Approximately two months ago, in the wake of the bestowal of an American League Gold Glove Award upon Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young for the very first time, I wrote this speculative (and ultimately prescient) paragraph:
Does any of this amplify the difficulty of convincing the American League's reigning Gold Glove shortstop to move to third base after the 2009 season to clear room for the installation of heir apparent Elvis Andrus -- who could begin next season at Triple-A Oklahoma City -- at third base? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. Time will tell. But it's probably not going to help.
I derive absolutely no pleasure from that last sentence being correct. As a long-time fan of both Michael Young the baseball player and Michael Young the person, this whirlwind deterioration of the relationship between the apparent face of the organization and the organization itself -- a relationship which was founded on a mutual desire to reach baseball's competitive upper echelon and was consummated when Young signed his five-year, $80 million contract extension in March 2007 -- evokes the emotional gamut, from incredulity to bewilderment to disappointment. To be quite honest, this has been one of the more shell-shocking eight-hour periods of Rangers fandom I have ever experienced.
Many thousands of words are going to be printed about this stunning turn of events over the coming days, weeks, and perhaps months, although hopefully not years. It's evident that the Rangers still possess an enormous deal of respect for Young; general manager Jon Daniels was careful to repeatedly emphasize that aspect of the player-team relationship during the club's hastily organized Sunday evening press conference, even as a blossoming public relations disaster stared the organization square in the eyes.
It's entirely possible that this situation will blow over in relatively short order and hurt feelings will be set aside as spring training, the second iteration of the World Baseball Classic, and eventually Opening Day draw ever closer. It's also possible that too many bridges have already been burned by Young's fractious response to the news that the Rangers want him to immediately begin the transition to third base, and that the inevitable outcome of this very ugly (and now very public) brouhaha is a trade. The jury's still out on that possibility.
With all of that said, here are a few really, really early-morning thoughts that need to be expelled:
● Upon relaying word of Rosenthal's initial report to esteemed BBTiA co-writer Jason Parks (who, of course, knew about it already), his first words were to the general effect of, "Something's fishy." The idea that Young's agent, Dan Lozano -- whose list of clients has, at one time or another, included the likes of Rod Barajas, Tony Graffanino, Mike Piazza, Desi Relaford, and Shea Hillenbrand -- leaked the nature of Young's dissatisfaction to the press isn't at all far-fetched or unprecedented, because on the flip side, what motivation could the Rangers possibly have to leak that information themselves?
It goes without saying that Young's unhappiness with the Rangers' gentle, albeit firm request for him to begin preparing for the move to the hot corner reflects rather badly on the organization from a public relations standpoint, given the enormity of the financial commitment in play, and does nothing at all to improve the club's already tenuous relationship with its largely disgruntled fan base. There are no benefits in that regard.
Furthermore, any trade value Young might actually wield -- and I'm still not certain there's really all that much to wield in the first place -- is certain to be hampered by his adamant stance; the 32-year-old shortstop has reportedly given the Rangers a "small" list of teams he would waive his no-trade clause to join, but who knows how many of those teams actually have even the slightest modicum of interest in acquiring Young, especially as a shortstop? Remember that even though Texas has already paid roughly $18 million of that $80 million upfront over the last two seasons in the form of a bonus, $62 million is still a hefty financial commitment at a time when many major league front offices are resisting the temptation to slash payroll in light of a worsening economic situation.
The mere fact that we went nearly a month -- from shortly after the winter meetings in mid-December, when Daniels and manager Ron Washington first sat down to discuss the situation with Young, until Rosenthal's report on Sunday evening -- without finding out about any of this suggests the Rangers prioritized the concealment of this in-house conflict, and simultaneously suggests that one of Young's people was behind the media leak.
Curiously, Rosenthal's report no longer includes the reference that Young was "absolutely livid" with the Rangers' request. Debunked agent talk?
● I'm obviously not the only Rangers-centric writer questioning the logic behind the request itself; that Texas is so eager to begin Young's transition suggests two important things, the first being that the Rangers are obviously huge believers in presumptive franchise shortstop (and defensive wizard) Elvis Andrus, and the second being that the Rangers are clearly not at all confident in their internal options at third base, particularly Travis Metcalf. The organization is not alone in that determination -- I wouldn't have typed nearly 4,000 words between the first two installments of the critically acclaimed "Fixing Third Base" series if I had believed that Metcalf was an adequate solution.
Here's the thing, however: Andrus is, by most accounts, at least a half-season away from being ready for The Show, and more likely a full season away. Translating minor league statistics into major league projections remains an incredibly sketchy proposition, but Andrus's 2009 CHONE projection -- which is, to my knowledge, predicated heavily on his major league equivalency (MLE), so take it with a grain of salt -- comes out to a putrid .238/.286/.312; his 2009 Bill James projection is considerably more optimistic (.272/.316/.336), but the latter are notoriously lenient with young players. Could you live with a full season of that caliber of production out of the shortstop role in 2009? Could the Rangers? Could the fans?
Beyond Andrus, there's Joaquin Arias (who I guess might be an okay stop-gap, but he still doesn't do all that much for me), German Duran (who probably doesn't have enough range for that position), and some miscellaneous free-agent options, including the seemingly unwanted Orlando Cabrera. If, however, Young were to be traded, the short-term problem would be exacerbated; the entire left side of the infield would be liquidated, and the Rangers' reluctance to employ Metcalf at third base would still be a problem.
● One last thing before collapsing into bed for a few hours and doing this all over again in the daylight: Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote late Sunday evening that playing Chris Davis at third base and Hank Blalock at first base again "[wasn't] an option" according to Jon Daniels (not a surprise there), and suggested that a trade would "almost certainly have to produce a quality starting pitcher." To that latter proposition, I say ... well, good luck.
According to unnamed sources cited by FOXSports.com, the Rangers would seek a young third baseman in any trade involving Young, purportedly "creating the possibility of a deal with the White Sox, who could offer Josh Fields, or the Angels, who could offer Brandon Wood." Anaheim may well be on Young's list of teams he would waive his no-trade clause to join (Young's a native of southern California), but that remains an unlikely destination due to their status as a hated divisional rival.
We'll talk more about this soon, but in the meantime -- have at it.