This mini-series for the week continues with the next big question that the Texas Rangers will have to answer this offseason. If you missed the first installment about Josh Hamilton, you can read it here.
Next we tackle the Michael Young issue, because it was an issue in 2012. Young was arguably one of the very worst position players in 2012. He finished in the bottom ten of all three popular WAR calculations (baseball-reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus). If you average the three together, Young had the third-lowest WAR in baseball at -1.8.
Suffice it to say, 2012 was the worst year of Michael Young’s illustrious career. His .277 batting average was 24 points below his career average, his .312 on-base percentage was 35 points below his career average, and his .370 slugging percentage was 74 points below his career average. Despite his abysmal production, Young still played 156 games and collected 651 plate appearances. More than two-thirds of those plate appearances came as the Rangers’ designated hitter or first baseman. Across the American League, first base and DH were the top two positions by highest OPS with marks of .778 and .758, respectively. By comparison, Young posted a .684 OPS as a first baseman, and a .662 OPS as a DH in 2012.
The Rangers would have won more games in 2012 if they did not play Michael Young as much as they did. He was ineffective at the plate, inadequate in the field, and a non-factor on the bases. His playing time was based on a belief by his manager that he would turn it around. Ron Washington first stated about Young: “He’s done it for 12 years and the bottom line is before the year is over, he’s going to do something grand for this club. I’m willing to wait for it as the manager.” Three weeks before that, Washington had said: “If the ship sinks with Michael Young, I’ll still be on it.”
Beyond just the belief that Young could still contribute on the field, there is the ever-present allusion to the intangibles Young brings to the clubhouse. His assumed leadership has evolved from merited to myth to meme. Now, any proclamation that the intangibles he brings to the team are enough to outweigh his lack of tangibles on the field can only be treated as delusional.
That’s not the end of the bad news concerning Michael Young. He will also return to the Rangers in 2013, with a $16 million price tag attached. The Rangers may attempt to trade him this offseason, but would certainly be required to pay a significant portion of his salary in such a deal. It’s also questionable if they would be able to get any value in return for Young, or if there is a team or GM that exists that would embrace acquiring the 36-year old. Beyond that, Young has 10-and-5 rights, which provides him a full no-trade clause. “Mr. Ranger” would certainly only accept a trade to another team if it would offer him greater opportunities for playing time than in Texas. The number of variables that would need to align for a trade to happen makes it a near impossibility.
Another possible solution for fixing the Michael Young problem is to simply cut him. The full $16 million would still be owed, but it would save a roster spot, and perhaps more importantly remove the temptation from Ron Washington to give Young another season of regular playing time. This solution assumes that there would be no negative ramifications among the players who would remain, and also assumes that Young cannot contribute value in any way.
Believing that Young’s leadership makes other players on the team better is preposterous, but believing that the players in that clubhouse look to Young as their leader and captain is fairly well-documented. Cutting Young would be a significant display of disrespect that would certainly have negative ramifications within the players’ fraternity that believe in taking care of their own. It’s also just not how the Rangers organization operates.
As far as whether Young can provide any value whatsoever, I believe there is reason to hope that he can. Having success as a MLB hitter is all about making adjustments and properly responding to how pitchers are trying to get you out. For five months of the 2012 season, Young failed to adjust his approach at the plate. However, in September Young turned in a respectable month, posting an .838 OPS with four home runs. For his career, Young has been a high BABIP hitter, averaging a .334 batting average on balls in play (league average is usually around .300). Young finished 2012 with a .299 BABIP, which was driven below his career average due to the increased number of ground balls and weak contact. In September, Young’s BABIP jumped to .330 as he elevated the ball better and with more authority. Typically, it’s easier to spot players with inflated offensive production because of unsustainable high BABIP rates. In Young’s case, it is possible that his offensive numbers were depressed because of unsustainable low BABIP rates.
Young isn’t an everyday player any longer; those days are behind him. He will still be a Ranger in 2013, though. When you account for a possible BABIP rebound, and that Young still hit left-handed pitching for a .794 OPS in 2012, he may be poised to once again have a positive impact for Texas in 2013. Those odds look even better if Young can be sheltered from overexposure by reducing his plate appearances one-third, and seeing a higher percentage of at-bats come against left-handed pitching.
The $16 million that the Rangers owe Young in 2013 isn’t going away. He is more valuable to Texas than any other team. There is still a way that he can bring something to the table next season, though. It may not be an easy conversation to have with Young, and by a similar token with Washington, but his playing time must be reduced. If that conversation can take place and be put into action, the Rangers can be a better team with Young than without him.
Stay tuned this week to the answers for further important questions for the Rangers:
Who is Going to Play Catcher?
How Will The Rangers Rebuild the Bullpen?
Who Will Be the Shortstop, and Who Will Be the Second Baseman?
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