Pull up a chair, we’re about to have a little chat.
You might remember that, back in January, the Phillies signed a player named Delmon Young. The former first-overall draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003 was a free agent for the first time, but would need to miss the start of the regular season recovering from November ankle surgery. He’d hit just .267/.299/.403 over the last two seasons and had only even cracked an .800 OPS twice in his career. He was notably bad on defense – and as a result, made 116 of his 156 2012 starts as DH – and ankle surgery wasn’t about to help that.
So, naturally, Ruben Amaro thought it’d be a great idea to sign this guy to be the everyday right fielder. Great, right? Made even better by the fact that Delmon hadn’t played the position in SIX YEARS. What’s more, he was suspended in April 2012 following revelations of a drunken, anti-Semitic rant in New York City late one night following a game. Foolproof. The guy’s a clear winner.
The monetary base of the contract wasn’t terrible. Young, having just made nearly $7 million in his final season in Detroit, got a $750 thousand base salary. What was fascinating to observe was the revelation of the incentives within the deal: nearly $3 million tied to playing time and…weight. The Phillies, obviously keen on the need to be in shape to play something approaching respectable outfield defense, wanted to make sure Delmon (not exactly a svelte man) didn’t eat his way off the field and out of the lineup.
We may never know how many of his $100,000 weigh-ins Delmon passed. It’s irrelevant.
The fact of the matter is that the Phillies signed a rather reprehensible human being and solidly below-average baseball player to start regularly at a position he was, at its most generous description, unaccustomed to. Here are some quotes:
Reports are when he was a little bit of a younger player, he was at least an average, probably a plus defender in right field as he was coming through the Minor Leagues in the Tampa organization. He always had a good arm. It’s backed off a little bit since he’s been doing more DHing. There is some risk here. No question about it, but we think it’s a low-risk, high-reward [move], because the guy can hit. – Ruben Amaro, Jan. 22
Based upon what I’ve been told by our people, he’s going to catch what he gets to … The thing people don’t understand about Delmon, in my opinion, he’s a baseball player. He’s got instincts for the game. He’s a baseball rat. He’s going to find a way to get it done. – Scott Proefrock, May 2
I’ll be here all year and you get to see if you like me or not. Hopefully you guys do like me. – Delmon Young, Jan. 22
In his first plate appearance with the Phillies, on April 30 against the Indians, Young homered. He finished the day 2-for-3. After that day, until July 31, he hit .261/.303/.382 with six homers and 14 walks against 60 strikeouts in 267 plate appearances. He started four of seven games in August, collecting four hits, before finally being designated for assignment just days short of collecting his next playing time bonus.
Were we to ignore the man who was signed, the history of contemptible behavior and years of subpar performance, his stats would, in a vacuum, be somewhat acceptable for a bench player. Barely. But this is a player the front office believed could – in spite of flaws so numerous and glaring nearly every armchair GM in the Delaware Valley could see the end result coming – play every day out of position for a club that had playoff hopes. There was no repeat of 2010, the last and only above average season Young has ever had. There was no redemption of character, no reclamation of once-esteemed status as a former top prospect.
There was failure, the greatest failure in an entire offseason of failures. Not a single free agent signing panned out. There was even a trade for Michael Young. And yet the Delmon Young move stands head and shoulders above them all not just because Young was the flop we all knew he would be, but because his acquisition signified everything that is wrong with the current regime of player management. This is a staff of talent evaluators who, short of acquiring known, established elite talent through (what now appear to be fortunate) trades and paying massive free agent money, cannot assemble a competitive team. They just don’t know how. Delmon Young is the type of player they see as a regular contributor on a club with playoff aspirations, one they think can produce, when, as everyone can see through publicly available analytics and good old fashioned just-watching-him-play, he obviously cannot.
Amaro doesn’t get it. One would hope the overwhelming flop of this move and the subsequent fan reception of it would help him learn his lesson. Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.