The Philadelphia Phillies recently contacted the Texas Rangers to express an interest in infielder Michael Young, three Major League Baseball sources confirmed to ESPN.com. But the trade talks failed to yield much common ground, and discussions between the clubs are no longer active.
One source said the discussions were “brief” and amounted essentially to “tire kicking” on the part of the Phillies.
Should the Phillies have any interest in Young, who is owed $16 million in each of the next three seasons? Young has played at least 2,500 innings each at second base, third base, and shortstop over his 10-year career. Additionally, he is right-handed and has some power, two features that are noticeably absent now that Jayson Werth plays for the Washington Nationals.
Jimmy Rollins is currently in the last year of his contract and becomes a free agent at the end of the season. The Phillies may feel that Rollins’ best years are behind him given his recent struggles in terms of production and simply staying on the field. Young could supplant Rollins at shortstop, but even an injured and struggling Rollins is comparable to Young in a typical year.
Is Rollins finished, though? I debated with Mike Petriello about the issue at Baseball Prospectus.
Despite the injuries last year, Rollins was about as good as the average National League shortstop. His triple-slash line was .243/.320/.374 compared to the average .266/.325/.388. He will have had nearly four months to recuperate and should go into the 2011 season 100 percent healthy. With even a moderate bounce-back year, Rollins should find himself among the league’s top shortstops (still light years behind Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, of course).
Young’s average triple-slash line over the past three seasons is .295/.346/.451, much better than Rollins. Young’s offensive WAR, per Baseball Reference, ranged from 2.7 to 4.2 while Rollins was 1.1 to 1.5 in the last two.
Rollins, however, makes up the difference with his defense and his base running. In over 13,000 defensive innings since 2002, Rollins is at +5.3 per 150 defensive games. Young has tallied over 6,700 innings at shortstop but earned a depressing -10.2. Assuming UZR reflects actual defensive talent (which is not at all clear), the 15.5 run difference amounts to about one and a half wins.
Rollins also picks up some extra runs with his ability to run the bases.
On average, Rollins adds about an extra half-win per season than Young just by running the bases well.
In order for a Rollins-to-Young transition to work for the Phillies, Young would need to come at an amazingly low price or he would need to provide a substantial upgrade in terms of production. Neither is true.
Young could also play third base, but is he better than Placido Polanco? Young is slightly better offensively (his career .346 wOBA beats Polanco’s .334) but is, as usual, a mess defensively. Polanco earned a +11.3 UZR/150 at third base last year and has a career +10.7 mark. Young was -5.8 last year and -7.5 for his career. Even accounting for UZR’s unreliability and making a super-conservative estimate, Polanco is at least one win better just on defense.
Over the last three years, FanGraphs has Polanco at 2.8, 3.1, and 3.7 WAR for a total of 9.6 and an average of 3.2. Young earned 2.4, 3.9, and 2.7 WAR for a total of 9.0 and an average of 3.0.
Polanco is also signed to an economically-friendly contract through 2012 with a mutual option for ’13. There is no reason to push out Polanco for Young, especially when such a maneuver would involve taking on more money and giving up useful prospects and Major League players.
The only conceivable way Young fits with the Phillies if he takes over in left field, but he would provide only a marginal upgrade over Raul Ibanez. Furthermore, Young has never played an inning in the outfield during his Major League career.
Ultimately, the idea is fun to think about, but highly unrealistic. Young is a useful player but his contract makes him an undesirable trade target.