Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bill Smith Gives Up on Delmon Young

Earlier this year, I discussed Bill Smith's trading record as Twins' GM. For those of you who'd like a quick summary, I was not impressed. The crux of his badness grew out of the Johan Santana deal. The deal was bad itself, but subsequent deals, each with diminishing return, are what turned the deal into such a debacle. It was like every bad deal necessitated a worse one. In the same article, I discussed the Garza/Bartlett for Young/Harris deal, stating that, up to the time, the Twins had lost that deal. However, unsatisfied with the claim that they would likely be the losers of it, Bill Smith apparently took it upon himself to make sure of it.

Let's get this out of the way. Delmon Young is not going to be the star we thought he was going to be when he was selected #1 overall in 2003. For all of his physical tools, he just hasn't put it together. In 2794 plate appearances, he currently has a .289/.323/.427 slash line, below average for a corner outfielder, particularly a mediocre defensive one. It should be noted, though, that he posted the bulk of that line when most young players are in college and the minor leagues - most guys don't have 1851 PA through their age 23 season. After having what appeared to be a breakout .298/.333/.493 campaign in 2010, Young was alternately ineffective and hurt in 2011, and woke up yesterday morning hitting .266/.305/.357 on the year. A couple hours later he was a Detroit Tiger, traded for minor league pitcher Cole Nelson and a player to be named later.

Let's simplify this. A former #1 draft pick has his first very good season at age 24. The next year he gets hurt and slumps, and is traded after four months to a team within the division for a minor league reliever with a 4.87 ERA in Single A. Doesn't that seem like trading a guy when his value is lowest? Giving up on him because he didn't turn into the player Justin Upton did?

A quick look at Cole Nelson reveals a local product (the Twins DO love those) from Edina, MN, who was drafted from of Auburn Tigers in the 10th round of the 2010 draft by the Detroit Tigers. He was assigned to single A Lakeland to begin 2011, where he struggled as a starter, going 4-10 with a 5.55 ERA in 84.1 innings, striking out 68 and walking 47. In early July he was moved to the bullpen, where he has pitched better - in 17.1 innings, he has a 2.60 ERA, 19 strikeouts and only 4 walks. So, while it appears Nelson might have found a home in the bullpen, it's hard to see anything in his 2011 performance record that jumps out and says he's an acceptable return for a major leaguer. Time will tell, I suppose, but again, THAT'S Delmon Young's value right now? If there's so little market for him, why did Smith feel the need to pull the trigger?

Ah, but getting minimum value for players seems to be Smith's specialty. He got Jim Hoey for J.J. Hardy, who was the main player in return for Carlos Gomez, who was the main player in return for Johan Santana. Like I said in May, THAT, and not the much-discussed Mauer/Morneau struggles, is the main reason why the Twins stink.

Let's make this clear. I'm not saying they shouldn't have traded Young just because he was all they had to show for Matt Garza. That's over and done with, and you can't handicap yourself by making dumb moves. I'm also not saying they should have made Young untouchable, hoping that he would turn into a superstar that you can build a team around, because he's not going to. What I'm saying is that Smith doesn't seem to comprehend the notion of selling while the price is high and buying while the price is low. He bought when Young was coming off of a season when he finished 2nd for Rookie of the Year as a 21 year old. He held when Young had a breakout 2010 campaign where he compiled 68 extra base hits, and was second in the AL with 46 doubles. He sold when Young was in the middle of an injury plagued campaign where the team had fallen apart around him. Trading Young means that Smith is either panicky, foolish, or sees a lot more value in Cole Nelson than everyone else does.

Other GM's like Ed Wade and Jim Hendry have caught a lot more flak this year than Smith. While it's hard to defend the work of either of them (particularly Wade, who has been atrocious), the Minnesota Twins are the biggest disappointments of the 2011 season. Bill Smith's inability to get value in trades in the past is a big reason for that, and the Delmon Young deal indicates that he hasn't learned his lesson.

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