Friday, October 30, 2009

Solving the Outfield Log Jam

After acquiring Carlos Gomez as the Center Fielder of the Future in the Johan Santana trade, because Denard Span looked like a bust, and trading Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for their Left Fielder of the Future in Delmon Young, the team seemed set. Two years later, Denard Span has become the only consistently productive outfielder of the three. With Michael Cuddyer coming off the most productive season of his career, the Twins need to decide if Young or Gomez is going to be that consistent 3rd outfielder.

For his career, Gomez has been a terrible hitter, oftentimes looking lost both at the plate and on the bases. He has outstanding speed, but this season seemed to get away from bunting. He's not a great bunter by any means, but his speed allows him to cover up less than stellar bunts and turn them into base hits. He's a career .246/.292/.346 hitter, which is admittedly terrible. However, Gomez's value comes from his elite defense. He's been one of the league's elite defensive center fielders over the last two years, and if he was able to even improve his offense next season by 10% he'd be a valuable member of the lineup. Of course, with what he's shown up to this point in his career, it seems more than generous to expect Gomez to improve at all as he's looked lost for long stretches of time.

Young, on the other hand, was acquired as the next great young hitter in baseball. Some writers foolishly called him the next Frank Robinson, and the Twins misguidedly had Delmon film a local TV commercial with some of the greatest Twins hitters in franchise history. With all the elevated expectations, it likely would have been nearly impossible for Young to meet them, but he's been incredibly awful in his first two seasons in Minnesota. Young is a career .290/.322/.416 hitter, which makes his career numbers about 15% higher than Gomez's over their young careers. According to several different defensive statistics, however, Young is among the league's worst defensive players (not just left fielders) and he was the American League's worst left fielder on the offensive side of the ball for anyone with over 360 at bats as well.

Those in favor of giving Gomez the Center Field job and moving Span to Left Field will point to Gomez's defense as their main reason, and the fact that Delmon Young is hardly a starting caliber player only helps their argument.

Those in favor of giving Young the Left Field job and keeping Span in Center will point to how lost Gomez has looked at the plate and his mental mistakes. Also, they would argue it isn't fair to compare Gomez to other Center Fielders and Young to other Left Fielders because the decision comes down to Gomez or Young in the outfield, so it's more than fair to compare their production against one another.

Personally, I want to see the Twins either trade Delmon Young if they can get something that helps the team next season, or just use him off the bench and occasionally at DH against lefties. I think the defense Gomez provides, improving both left field and center field by moving Span to left, is far more valuable than the slightly better offense Young will provide. Young has had flashes where he appears to be breaking out, but every time he has eventually regressed back to the Young we've seen for the better part of two seasons.

If the Brewers want Delmon Young and Glen Perkins for JJ Hardy, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't think that's enough for Hardy, and honestly don't have any idea what Young's trade value would be after back-to-back subpar seasons, but if he has any value left the Twins need to maximize that this off-season.