Mackey: Despite selling low, trading Delmon was the right thing to do
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It was April 26, and Minnesota Twins players were putting on street clothes in the Target Field clubhouse after a rainout against the Cleveland Indians.
On his way out of the office, manager Ron Gardenhire told a couple reporters that Delmon Young -- sidelined for a week with sore ribs at the time -- made it through batting practice with no issues and would likely be in the lineup the following day.
Curious to hear an update straight from the source, those reporters wandered slowly over to Young's locker, where the former No. 1 overall pick was sitting down, tying his shoes.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Young said, noticing three reporters armed with recorders wandering over.
Knowing Young doesn't usually like discussing his mechanics or injury status in front of rolling recorders, the three reporters stared awkwardly at each other until finally one of them stammered, "Uh, Delmon, we're just wondering how your ribs feel, because Gardy said ..."
"Stop talking," Young said, partially under his breath but loud enough to be heard.
"So, no rib update?" the reporter asked, breaking the awkward silence again.
"No update," said Young, who promptly exited stage left.
Nothing for reporters to get too upset about, seeing as how baseball players are under no obligation to be polite or to elaborate on injuries. It's generally just common courtesy.
Fast-forward a few weeks, when the Twins were in the middle of an early-June resurgence.
Curious about the Twins' new speedy lineup, a reporter engaged Young again and asked about hitting with guys like Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla stealing bases and running around in front of him.
"It's cool," Young said with a big, welcoming grin before diving into a five-minute, in-depth explanation about how speedy runners affect the pitches he sees.
"It reminds me of back when I was over in Tampa with (Carl) Crawford, (B.J.) Upton and (Akinori) Iwamura and (Rocco) Baldelli, just running amuck on the bases. It puts the pressure on the defense to worry about the runners. As a hitter you get better pitches to hit, and two, it creates holes on the field."
Those two interactions are sort of a microcosm of what you get with Delmon Young.
Sometimes surly. Sometimes charming and engaging.
Sometimes 112 RBIs with a .298/.333/.493 batting line. Sometimes .266/.305/.357 with only four home runs.
There was also the interview at TwinsFest in January when Young was asked on 1500 ESPN what he likes to do on his off days in the summer. With a slight hesitation and sheepish smile, Young simply said, "Uh, drink."
There seemed to be two versions of Young, both personality-wise and performance-wise.
The latter is what eventually landed him in Detroit, where he did two strange things on Monday night in his debut for the Tigers: Young hit a home run after working a count to 3-1, and he stole an extra-base hit from Trevor Plouffe with a sprinting, lunging catch near the warning track in left field.
Well, strange for the 2011 version of Young, who in his time with the Twins looked nothing like the player who helped carry the team for at least three months in the summer of 2010.
Talk to any baseball person, or watch Young in batting practice -- or when he's on a hot streak -- and it's obvious why he was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft. There's a ton of hitting ability in that frame.
Problem is, Young's 2011 numbers -- partially due to injuries, no doubt -- reverted back to his uninspiring and somewhat punchless numbers from 2008 and '09.
High batting averages in those seasons, sure, but hollow when considering his low on-base percentages, inability to coax walks and mysterious shortage of power, especially with such a large frame.
Not to mention Young's 2010 breakout season was aided by a .355 batting average with runners in scoring position -- a remarkable accomplishment, but not likely to be repeated often. In fact, Young is hitting just .273 with runners in scoring position this season, and that's the main reason he isn't driving in nearly as many runs.
It's not that Young's 2010 season was a fluke. It wasn't. But it likely resided in the 95th percentile of what he's currently capable of.
There's also the fact that Young, over the last four years, is rated as one of the worst-ranging outfielders in baseball, which is an alarming assessment for a 25-year-old who likely won't be gaining a step anytime soon.
It would be one thing if the Twins had time to wait. But they don't, and the front office was sick of waiting for Young to break out and turn into a consistent threat.
Young is being paid $5.375 million this season, which would be a bargain for the 2010 version, but he'll earn a similar salary through arbitration heading into next year -- his last year of being under team control.
The Twins basically had four choices:
• 1. Retain Young through arbitration and let it ride in 2010 for $5 million or so;
• 2. Non-tender Young and let him walk with no compensation;
• 3. Hang onto him until the offseason and test the trade waters then; or
• 4. Deal him now for anything of value and just be done with it.
The correct answer is probably 5. Trade him at peak value last offseason, but that's much easier to say in hindsight, even though Young's drop-off was much more predictable than a repeat performance was likely.
Because the Twins already have at least two cheaper outfield options under contract next year -- Denard Span ($3 million) and Ben Revere (under $500,000) -- and because it's possible, if not probable, they attempt to bring back Jason Kubel and/or Michael Cuddyer, Young was expendable.
The only two valid arguments for keeping Young are
• 1. He might someday rediscover the potential he showed in 2010; and
• 2. The front office is essentially waving the white flag on the trade that sent promising right-hander Matt Garza and steady shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007.
But there are counterarguments to that, too:
• 1. Even if he does rediscover that value, his defensive deficiencies drag down his value to a team, and his impending free agency status after 2012 puts him in line for a long-term deal and a hefty raise.
• 2. Why compound one mistake with another?