Area of Need: 4th Outfielder & Right-Handed Hitter
Status: Free Agent
Availability: 1 year/$5 m range
The Arizona Diamondbacks probably got a little ahead of themselves when they inked Chris Young to a 6-year deal after his 2007 rookie season. Granted, Young did hit 32 homeruns and swipe 27 bases as a rookie but his on-base percentage (.295) was less than impressive and the Diamondbacks perhaps rushed into a move before they had to make it. Arizona most definitely believed that Young’s rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg but it turned out that what the Diamondbacks got from Young in 2007 was exactly what they were always going to get. Young was and is a low average hitter who can take a walk (10.0% career walk rate), and has some nice pop (.196 career ISO).
Arizona unloaded Young to the A’s prior to the 2013 season and he was more or less the same player in Oakland that he was in Arizona. His overall numbers were down but the Oakland Coliseum no doubt contributed to that (.718 OPS away compared to .606 at home in 2013). The A’s inherited the Diamondbacks’ 2014 option on Young for $11 m. Today Oakland officially declined their option on the outfielder.
So why should the Orioles be interested in Young? For one, even if Young’s offensive production stayed at 2013 levels he still provides positive value due to his defense. Young is a centerfielder by trade but hopped around a bit in the outfield with Oakland. UZR ranked him highly in centerfield while with the Diamondbacks but slightly below in center this past season which could just be a sample size issue. Young has the reputation of a solid defender, which is essential for a someone in the 4th outfielder role. Secondly as noted before, Young’s production dipped moving from a hitter’s park in Arizona to a pitcher’s park in Oakland. Put him in Camden Yards and the other hitter’s parks in the AL East and I would be surprised if the improvement was not noticeable.
Last is the fact that Young has never been platooned during his career – he often has had more at bats facing RHP than LHP – but he probably should be. Chris holds a career OPS platoon split of .837/.710 and he usually carries a .100+ OPS platoon spread each season. He is not helpless against versus RHP but to maximize his production his playing time against them should probably be limited more than it has been so far in his career. The problem is that Young has largely been used as a regular throughout his eight MLB seasons. Right-handed batters that are viewed as regulars tend to be thrown out against any pitcher. If Young shifts to a 4th outfielder role – and ideally he would do that on the Orioles – his team should be able to control who he faces a bit better thereby upping his value.
I am sort of taking a shot in the dark by putting Young on a 1 year/$5 m contract. I think that enough teams will be looking at Young as a starter to push his contract into the range, but I wouldn’t necessarily be shocked if it takes less than that to acquire him. Another obstacle is that Young will almost certainly be looking for a starting role, but the Orioles have some leverage there. While they cannot exactly guarantee him a starting spot, neither can most teams (certainly most contending teams cannot). The Orioles do have an open spot in left field that could be used to sell Young on joining the organization, even if the hope would be to use him more as a 4th outfielder.
Outlook: Possibility – The Orioles have to decide what they want to do for left field. Given their track record and the quality of player available via free agency, it is unlikely they sign a big free agent to fill the void. A trade (such as for Nori Aoki) is a possibility, but so is a platoon in left-field. To that end, Young would make sense as the right-handed component of a LF platoon with either a re-signed Nate McLouth or Henry Urrutia. The question will be whether Young’s asking price stays low enough to make him a realistic 4th outfielder signing for the Birds.