Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: The Delmon Young trade

Delmon Young hit some
big home runs for Detroit in
the postseason.
When: Aug. 15, 2011
What: In a waiver deal, the Twins sent outfielder Delmon Young to the Detroit Tigers for right-handed pitcher Lester Oliveros and left-handed pitcher Cole Nelson.
Value: Young had 10 total win shares in 2011; he had 0.1 WAR with the Twins and -0.1 with the Tigers. Oliveros had 1 win share for the season, 0.1 WAR with the Twins. Nelson, a Minnesota native, spent the season in high-A ball.
Twins motivation: They dumped a veteran they weren't planning to retain for two young pitchers (Oliveros is 23, Nelson 22).

This deal was the white flag, the moment at which the Twins conceded that they were not making a run at another AL Central title. This was the first -- and last -- time Bill Smith traded away a veteran for prospects in mid season; his previous in-season trades had gone the other way.

Young had a bizarre season. He displayed almost no power with the Twins (slugging percentage .357), with four homers in more than 300 at-bats, but the defensive metrics depicted an excellent left fielder. He hammered eight regular season homers in less than 170 at-bats with Detroit, and the metrics paint him as a disaster in the outfield there. The Baseball Reference version of wins above replacement actually has him playing better for the Twins than with the Tigers.

So brutal was Young in the outfield with Detroit that by season's end there was speculation that the Tigers would non-tender him (which is what the Twins would likely have done had they not traded him). That didn't happen, perhaps because Young bashed another five homers during the Tigers' two playoff rounds. (He and the Tigers reached an agreement on Tuesday, avoiding an arbitration hearing, for $6.75 million.)

One interesting aspect of this trade is that Jim Leyland installed Young in the No. 3 spot in the batting order, right in front of MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. Even in 2010, in what appeared to be a breakout season, Young seldom got out of the bottom half of Ron Gardenhire's lineups.

Oliveros is in the mix for a bullpen role in 2012; like many Tigers prospects, he throws hard with uncertain control. (Baseball America says his is the best fastball in the Twins organization.) Nelson is another power arm, albeit further from the majors.

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