Ron Gardenhire let it slip earlier this week that, in his mind, Delmon Young is currently 4th on the Twins' OF depth chart behind Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span and Carlos Gomez. That seems strange to me considering that Young outhit Gomez by a healthy margin in 2008, though Gomez certainly has the advantage defensively by a long ways. It's also been rumored that the Twins are listening to trade offers for Young. Since his sophomore season didn't show a huge improvement over his rookie year, his stock is probably relatively low right now - not the best time for a trade. It doesn't make sense to me that the Twins would be so quick to turn around a guy who they paid a pretty high price for just last year - especially one who showed some significant improvement over the course of the season.
I started wondering if maybe there wasn't some coaching psychology going on here. Consider Young's history: #1 overall draft pick, reached the Majors a couple weeks before his 21st birthday, started all but 1 game in his first 1.5 seasons. He had such a sense of entitlement that he didn't even think he had to respect the umpires. Coming to a new team as the centerpiece of a big 6-player trade, then starting each of the first 52 games, he might have felt that he was too important to keep out of the lineup, even though he was only hitting .258/.319/.328 with 6 doubles, 4 triples and 0 HR.
But after a listless 0 for 6 during the first game of a 3-game set with the Royals, capped by a defensive miscue that turned a bloop double into a game-tying inside-the-park HR, Gardy decided Young could use a rest. The finale of that series was the first game Young didn't start since September of '06. A simple gesture - after all, everybody needs a break (even those, like Morneau, who never get one), but a significant one, too. It sent Young the message that, no matter how important everybody says he is, he's got to perform on the field if he wants to play.
From that point to the end of the season, Young hit .306/.347/.443 with 22 doubles and 10 HR. His only poor stretch came the last 2 weeks of August, after he'd injured his ankle on August 18th. Getting rest when he needed it probably helped to keep him fresh, but it also was a constant reminder that he'd better produce if wanted to play.
Why not sustain that reminder into the off-season? Rather than let Young feel confident that his substantial hitting advantage over Gomez is enough to guarantee him a starting spot next year, why not motivate him to improve the parts of his game where Gomez has the edge, namely defense and baserunning? Maybe that would make him work harder in the off-season, coming to spring training in shape, focused and ready to get better.
Check out this report from Lavelle. He seems to be thinking what I'm thinking. Apparently Young is working out hard this off-season, losing weight and getting stronger. If I'm right about the message the Twins were trying to send, it sounds like Young has received it. I wouldn't give up on him just yet.