The Chris Young Conundrum


The 2012 season hadn’t even ended before the Oakland Athletics made their first deal of their offseason.  Just another trade in a series of deals over the years between the A’s and the Arizona Diamondbacks brought outfielder Chris Young to Oakland for shortstop Cliff Pennington and minor leaguer Yordy Cabrera.  It was a curious move at the time, considering the presumed establishment in the outfield for the A’s, but as the offseason progressed the plan became more and more clear as the Young addition played into the theme of versatility Billy Beane was executing.

June 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics designated hitter Chris Young (25) in the dugout against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the New York Yankees 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Young has been a dynamic and talented, but inconsistent player throughout his career with the Diamondbacks.  The highs he displayed were enough to make him an appealing target on the trade market, and Billy Beane quickly pulled the trigger.  We are all seeing the lows in 2013 as unfortunately things haven’t turned out like the Athletics envisioned.

Firstly, the major question coming into this season was exactly how Bob Melvin would find enough playing time for 5 starting caliber outfielders in Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Chris Young, and Seth Smith.  That hasn’t been a problem as Melvin’s expertise in massaging the lineup on a daily basis and the inevitable injuries has allowed for plenty of playing time for all involved.  Young has had all the opportunities in the world to prove himself to the Athletics and earn his $11 million salary that’s the highest on the Athletics payroll.

Young has 184 plate appearances thus far in 2013, and has posted a disappointing .184/.272/.362 slash line with 6 home runs.  His wRC+ of 74 falls well below any number he’s posted since the 73 in his rookie season with the Diamondbacks in 2006.  He does have a rather low BABIP of .202 that indicates he has suffered from some plain old bad luck at times, but that doesn’t come close to excusing his poor production this year.

An obvious explanation for his struggles this year would be the fact that for the first time in his career he’s had to play other positions besides his native center field.  The perils of adjusting to new challenges in the field may perhaps have had some adverse effects on his work at the plate.  Certainly we have seen his struggles in the field on a number of misplays on what should have been routine fly balls that were not caught.

So what are the A’s to do with Chris Young?  At this point it seems like we have the age old round hole-square peg situation.  Chris Young is a talented player, but perhaps his talents simply cannot be fully utilized in Oakland.  The obvious solution then would be to put Young out on the trade market and send him somewhere he can be useful and turn him into some other useful piece for the Athletics.  Good idea in theory, but chances are that won’t be quite so easy.

Young’s value has to be at an all-time low, he’s expensive, struggling, and headed for free agency after the 2013 campaign.  What team would want an $11 million outfielder who HAS to play center field in order to succeed?  I don’t foresee 29 GM’s lining up outside Billy Beane’s office to acquire his services.

Perhaps Beane could convince he Houston Astros to part with Bud Norris or Jose Altuve, two players who could legitimately help the Athletics by selling them on Young’s spectacular numbers at Minute Maid Park in his hometown.  They’ve spent the last two years being the laughing stock of Major League Baseball, perhaps the idea of adding a hometown hero to help bridge the gap between the current roster and the undeniably talented farm system the Astros are building for the future.  It makes sense on a number of levels for both teams.

There is no clear answer to this question.  The A’s know they have a good player in Chris Young, but the chance remains that he may not ever show the talent he possesses while in green and gold. I like the idea of having a player like Young on the roster, and I think he can be a good player but if they can’t make it work in Oakland they need to make a difficult decision.  As they sit atop the AL West, ahead of the Texas Rangers by two games despite losing the first two of a 3 game series with the Seattle Mariners, the Athletics have to do everything in their power to stay in that position.  And they need to figure out the best way to use their most expensive player, be it on the field, or on the trade market.