Making the Best of a Bad Situation: What Texas Should Do to Resolve Michael Young Mess
Photos by Sam Merten
Even before Michael Young demanded to be traded, the likelihood that he'd swap uniforms before the expiration of his contract in 2013 seemed like a long shot at best. Despite a résumé that includes six All-Star nods, a batting title, an (undeserved) Gold Glove and five consecutive seasons of more than 200 hits, his $16 million annual salary has proven to be simply too much dough for another club to absorb. It's hardly surprising in this economic environment to see teams running scared of the remaining $48 million he's scheduled to be paid during the next three years.
However, that doesn't mean general manager Jon Daniels should be blamed for signing Young in March 2007 to a five-year, $80 million contract extension. Daniels faced the prospect of losing both Young and Mark Teixeira when they became free agents at the end of the 2008 season, and he did what he felt he had to do at the time. With Pudge and Alex Rodriguez long gone, Daniels ensured the team held on to someone who could be the face of the franchise.
Keeping Young and trading Teixeira four months later turned out to be brilliant moves, as Young further cemented himself as a clubhouse leader and shepherded a young team in transition, which included Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and others received in the Teixeira deal. And the contract Daniels handed Young just so happened to be market value.
Only months before the Young extension, Vernon Wells, Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito inked massive long-term contracts. Torii Hunter and Carlos Zambrano also hit the jackpot months later. A look-see at the numbers shows Young was probably the best signing of the bunch, especially when you consider he was a shortstop at the time, although Lee and Hunter aren't far behind him.
Soriano (November 2006)
Contract: eight years, $136 million ($18 million per year)
Avg. stats during contract: .271 BA, 26 HR, 70 RBI (four seasons)
Lee (November 2006)
Contract: six years, $100 million ($16.7 million per year)
Avg. stats during contract: .289, 28 HR, 102 RBI (four seasons)
Wells (December 2006)
Contract: seven-year, $126 million extension ($18 million per year)
Avg. stats during contract: .275, 22 HR, 77 RBI (three seasons)
Note: dealt from Toronto to Anaheim this offseason in what amounted to a salary dump
Zito (December 2006)
Contract: seven years, $126 million ($18 million per year)
Stats during contract: 40-57 record, 4.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP (four seasons)
Note: demoted to the bullpen briefly in 2008 and kept off last year's postseason roster
Young (March 2007)
Contract: five-year, $80 million extension ($16 million per year)
Avg. stats during contract: .301, 22 HR, 80 RBI (two seasons)
Zambrano (August 2007)
Contract: five-year, $91.5 million extension ($18.3 million per year)
Stats during contract: 34-19 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.36 WHIP (three seasons)
Note: demoted to the bullpen briefly last year after he was suspended indefinitely for a dugout altercation with Derrek Lee
Hunter (November 2007)
Contract: five years, $90 million ($18 million per year)
Avg. stats during contract: .285, 22 HR, 86 RBI (three seasons)
With 1,152 hits needed to join the coveted 3,000-hit club, Young could get there by averaging 165 hits per year during the next seven seasons, which is attainable since he's averaged 195 hits during the last nine seasons. Of course, he'd have to remain relatively healthy and continue to produce during the seventh year, at which point he'd be 40 years old.
Oddly enough, moving to full-time designated hitter would assist in him getting there, but Young clearly doesn't see himself in that role just yet. He's also likely to have his eyes on capping off his career as a Hall of Famer, and sitting on the bench while his teammates take the field isn't going to help his cause.
If Young were a free agent this offseason, he'd probably receive something around half his current annual pay, which is why he's unmovable. But it's important to understand that Young's fat deal was necessary and represented his value at the time it was signed.
Of course, this puts Daniels in somewhat of a bind now that Young wants out. There's no way he can find a taker without eating a large chunk of Young's salary and receiving less than his value in return because his history with the franchise makes him worth more to the Rangers than any other team. The ability to deal him to just eight teams per his limited no-trade clause doesn't help the situation much either.
