Getting a right-handed bat for the outfield was one of the offseason priorities for the Philadelphia Phillies.
General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. finally got his man by signing Delmon Young to a one-year, $750,000 contract on Tuesday (Jan. 22), as announced by the team and reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb.
Last year for the Detroit Tigers, Young hit .267 with a .707 OPS, 18 home runs and 74 RBI in 608 plate appearances. He was especially impressive in the postseason, however. As the Tigers made a run to the World Series, Young batted .313 with a .907 OPS, three homers and nine RBI.
The initial guess is that Young will be a platoon outfielder with the Phillies. That role should suit him well since he hit .308 with an .833 OPS, seven homers and 26 RBI versus left-handed pitching last season. For his career, Young has a .307 average and .824 OPS against lefties.
However, with the right-handed Darin Ruf originally slated to play left field, platooning Young there makes no sense. As MLB.com's Todd Zolecki tweeted, that could mean Ruf will begin the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Ruf actually jumped from Double-A Reading to the majors last season as a September call-up for the Phillies. He finished his minor league season with a .317 average, a 1.028 OPS, 38 home runs and 104 RBI.
In 12 games with Philadelphia, Ruf batted .333 with a 1.079 OPS, three home runs and 10 RBI. CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury reported in late December that the Phillies wanted to give him a shot in left field and preferred to get a right fielder through free agency or trade.
Did the team change its mind, preferring to get Ruf more time in left field at Triple-A? He's played most of his career in the minors at first base.
But if the Phillies want to give Ruf a shot in left field, that means signing Young puts Domonic Brown's spot on the active major league roster in jeopardy.
Brown looked like the favorite to be Philadelphia's starting right fielder, if for no other reason than the team didn't have another true right fielder on the roster. He has played most of his career at that position.
FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating measures Brown as a below-average defender. Over his career, he's allowed 14 more runs than the average right fielder. But that might still be preferable to going with someone who hasn't played much right field at all.
The Phillies likely question whether Brown will hit well enough to justify a starting position. Last year, he batted .235 with a .712 OPS, five home runs and 26 RBI in 212 plate appearances with Philadelphia. Against lefties, he hit .196 with a .621 OPS, which pretty much demands a right-handed hitting-platoon partner.
However, according to the Philadelphia Daily News' Ryan Lawrence, Amaro and the Phillies may have already decided where Young will play before the team even reports to spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
Amaro: Young will play RF.
— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) January 22, 2013
Young hasn't played right field since 2007, since he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. He did play 133 games at the position that season, but only played left field or designated hitter while with the Minnesota Twins and Tigers.
FanGraphs' UZR says Young was actually a good defensive right fielder, saving eight runs more than the average defender at that position in the two seasons he played there. But 133 games isn't really a representative sample size of a player's ability in the field.
Additionally, Young will also be working his way back from microfracture surgery performed on his ankle in mid-November. (Nov. 10, to be exact.)
According to a tweet by Gelb, the projected recovery for Young could be up to 16 weeks. That will likely keep him out for all of spring training and could put him on the disabled list when the Phillies open the season. That's not ideal for a guy who's moving to a new position.
Under those circumstances, Brown should presumably still have a chance to win a job in spring training, whether it's in right field or left. At the very least, he could earn a platoon. As a left-handed hitter, that would give him the majority of plate appearances at his position.
Though Amaro surely didn't sign Young to sit on the bench, his salary won't be so high that he has to be in the lineup. As mentioned, he only signed for $750,000—nearly one-tenth of the $6.75 million he earned last year with Detroit.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, roster and performance bonuses in the contract could raise its value up to $3.25 million.
But if Ruf and Brown are playing well enough to warrant starting spots in the outfield, Young isn't going to see enough playing time to trigger the incentive clauses in his deal. The financial risk is low for the Phillies.
Young signing for such a low salary might indicate how poorly he was regarded as a hitter—as well as being a poor defensive player who didn't appear to play in ideal physical condition.
But signing in late January for under $1 million could also show that Young became a relatively toxic player around MLB after his arrest for hate-crime harassment in New York last April. The incident resulted in a seven-game suspension by MLB.
Young also had to eventually perform community service. As Young shared with the Philadelphia media, according to Lawrence, that included picking up dog poop in New York dog parks (h/t Sulia.com).
Amaro has been criticized for being too patient—or put more harshly, dragging his feet—this offseason, watching B.J. Upton sign with the Atlanta Braves and Nick Swisher go to the Cleveland Indians. Some believed the Phillies would make a run at Josh Hamilton or trade for Justin Upton as well.
But staying under 2013's $178 million luxury tax threshold was a concern for Amaro dating back to last season. Taking that into consideration, waiting for prices to come down and signing a risky player like Young makes sense.
The question now is whether Young will make Amaro look smart or foolish.
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