So let’s say you’re the assistant GM of a big league team that won the World Series five years ago. They threw the team a parade, bid your boss a fond farewell into retirement and handed you the keys to the kingdom. You had one of the best young aces in the game, a strong lineup in its prime and the whole of baseball stretched out before you.
Since then you’ve locked a great power-hitting first baseman into Top-5-in-baseball money through his late 30s and watched his ability to hit lefties, field and stay healthy fall off the face of the Earth; you’ve paid hand over fist in dollars, prospects, or contract years for guys like Danys Baez, Placido Polanco, Hunter Pence and a declining Jimmy Rollins; you watched what Michael Young did in Texas last year and thought not only did you need his bat in the lineup but his glove at third base every day and your tenure, in one simple graph, can be defined by the plummeting arc of losing the World Series, then losing the National League Championship Series, then losing the National League Divisional Series, then missing the playoffs. And that kingdom you inherited? You sacked it and sold it off piecemeal to acquire aging superstars, lineup patches and half-year quick fixes just to keep the decline as gradual as it was.
It makes perfect sense then that you would sign “outfielder” Delmon Young, noted anti-Semite off of the field and awe-inspiring disaster on it, to play right field for you every day. It’s hard to know the exact particulars of why this makes perfect sense to you -- my favorite theory is that since the Phillies’ ideal infield will average over 34 years of age next season, trading what remained of the farm’s pitching assets to Minnesota for Ben Revere (25 next year), signing Young (27 next year), and platooning Domonic Brown (25 next year) and Darin Ruf (26 next year) in left field is what counts for a youth movement in Philadelphia. But while it makes perfect sense to you, in the real world it’s absolutely ludicrous. Ben Revere is an, at least, mildly competent starting centerfielder assuming your team is getting its offense from somewhere else, but Delmon Young is categorically unqualified to be playing right field in the bigs. He might be unqualified to play it even in the high minors. Or the low minors. Or at any level of professional baseball.
The problem with Young’s fielding is not that his arm is weak or his instincts are bad or his range is poor or he’s not as fast as he used to be -- it’s all four of those things at the same time, combined with one of the more spectacularly sustained make-up disasters professional baseball has seen in the last decade. On top of that, Young isn’t even healthy: he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle over the offseason, and may not even be fully healthy to break camp at the end of spring training.
Furthermore -- and the refrain of this particular song comes as no surprise to Phillies fans that have followed their farm system’s recent woes -- the move blocks Domonic Brown, a guy who does have the physical tools to play right field and who hasn’t ever been arraigned for hate crime charges, for the third year in a row. It’s actually something of an amusing, sick joke to look at Baseball America’s prospect rankings for the Phillies the last three seasons and see Brown’s name headlining them all; Philadelphia has less than zero public confidence in the right fielder, but continues to hold on to him like a miser (or the pre-Bonus Rule Yankees), teasing him with late season platoon or bench-bat action and then stashing him right back in Triple A again the next year while guys like Raul Ibañez, Juan Pierre and Ben Francisco cut into his playing time at the major league level.
So why are you, Ruben Amaro Jr., signing Delmon Young to a 1 year, $750,000 contract, as reasonable as that is (relatively, for you), and then handing him right field before he’s even put on a Phillies hat at a press conference? What is that perfect reasoning?
The answer might just be that: you’re not. It might be that Delmon Young isn’t going to be the starting right fielder for the Phillies out of camp unless he’s earned it, and furthermore, it might be that you see it as your job to give Charlie Manuel, who’s been managing this team for almost a decade, the pieces he needs to succeed and leave it up to him to deploy them. It might be that you thought your team needed a guy with some pop who could hit lefties on your roster, considering the one guy who hits lefties in your lineup (M. Young) had no power last year and the one guy with power in your lineup (Howard) can’t hit left-handed pitching anymore. Sure, Darin Ruf mashed lefties pretty well…in 37 PA. Is that something you’re really going to bank on, though?
No, it’s not. Darin Ruf isn’t proven. Domonic Brown isn’t proven. Delmon Young has been in the big leagues for seven years now and despite demonstrating abysmally poor judgment in his personal life and the outfield, he is a known quantity. When you sign Delmon Young you know the sort of tool you’re handing Charlie Manuel. Furthermore, Young is probably aware articles like this were going to be written by jerks like me from one end of the baseball media circus to the other no matter where he signed or for how much, because that’s how bad his reputation is right now as a ballplayer and as a man. So maybe you decide that in order to motivate Delmon, welcome him to Manuel’s clubhouse and make sure his mind isn’t anywhere near columns like this one, you’re going to go out and put a giant bullseye on your own head instead of his. Because you know by the time camp breaks the outfield situation will have taken care of itself one way or another; if Young’s healthy enough and Charlie thinks he’s playing well enough to start he’ll start, and if not, he won’t. That was going to happen anyway. You don’t lose anything by saying you signed him to “ideally” start there, and you might gain a motivated guy entering his theoretical power prime eager to focus on playing good ball for your team and earning himself a big payday. You might have made exactly the right move and if you didn’t, hey -- words cost nothing. It’s a gesture, not Biblical truth.
But one of these days you might want to consider doing something similar for Dom Brown.