Phillies take a chance on Delmon Young

CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Delmon Young could be the Phillies' everyday rightfielder, if his off-field issues are behind him.
CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Delmon Young could be the Phillies' everyday rightfielder, if his off-field issues are behind him.
Posted: January 24, 2013

IN THE first decade of their existence, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays finished in last place nine times and routinely had high picks in each June's amateur draft.

This winter, two former Rays' No. 1 overall picks hit the free-agent market. Both have had off-the-field issues that nearly killed their respective careers.

Josh Hamilton signed a $125 million contract last month with the Los Angeles Angels.

Delmon Young signed a $750,000 contract on Tuesday with the Phillies.

"I've done some things where there is a reason for it," said the 27-year-old Young, who is suddenly the odds-on favorite to win the Phils' starting rightfield job. "If I went out there and was an All-Star 6 years in a row and was healthy and a model citizen, that wouldn't have happened. That's where I'm looking to make a change."

According to MLB.com, Young, the top pick in the 2003 draft, can earn an additional $3.5 million in incentives in his contract. But Young, who won ALCS MVP honors last fall with the Detroit Tigers, signed for less guaranteed money than Laynce Nix will be paid this season.

The Phillies, who once scooped Jayson Werth off the free-agent scrap heap and struck gold, are betting that Young's troubles are in the past and that his veteran bat can add much-needed production to the outfield.

"We did a lot of due diligence on what kind of person he is," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I think more than anything else, the conclusion we came up with is he made a mistake, and whatever is written about him in the past doesn't really depict the kind of person he is. Obviously, we want to have good character guys in our clubhouse, and I think he's going to be one."

Young broke into the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2006, the same year he drew a 50-game suspension for throwing a bat at a home plate umpire during a minor league game. He was traded from Tampa before the 2008 season and has spent the last five seasons between Minnesota and Detroit.

While with the Tigers last April on a road trip to New York, an intoxicated Young was arrested outside the team hotel after allegedly shoving a man to the ground and making anti-Semitic remarks. Young was suspended by Major League Baseball for 7 days and just recently completed community service in New York.

"I didn't like cleaning up dog poop," Young said inside the Phillies clubhouse. "It was a dog park and people don't clean up after their dogs sometimes and we're left to. A lot of times, I just stared at it, because it was too soupy. But that put some perspective on things, too."

For the Phillies, it's a low-risk signing. The worst-case scenario is that Young has some kind of incident this spring and the team releases him before the season, losing $750,000.

The best-case is that Young, motivated to get his career back on track, puts together a season like he had in 2010 with the Twins. Young, a career .284 hitter, batted .298 with an .826 OPS, 21 home runs and 112 RBI, finishing 10th in the American League MVP voting.

Last season, Young hit .267 with a .296 OBP, 18 home runs and 74 RBI in 151 games with Detroit.

If he's healthy - he did have microfracture surgery on his right ankle in November - Young would at least give the Phillies a proven bat in the corner outfield, something they didn't have before Tuesday. If Young is slated to play right every day, which Amaro said was the ideal plan, a combination of Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf and John Mayberry Jr. figures to compete this spring for the leftfield job.

But perhaps more risky than his off-the-field incidents is Young's ability to play in the field. He played only 31 games in the outfield last season, when he was primarily used as a designated hitter. He hasn't played in leftfield since 2007.

When you factor in that neither Brown nor Ruf is known for his outfield play, the defense in the corner outfield spots could be an issue.

"Oh yeah, we're concerned about it, there's no question about it," Amaro said. "But we're hopeful that he can come back . . . this is not an old player. He's been around a lot. But he's got a lot to prove. Getting back and playing in the outfield is one of the things he wants to do. I think he feels a lot more comfortable in rightfield. He was admittedly uncomfortable playing leftfield and he did not play leftfield very well. We're hoping he can get back and play his natural position at a much higher level."

Young is still rehabbing from surgery, and Amaro allowed that there was at least the chance he could start the season on the disabled list if he's not fully recovered. But when he does get on the field, Young will have the opportunity to get what was supposed to be an All-Star-caliber career on track.

Young signed for $6 million less than he earned with Detroit last season.

"My motivation is getting to go out, play the field and contribute to a winning team," Young said. "You get to contribute for a team that is more than about stats and collecting paychecks. We have some guys here that, day in and day out, are going to bust their butt. You want to be one of those guys that come in and be reliable."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|