When the Texas Rangers signed free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to a five-year, $80 million contract, it became apparent that incumbent third baseman Michael Young’s role would be diminished to that of a utility infielder, a first baseman or a designated hitter. As it stands, it looks as though Young will spend most of his time as the DH with a bit of time in the infield at all positions not named shortstop.
Young, who came up through the Rangers system as a second baseman, has been shifted twice already in his career— first to accommodate (then) second baseman Alfonso Soriano in 2004, and then to make way for defensive wizard Elvis Andrus. So he’s used to being moved around to make way for others.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Young was getting a bit tired of it, although he claims that isn’t the reason for his “misled and manipulated” comments—and to be honest, the reason why he wants a trade isn’t important. All that really matters is that he wants out, and the Rangers are attempting to move him to another organization. There’s been a lot of speculation about where he could wind up. The question is, how much trade value does Young have?
The short answer is… well, not very much. Now for the longer answer.
Young has a reputation for being a darn good hitter, and he owns a .300 average in 6,707 plate appearances, averaging 199 hits per 162 games played. He strikes out in only 15 percent of his at-bats, compared to a league rate of 17 percent, and he puts balls in play in 75 percent of his plate appearances as compared to a league average of 70 percent. So he puts the bat on the ball pretty well, and, if you’re enamored with batting average, he’s a really good hitter.
The problem is that he’s not particularly great at much else. Young walks in about 7 percent of his plate appearances, so he’s highly reliant on those balls in play landing for hits. He’s about average when it comes to hitting for power. If we want to get more technical, his career wRC+ is 105, indicating that he’s been slightly above average overall (5 percent) for the duration of his career. He hasn’t shown an overt propensity to hit in the clutch (ignoring those All-Star hits, of course), he makes productive outs at the same rate as a league average hitter, and he hits into double plays about 4 percent more than you’d expect from an average hitter. When all is said and done, he’s a deceptively unspectacular hitter, and not exactly what one would call “All-Star caliber.”
Defense isn’t considered one of Young’s strong suits. Mitchel Lichtman’s UZR rates Young as a below-average defender at both shortstop (-10 runs saved per 150 games) and third base (-8 per 150). John Dewan’s DRS has him as a -15 per 150 at short and third, and Sean Smith’s Total Zone has him at -9 and -7, respectively, at those positions. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call him a true talent -7 defender at short and -5 defender at third. I’m not confident enough in the defensive metrics to say he’s a true negative double-digit defender, but with the high level of agreement it appears that he’s likely not what we’d call “plus” with the glove.
Using Oliver’s forecasts for his age 34-36 seasons (the final years he is under contract), I estimate Young to provide approximately 4.2 WAR. This is as a second/third baseman, of course, and it suggests that he’ll be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $23 million over the next three seasons. As a shortstop, he’ll be worth roughly 5 WAR and $27 million. Lest anyone take these figures too seriously, I would like to remind you that (a) these are forecasts, which are certainly fallible—especially when projecting multiple years into the future, and (b) these are all estimates based on various assumptions (i.e., that the WAR to dollar conversion will increase by 10 percent over the next few years, that Young is an average baserunner, etc.). Despite the shortcomings of the model, it strongly suggests that Young, who makes $16 million per year for the next three years, is unlikely to come remotely close to justifying the remainder of his contract.
Young’s estimated net trade value (actual salary minus projected monetary value), if he performs as expected, will be somewhere between negative $20-25 million depending on the position he is expected to play with his new team. That said, the Rangers will likely have to eat a good portion of his contract to expect any sort of return, unless they receive a bad contract as well. Even if they eat half of Young’s contract, his surplus value will still only be about $3 million (not accounting for potential Type A or B status once he hits free agency).
What makes matters worse is that Young not only costs a fortune for a limited return, but there is a short list of teams he can be dealt to. As of now, Young has a limited no-trade clause. There are eight organizations to which he would accept a trade: Colorado, Houston, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York (the Yanks), St. Louis, and San Diego. In May, Young will receive 10-and-5 rights and can veto any deal. So the Rangers are in a bind here. From Young’s comments, it sounds like he’s ready to pack his bags and get out of Dodge—so the destination might not necessarily be a major issue. But it’s another potential obstacle to keep in mind.
If the Rangers hope to get anything in return for the six-time All-Star, they’ll most likely have to eat a bunch of his contract. Even then, Young isn’t going to get the Rangers a player with considerable talent. Trading Young will be difficult, but… hey, he’s no Vernon Wells.