Saturday, December 8, 2012

Let The Phillies Get Older With Michael Young

There is an old adage in baseball that says pitching wins championships.  The San Francisco Giants can attest to that, as they've won two titles in three years on the strength of their stellar starting rotation and deep bullpen.  But while pitching wins titles, it's youth that keeps teams playing for championships.

After winning four World Series in five seasons from 1996 to 2000 with a number of homegrown players who were still in their 20s (Jeter, Williams, Posada, Pettitte, Rivera), the Yankees have managed just one championship over the past 12 seasons.  Basically, they've become too old to compete with the young studs in places like Detroit and Texas.  Heck, they barely beat out Baltimore in the regular season and ALDS, while allowing Tampa to win two division titles over the past five seasons.

Similarly, the Phillies won five consecutive division titles from 2007 to 2011, but could only manage a .500 record in 2012.  All that success earned them one World Series trophy.  In 2012, the Phillies had 17 players play in at least 70 games.  None of them were younger than age 28 and all but two of them were at least 31 years of age.  In addition, Cliff Lee (age 33) and Roy Halladay (age 35) both spent time on the disabled list, combining to make 55 starts, winning only 17 of them.

Here's a sign that the Phillies are an old, fragile team.  Carlos Ruiz, their recently caught-with-PEDs catcher, finished fifth on the team in games played.  That's a catcher who gets day games after night games off, spending more time on the field than all but four players on the team.

So are the Phillies looking to get any younger this year, especially after seeing the youth movement in Washington lead to a major league-leading 98 wins for the Nationals during the 2012 regular season?

Uh, not exactly.

Many sources, including MLB Trade Rumors, are reporting that the Phillies have just completed a trade with the Texas Rangers for the services of third baseman Michael Young, who has decided to waive his no-trade clause to leave the only team he has played for in the major leagues.

For those who are not aware of Michael Young's career, he is a former Gold Glove winner (2008) and seven-time All-Star.  He is also Texas' all-time leader in hits, as well as games played, at-bats, runs scored, singles, doubles, triples, total bases and sacrifice flies.

Translation?  He's old.

In addition to getting up there in years, the 36-year-old Young just completed one of the worst seasons of his career.  After hitting a career-high .338 for the pennant-winning Rangers in 2011, Young's average dropped dramatically to .277, his lowest mark in ten years.  His 27 doubles were also his lowest total since 2002, as were his 67 RBI and .312 on-base percentage.  Young's eight home runs, two stolen bases and .370 slugging percentage in 2012 all represented career-lows.  And I haven't even mentioned his horrid -2.4 WAR from last season, which includes his fourth consecutive sub-zero dWAR, a number that should become five straight playing in a non-DH league in 2013.  (Oops.  Guess I just did mention it.)

Young's 2012 numbers are what you would have expected from him had he spent time on the disabled list, missing a significant portion of the season.  Instead, those numbers are what Young produced in a season in which he played 156 games and collected 611 at-bats.  But of course, the Phillies would love to have him and his $16 million salary for 2013 (although Texas would be paying a portion of that hefty salary).

The Phillies recently signed Cole Hamels to a contract extension that will keep him in Philadelphia through 2018 with a team option for the 2019 season.  Cole Hamels will turn 36 in 2019.  They also have Cliff Lee signed through the 2015 season, with a vesting option for 2016, a year in which the southpaw will turn 38.  Ryan Howard is signed to a monster contract that will keep the rapidly declining slugger in red through his 37th birthday, the same age Jimmy Rollins will be if his option vests in 2015.

Perhaps the reason why the Phillies are trying so desperately to bring in Michael Young is because Citizens Bank Nursing Home needs another resident to replace Shane Victorino (who was a relatively young 31 years of age when the Phillies traded him to the Dodgers this past summer).  Or maybe it's just that they really miss Scott Rolen.

The Phillies are going all out to acquire Michael Young.  But a 36-year-old Young is still no 26-year-old Rolen.

Since Scott Rolen was shipped out of Philly at the trade deadline in 2002, the third baseman has been a member of six division champions, two pennant winners and one World Series champion.  In the ten years since he played his last game as a Phillie, Rolen has also won five Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team six times.  Meanwhile, the roll call of Phillies' third basemen since Rolen's departure has included names like David Bell, Abraham Nuñez, Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, Pedro Feliz, Placido Polanco and Kevin Frandsen.  In other words, the Phillies have yet to find a long-term replacement for Scott Rolen, who was the closest thing they've had to Mike Schmidt since ... Mike Schmidt.

Michael Young, all three dozen years of him and coming off the worst full season of his career, is now the Phillies' new third baseman.  And with Young only signed through the 2013 season, the Phillies may be looking for yet another player to man the hot corner in 2014, assuming they don't continue their recent tradition of signing 30-something players to multi-year extensions.

Let Ruben Amaro continue to throw money at players who will be collecting their first social security checks shortly.  I'd rather take my chances with our recently-signed third baseman.  I'm sure the Phillies would love to have him right about now.  Then again, David Wright is probably too young for the Phillies anyway.

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