The reviews of the Michael Young trade have been mixed so far, ranging anywhere from "Wait, what are the Phillies doing?" to "No, seriously, what are the Phillies doing?" I'm going to take the contrarian path, though, and wonder what in the hell the Phillies are doing.
It's not a crazy idea for a team to get a hitter in his mid-30s and hope to wring one more quality year out of him. The Phillies are built to win now, so any one-season raffle ticket they can get is important. Just two seasons ago, Young posted a 125 OPS+ -- the third highest of his career. Considering that the Rangers are paying for a chunk of Young's salary, and that every other year, Young seems to have a batting-average-dependent stroke of genius left in his bat, it's not the worst idea in the world. It's not like the Phillies called up Terrence Long and asked him if he'd consider playing baseball again.
The average third baseman in the National League hit .270/.333/.433 in 2012. Without the A's, Mariners, and Angels to worry about, it's not outlandish to think Young can do that. Maybe even a tick better.
But even though Young is 36, and even though he's coming off the worst offensive season of his career, that's not the part that would bother me about the trade if I were a Phillies fan. Maybe he'll hit a little bit, and maybe he won't. No, the part that bothers me is this:
1. The Phillies play in the National League
2. There is no DH in the National League
3. Oh … my … god ....
The plan is to play Michael Young at third base. The problem is that Michael Young can't play third base. It's like a logic puzzle, a brain teaser. You study it and study it, sure it's one of those "where do they bury the survivors?" trick questions. But it's not. Young will play at third, where he can't play.
This is one of those scenarios that you can use to explain WAR to your dad. "Dad?" you say. "Remember how Michael Young can't field?" "Sure, son," he'll reply. "He's kind of the worst." And then you can explain how his lackluster defense has hurt his WAR -- and his overall value -- over the years. Because stats and eyeballs agree. No one thinks Young is a good third baseman. Numbers, scouts, you, me … the fielding isn't good.
In Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead with Cliff Lee pitching. They felt pretty good about their chances. Edgar Renteria opened the inning with a grounder a foot to Young's left. It popped out of his glove. Here is the exact quote from Tim McCarver during the replay of the error:
"Michael usually comes up with that ball. Michael Young, you talk about a consummate team player, here's a guy playing his third position …
That's the most Michael Young and the most Tim McCarver quote in existence. How many college kids passed out when playing the McCarver/Young drinking game that night? All of them. The Giants scored their first run off that error, and it's not too goofy to wonder if the entire Series goes differently without it.
But you're not here for anecdotes. You're an evidence-loving person, and you want proof. Okay, well, let's see, here's one of him waving at a ball, here's one of him showing off his range, here's one of him diving to his left, and here's the best example of his range, or lack thereof.
Most of these plays were two years ago, mind you. Maybe his reaction time is getting better as he gets closer to 40.
The point of WAR isn't necessarily to distill a player's existence into a single number. It's also a way to remind you that a player's value comes from everything he does on the field, from hitting to running to fielding. And for years and years, Young's overall numbers have been dinged because of his atrocious fielding. So much so, that when he doesn't hit, he literally becomes the worst everyday player in baseball.
The point here isn't to bash the ... wait, that's exactly the point. But it's also to point out the faulty logic of the Phillies. Because you can:
a. Take a chance on an antler-gloved fielder so long as he's something of a sure thing to hit, or
b. Take a chance on a once-great hitter if you're confident he can at least field his position with some sort of competency.
But it's completely nuts to start with the given that a player can't do anything but harm in the field, then take a chance that his awful hitting was such a fluke the previous season that it won't matter how he fields.
If the Rays or A's took a chance on Young, this column would be much different. But it's an N.L. team that took the gamble, and for it to work out, Young can't just bounce back a little. He has to storm back and have one of his best seasons with the bat to make up for his glove. Just being the same ol' Michael Young isn't going to help enough.
And that makes you wonder where the upside is with a move like this. Because half of the downside is as Ann as the nose on plain's face.