So, Young and the Rangers appear to be stuck with each other, even though Young claimed he was misled by the organization and Daniels voiced his frustration about Young attacking his integrity. Young is seemingly pushing aside the matter thus far in spring training, but there's a way to repair this marriage.
Trade Ian Kinsler.
While it wouldn't be a popular move in the clubhouse, it's a way to stick Young back at second base and improve the ballclub.
Unlike Young, Kinsler's signed to a reasonable contract -- $6 million this year, $7 million in 2012 and a $10 million club option for 2013 that can be bought out for a measly $500,000 -- and is in his prime at 28 years old. He's also a two-time All-Star, has improved defensively and is one season removed from slugging 31 homers and swiping 31 bags (strangely, a year he didn't make the All-Star squad).
However, Kinsler has played more than 130 games just once (144 in 2009) after landing on the disabled list for ailments including a dislocated thumb, sports hernia, groin strain and sprained ankle. While he's not the only fragile player on the team (see Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz), it's best to minimize the amount of players on the club with lengthy injury histories. After all, Kinsler's knack for finding his way to the DL on an annual basis was one of the reasons why Young was expected to spend some time at second base this year.
There would be significantly more interest in Kinsler on the trade market compared to Young, so finding a trading partner wouldn't be cumbersome, and the Rangers could target a polished young starter to add to the rotation in return.
Turns out such a hurler could be had for the right price: Minnesota Twins southpaw Francisco Liriano, who's reportedly available because of the team's depth and unwillingness to spend the money to retain him long term. Like Kinsler, he's an injury risk, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2006. But the upside is too much to pass up.
Before missing 2007 following his surgery, Liriano dominated the American League as a 22-year-old, posting a 12-3 record, 2.16 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while striking out 144 hitters in 121 innings. After a rough 2009 season, Liriano bounced back last year to win 14 games with a 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 201 strikeouts. Liriano, 27, is also affordable and under club control for two more seasons before he becomes a free agent, recently avoiding arbitration by inking a one-year, $4.3 million deal.
He'd be a great addition to a rotation led by 30-year-old C.J. Wilson, who pitched more innings last year (204) than the three previous seasons combined, and 31-year-old Colby Lewis, who experienced his first success in the big leagues last year after spending the previous two seasons in Japan. Liriano would not only give the Rangers starter with superior stuff and talent to Wilson and Lewis, but it would ease the pressure of expecting Brandon Webb to return to his Cy Young form or Neftali Feliz moving into the rotation from the bullpen.
The DH role could then become a platoon between Mike Napoli (against left-handed pitchers) and David Murphy (against righties), with the oft-injured Hamilton and Cruz occasionally taking a day off from the field. Free agent Nick Johnson could also be signed as insurance.
With the status of former MVPs Joe Mauer (knee) and Justin Morneau (concussion) unknown, Kinsler would be a welcome addition to Minnesota's lineup. Part-timer Jim Thome led the team with 25 home runs last year, and only two other players managed more than 20 (Delmon Young and Jason Kubel). And Denard Span and newcomer Tsuyoshi Nishioka are the only ones capable of stealing a base with any regularity.
The move would also bolster the team's infield, allowing current projected shortstop Alexi Castilla to become a backup as he should be, with Nishioka moving from second to shortstop -- the position he played during his career in Japan.
Even if a swap for Liriano isn't a match, Daniels could explore other ways to upgrade the rotation by dealing Kinsler. The Rangers currently have the third-best rotation in the AL West, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim featuring an impressive group of veterans led by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and the Oakland A's trotting out an improving young staff that includes Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill.
Young won't support trading his buddy and isn't likely to bury the hatchet with Daniels just because he opened up a spot for him at second base, but it would be an olive branch of sorts to keep Young on the field full time for the remainder of his contract. And, most important, the right trade would improve the team.
While Young's current trade demand is fueled by more anger than his previous request to be dealt two years ago when he was asked to move to third base for Elvis Andrus, that situation proved the two sides can kiss and make up. Since Young's contract is unmovable, why not accept the reality that he's here to stay and make that process easier by throwing him a bone and handing him his old position back if a trade involving Kinsler can be made?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.