidents that have highlighted Young's cantankerous behavior throughout his career.
The Rays gave up and sent him to the Minnesota Twins, where Young peaked in 2010, producing a .298/.333/.493 line, belting 21 homers and knocking in 112. Through all that production, Young's WAR was still just 1.5 in 2010, the equivalent of a bench player. His WAR was so low because the one thing Young has been consistent at producing his entire career is deplorable defensive skills. His 2010 defensive WAR was -1.9. He's never finished a season with a defensive WAR above 0.
It's been reported that the Phillies plan to use Young in right field, either as a full-time player or in a platoon with the controversial Domonic Brown. That would leave the trio of Darin Ruf, John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix in left field. It would seem more apropos to give Brown every chance to prove that he can be a productive everyday outfielder at the major-league level. Ruf, who has just a small sample in the majors, could easily be sent down to start the season in Triple-A as an everyday player and insurance policy. Nix becomes your left-handed bat off the bench, with Mayberry, Jr. as your righty.
The Phllies have endured multiple seasons in their history with large, lumbering, uncoordinated left fielders. Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez survived trolling the short porch in front of Harry the Ks in Citizens Bank Park, and we'll never forget the heavy-footed Greg Luzinski on the concrete surface of Veteran's Stadium. I would begrudgingly understand stashing Young in left. I do not, however, understand how the Phils' brass believe that Young's 240 pounds, poor judgement and diminishing arm will be able to handle right.
Young's poor plate discipline will drive the fans of Philadelphia to a further stage of insanity. In 1,724 plate appearances over the last three seasons, Young drew just 71 walks, and 8 of those were intentional. Last season's 20 walks in 608 plate appearances produced a 3.3 walk percentage, good for 142nd out of 143 qualified hitters. He walked .18 times per every strikeout. Good for dead last. At least they're aren't paying him the $13.8 million the San Francisco Giants got fleeced into paying last year's plate discipline dolt, Hunter Pence.
If there is anything that can be said for Young it's that at just 27, he should be entering the prime of his career. The issue is whether or not he'd be willing to put the effort in to change his game. The ball still jumps off Young's bat. He produces an indelible sound when he connects. His ALCS MVP performance in 2012 for the Detroit Tigers is a testament to that. If Young can find a way to be even slightly more selective, and take advantage of the hot, summer nights in South Philly, he could be productive offensively.
Young's meager salary is perhaps the key to drawing out that production. With incentives, his salary could reach $3.5 million -- just enough to keep him interested. He's also playing on a one-year contract. In light of his off field problems, this deal has got to be a wake up call to Young. He has to realize that if he screws this up, that could be the end for him. As he pushes into his late 20s, teams will be less likely to take chances on him as the Phillies have done.
It's good that Young will have incentive, but I'm not sure the Phillies' faithful went into the offseason relying on a roll of the dice to solve their club's problems.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has covered the Phillies for more than three years and has followed the team since the days of Phil and Phyllis. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.