When Ruben Amaro went dumpster diving this week to take a flyer on Delmon Young, it wasn't a surprising or out-of-character move for him or for a team looking for lightning in a bottle at a thin position a few weeks before spring training starts. The move probably would have received little notice or reflection but for the comments made by Amaro setting Delmon Young up as the everyday right fielder "in a perfect world."
The Phillies are an enterprise with a value close to a billion dollars and revenues and expenses of hundreds of millions. The most important employees in the organization are the players. Not the fungible pieces parts players like Laynce Nix and John Lannan, but the important players who either (1) make an enormous amount of money (like Ryan Howard) or (2) provide an enormous amount of value inexpensively (like Carlos Ruiz).
Players who could potentially provide enormous value inexpensively are also quite important. They could be worth a lot or they could be worth nothing, and there is a large range of middle ground as well.
Domonic Brown is one of those "potential" wild cards. He is an important and exceptionally valuable piece of the Phillies enterprise right now. His value to the team, if he can produce 5 seasons of 3 WAR for essentially nothing, could have a net present value of something like $100,000,000.00. Discounting that for uncertainty and risk may make him worth somewhere on the order of $50,000,000.00 or something else altogether. The actual discount rate and present value number is less important than the idea that the contractual rights to Domonic Brown's baseball career are likely to be worth eight figures. He is also a player that the Phillies absolutely refused to give up over a drunken binge of prospect "spending" that has lasted for several years. That binge not only resulted in the team chewing off its leg the morning it realized it bagged Hunter Pence last night on the way home from the bar, but it also made the development of Brown that much more important.
Does any organization with an asset worth $50,000,000.00 treat it in any way other than with careful consideration and reflection? Do you treat it cautiously and with the respect you would use if you were holding a Van Gogh painting, or do you just "wing it?" Brown is not just some guy operating a register at McDonalds. Managing him in a way that maximizes the chance of him succeeding would seem to be a critically important task.
So...do you have your most important management representative make off-the-cuff statements just for fun, especially when those statements will clearly have an effect on the employee? No. You carefully think about the statements you make in public and you calculate them to have the maximum possible effect. If you do not, then you are a reckless fool not fit for the job. This latter thought is a possibility in some baseball organizations, but not from what I have seen from Amaro. His decisions and outcomes may be poor at times, but he is not a loose cannon who has a twitter hashtag of #shitamarosays.
Why did the Phillies choose to set up Delmon Young, a recent dumpster dive, as the starter in right field, even with the limiting caveat of, "in a perfect world"? Why? For the love of god, why?
Well, maybe they didn't. Maybe the statement was just a hope that Delmon Young would rebound into a worthwhile player. That is certainly...possible. I can't understand why the Phillies would play him in right field, though, as opposed to left field, which is where the worst outfielder is usually played. Instead, Amaro came out in public and put Delmon Young in right. It doesn't play the way I see Amaro operating. I don't think it was a "gee, wouldn't it me nice..." statement. It had to be something more.
Right field is where Domonic Brown played last year. Center can rationally only be played by the recently acquired Ben Revere, unless the Phillies sign Michael Bourn, which seems unlikely given the "we'll play with what we've got" pronouncements of Amaro lately. In left, it appears that Brown is in the mix with Darrin Ruf and John Mayberry. Maybe.
The bottom line is that I think that the Phillies, long having been firm believers in Domonic Brown, are telling him that this is the year. Wow -- I'm out on a limb here, right? Holy obvious. But why didn't someone just take him aside privately and say, "Hey kid, we believe in you -- go get 'em" What's with throwing down the gauntlet?
I'm not sure, but I see it as a "keep him in house" equivalent of a challenge trade. Picking up Delmon Young on its own really didn't reveal anything, but making the public statement sure did. Do you want to be a major league ballplayer? Prove it.
Do I agree with this approach? Not really, but I haven't sat in the same room with Domonic Brown in various contexts over a course of several years. I have not talked to him, or spent time with him or talked to his managers, trainers, and coaches.
At this site and in fandom, we see outcomes and numbers from the regular season. That's maybe 10% of baseball. We don't see guys in the weight room or in practices or in coaching sessions. We don't see players' families, friends, or agents. We don't see their attitudes. We think we "know" someone like Jimmy Rollins because we've watched him for a decade, but the true fact of the matter is we don't know very much about him at all.
Do I agree with the handling of Dom Brown and the internal "challenge trade" being made to Brown (and to a lesser extent, Mayberry and Ruf)? Sorta no, but I'm telling you that I (and you) are missing pretty much all the information needed to make that decision.
This type of thing -- this management of people and development -- is kind of a "special sauce" to baseball. From the outside, we can see numbers in the minors and in the majors and see flaws and potential. We can't really see if there are legitimate ways to take that AA or AAA stud and push his buttons to nudge him the extra bit it takes to be a good major league player. Money and fame are sometimes not enough motivation. Development isn't just some automatic process. Lots of guys with good K/BB ratios don't pan out when they go from AAA to MLB. Some organizations seem to be able to create lots of MLB talent with drafts that look like the ones ordinary tems make. Why? It's not always obvious.
"Make up" and player development have a place in baseball alongside the metrics and statistics that I really like to swim in. The curious case of Delmon Young, Ruben Amaro, and Domonic Brown may teach us a little about that.
Maybe "put up or shut up" is part of that player development strategy. Maybe it will work. I dunno. That's what this seems like, though. If it isn't, it was a stupid and needless and utterly thoughtless comment that is potentially damaging to the team.
Are fans allowed to be upset at the Delmon Young dumpster dive? No - that's all it is. Are they allowed to be upset at Delmon Young being "anointed" the starting right fielder? Maybe, but that's not what this appears to be, so the anger may be misplaced.
I think this is the Jedi Trials for Domonic Brown. He's healthy, he's the right age, and the team needs him. I'm not sure any extra motivation is necessary, but in case he was wondering, Ruben Amaro just told him. It's now or never, kid.