Friday, February 18, 2011

Don't Extend Delmon Young


On Wednesday the Twins and outfielder Delmon Young agreed on a 1-year contract worth $5.375MM to avoid arbitration. Many fans have been clamoring for the team to lock Young up long-term, and I think that reason is because these fans are blindly clinging to the hope that Young is on his way to becoming a superstar.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: He's not going to be a superstar. He's unlikely to ever be an all-star. But he is going to be expensive to lock up at this point, because he hit 21 home runs and had 112 RBI last year. Obviously those stats are outdated and seemingly useless as far as evaluating production, but some fans are unwilling to accept the new stats and still look at home runs and RBI.

I have been admittedly hard on Delmon Young on this blog. It's not because I don't like him or I want him to fail, but rather because both the Twins organization and fans of the team seem certain Young is a good player now on his way to becoming a great player.

Young will only be 25 when the season begins, so improvement isn't out of the question. He improved significantly last year at the plate and in the field. He was still a below average defensive left fielder and his offensive output was only slightly above average, as he hit .298/.333/.493 good for an OPS of .826. Left fielders as a whole hit .270/.337/.432, good for an OPS of .770. (I realize .337 + .432 is .769, but the decimals round it to .770) Young was about 8% better offensively than the average left fielder last season.

However, Young has hit .292/.328/.443 in three seasons with the Twins, which is good for an OPS of .771. That means offensively he's been average, while defensively he's gone from the league's worst outfielder to slightly below average.

Extending Young now would be a colossal mistake, because right now Young's price tag is fairly high. Making over $5MM this year is a direct result of his contract when he was drafted, because his production to this point certainly does not suggest deserving a $5MM contract. But because he made more than the minimum his first three years, and he received a raise every year of arbitration, he's making over $5MM in his final arbitration year.

There's of course a chance that Young continues to improve, posts something like a .310/.350/.500 line and becomes slightly more valuable but probably a lot more expensive. If I were to guess right now I'd say Young and his agent are looking at something like a three or four-year deal worth $9-$10MM a season. That's simply too much to pay.

A great comparison to Delmon Young is Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer's best season came in his sixth year, which for Young will be this coming season. Over his first five seasons, Cuddyer hit .260/.330/.428, which is a .758 OPS. Then in his sixth season he broke out, hitting .284/.362/.504. (.867 OPS) The Twins then signed Cuddyer to his current deal, which is paying him $11.5MM in the final year. Most fans agree Cuddyer is overpaid, which is true. Since signing the extension, Cuddyer has hit .271/.343/.446 posting a .789 OPS, which is very similar to the league average for right fielders over the same time period. (Right fielders have averaged a .276/.351/.437 line, or .788 OPS over the last four years) And that's not even factoring in the majority of time he spent at first base the last year and a half, which is an even more offense-heavy position.

Over Young's first five seasons, he has hit .292/.325/.435, good for an OPS of .760. That's basically the exact production Cuddyer provided in his first five seasons. If history repeats itself, the team will see Young breakout in a big way in 2011, receive a large extension and then regress slightly. Young is almost certainly going to be more productive over the next six years than he was in his first five, but the problem is he's likely going to be paid much more than he's worth.

For Young to be in the upper echelon of left fielders, he's either going to need to miraculously become a good defensive left fielder or post an OPS north of .875 consistently. Neither seems like a safe bet to me, which is why I would let Young play out his final season in Minnesota this year and then let him walk and cripple a different teams payroll over the next half-decade.