02/07/11 4:00 PM EST
Young's future with Rangers remains up in air
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
Everybody has an opinion, a story or a scoop, all fueled by agenda-driven speculation that Young is unhappy in Texas because he was asked to move to designated hitter after the club signed free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. Young, who missed the Mid-Winter Banquet because of the flu, has maintained a low profile this past month after publicly saying that he would be willing to make the switch because he wanted to stay in Texas.Since then, the Rangers' public position is that Young remains a valuable member of the organization and they expect him to be with the club on Opening Day. That's still almost two months away. Manager Ron Washington said at FanFest, "Michael Young is the straw that stirs the drink in Texas." Washington said that Young, "is still going to be my primary DH." Club president Nolan Ryan echoed that sentiment, saying, "He is going to be our DH on Opening Day." Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said in the final week of January that there are no plans to trade Young. The story does not go away and likely won't even if Young is there in Surprise, Ariz., for the first full-squad workout on Feb. 20. The opening of Spring Training is not likely to change anything as long as Young is assigned the role of designated hitter and "super utility" infielder. The three most discussed stories in Spring Training will be Josh Hamilton's contract, Neftali Feliz's role on the pitching staff and Young's future with the Rangers. Unless something unforeseen arises, all other story lines shrink to insignificance. The situation with Hamilton and Feliz will ultimately be resolved one way or another by Opening Day. Young's situation could smolder well into the season. By mid-May, he will have spent 10 years in the Major Leagues -- all with the Rangers -- making him a 10-and-5 player. That means he can't be traded without his consent, but actually means almost nothing. In no way will that be considered the end of the story. Jim Sundberg and Buddy Bell were two of the most popular players in club history and both qualified as 10-and-5 players when they were traded by the Rangers toward the end of their careers. No-trade clauses can be easily overcome or tossed aside if the situation warrants. The bigger impediment is Young is owed $48 million over the next three years. It is highly unlikely that a club would be willing to trade for him without the Rangers picking up a significant portion of the salary. The Rockies are among the teams that have made it clear that they want the Rangers to pick up a big part of the contract. That remains a huge obstacle for any trade. Young has made it clear he wants to remain with the Rangers. That is why he agreed -- reluctantly or begrudgingly -- to move to designated hitter when the Rangers signed Beltre. The plan was for Young to get 80 percent of his at-bats at designated hitter and the rest at other infield positions. That includes first base, the only infield position he hasn't played in the Major Leagues. At the time, though, Young also made it clear that he hadn't given up hope of being an everyday defensive player again. That was when the Rangers signed Beltre in the first week of January. That was before the Rangers investigated the possibility of signing free-agent designated hitters Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. That was also before Jan. 25, the date the Rangers sent reliever Frank Francisco to the Blue Jays for catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, a right-handed hitter with some power who could theoretically be used at DH. In making the trade, Daniels made it clear that acquiring Napoli had nothing to do with Young. Two days after the trade, Daniels said the Rangers wouldn't trade Young. That has satisfied almost nobody. But with Thome and Ramirez having signed elsewhere and Vladimir Guerrero having reached an agreement with the Orioles, there is no big bat left on the market that could fill the Rangers' hole at designated hitter if Young were to be traded. The idea of Napoli filling the spot could be a stretch. He hit .238 with 26 home runs and 68 RBIs in a career-high 140 games and 453 at-bats last season for the Angels. But he hit .208 with a .277 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage against right-handers. His best role appears to be a right-handed-hitting complement to left-handed-hitting first baseman Mitch Moreland, a pinch-hitter and possibly a No. 1 catcher if something long term were to happen to Yorvit Torrealba. Without Napoli, the Rangers would have to fall back on Matt Treanor and Taylor Teagarden as their catchers if something were to happen to Torrealba. When the Rangers found themselves in a similar situation last year, they traded reliever Chris Ray and Minor League pitcher Michael Main to the Giants for Bengie Molina. There is also nothing that says Young can't beat out Moreland and be the Rangers' everyday first baseman. But the stated plan now is for Moreland to be the Rangers' first baseman. There was a time when it would have been unthinkable to trade Young. When he agreed to his five-year, $80 million contract extension in Spring Training of 2006, there were the usual statements about Young being, "a Ranger for life," and "retiring as a Ranger." He was supposed to be the "face of the franchise." But there is a long list of Rangers "icons" who departed the franchise under unceremonious conditions. Sundberg and Bell were just two. Of the 20 players who have played the most games in Rangers history, 12 were traded away by the club. Besides Sundberg and Bell, the others were Juan Gonzalez, Toby Harrah, Ruben Sierra, Pete O'Brien, Steve Buechele, Dean Palmer, Mike Hargrove, Bump Wills, Mark Teixeira and Billy Sample. Two others were released: Larry Parrish and Pete Incaviglia. Four left as free agents: Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, Hank Blalock and Geno Petralli. The Rangers did not receive Draft pick compensation in any of those cases, including both times that Palmeiro and Rodriguez left as free agents. They also didn't receive compensation when Gonzalez left the second time as a free agent. That leaves Rusty Greer, who retired as a Ranger, and Young. Sundberg, Bell and Harrah all retired with the Rangers after being re-acquired late in their careers. Young remains with the Rangers at this point. So do the trade rumors and speculation. Pitchers and catchers report in 10 days, but that is hardly likely to be the end of it.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.