With Delmon Young, Phillies' risk involves more than attitude

Delmon Young's value to the Phillies apparently outweighed his issues. CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP
Delmon Young's value to the Phillies apparently outweighed his issues. CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP
Posted: January 25, 2013

When the Phillies signed free-agent outfielder Delmon Young this week for a bargain-basement one-year guarantee of $750,000, it said a lot about the organization's willingness to take risk, about the sweet rewards of forgiveness, and it also spoke a volume about the team's real feeling concerning the future of Domonic Brown.

Maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. had this move in his back pocket all along, and was just doing his homework to judge whether Young was still radioactive after a 2012 incident that included public drunkenness and an anti-Semitic rant directed toward a panhandler wearing a yarmulke and a Star of David on the streets of New York.

Young did his time in the court of public opinion. He attended sessions at the Museum of Tolerance and befriended rabbis across the country and promised that the real Delmon Young is not prejudiced and hasn't even shoved an umpire or thrown a bat at one in five or six years.

From a baseball perspective, Young's rehabilitation included earning the MVP award in the American League Championship Series, but he still couldn't do better than the lowball, incentive-laden contract he got from the Phillies.

The move is in keeping with Amaro's overriding strategy this offseason - reflected in such acquisitions as starter John Lannan and third baseman Michael Young - of seeking out players who offer the promise of reasonable reward for relatively low financial risk.

In the case of Delmon Young, however, the risk in terms of clubhouse chemistry is greater than most teams would take if they are happy enough with their rosters. That clearly is not the case with the Phillies, and Brown is the reason.

Until Young was signed, the Phillies said they would employ some sort of revolving, four-man platoon at the corner outfield positions that included Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, and Darin Ruf.

The fervent hope, as expressed by Amaro and the organization, was that Brown would grab the right-field job for himself and the three other players could sort out what happened in left field. If that seemed like a perilous plan from the outside, it must have seemed the same way from the inside as well.

For that to be the case, Brown would have to be on the field, and that hasn't been one of his strengths as he dealt with various injuries in the last three seasons. Since 2010, when Brown began his up-and-down appearances with the big-league team, he has averaged only 49 games a season with the Phillies, and his .236 major-league batting average (compared to .296 in the minors) isn't a selling point for continuing to wait for him.

Even if he could steady his career and show better production, Brown is still stubbornly lefthanded at the plate on a team that has quite enough of that already. In that regard, ceding the right-field position to Young, who bats righthanded, makes sense. Charlie Manuel would probably rather have to manage Young's temper than manage all of Brown.

That said, Young, even if fully rehabilitated socially, has shown an intolerance for fielding fly balls properly, and his arm, while strong enough for right field, isn't all that accurate. He might be the worst fielding outfielder on a team where that is a difficult distinction to attain.

Nix and Mayberry are good fielders, but no one expects either to win a regular job. Ruf has never really played the outfield, and there's a reason for that. Brown, who is most likely to be the leftfielder, is not a strong fielder. If the defensive liabilities worry you, imagine how centerfielder Ben Revere feels. He might have to cover a little ground this season.

At the plate last season, Young had decent power, but his average dipped to .267. He was mostly a designated hitter, of course, and hasn't really played right field for six seasons. Oh, here's a bonus. He had microfracture surgery on his right ankle in November and might not be ready for opening day.

On the risk-reward continuum, Young poses bigger concerns than merely his views of his fellow man. As part of his rehabilitation, Young had to pick up dog poop in a park, which he said he did unless it was too "soupy." It would be nice if Young were as selective at the plate. Last season with Detroit, he had just 20 walks in 608 plate appearances.

Amaro, as he tries to rehabilitate a roster that is aging quickly and leaking at the seams, knows that some of the chores aren't always pleasant. He would prefer an unlimited bankroll to sign a showier outfielder, but he's been sentenced to shoveling the droppings around the edges of the free-agent market.

Sometimes, a man can find salvation and new hope there, but usually it's just the droppings.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @bobfordsports. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns

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