So your Philadelphia Phillies have just purchased one Delmon Young at the bargain price of $750,000. Congratulations! Here's a little of what to expect from your new purchase:
As a Twins fan, I had most of four years with Delmon Young, and let me tell you, we had some good times together. Those all happened in the span of about two months in 2010 (June 4 through August 1), when Delmon hit .391/.413/.635 in 51 games and drove in 54 of the 112 RBIs he'd have that year; the hot streak even earned hims a few down-ballot MVP votes. That was it, literally. I don't have one single happy Delmon-related memory that doesn't come from those 51 games -- but it sure was a fun couple months.
I suppose that Delmon could reel off another hot streak at any time (it happened with Detroit, over much shorter periods but on much bigger stages, in the 2011 ALDS and 2012 ALCS and World Series), but you should understand that under normal circumstances, Delmon can be very, very, very difficult to watch, and that applies to anything he might be doing. I try never to make assumptions about the actual effort a professional athlete puts forward, but Delmon is exceptionally gifted at looking like he's not trying, even at the plate, where he approaches hitting (supposedly the thing he does best) with the lethargy of a kid forced to be in gym class.
Of course, it doesn't help that the results tended to be exceedingly poor. Young has become known as a hit-only player, and yet in his not-quite 500 games with the Twins, hit just .287/.324/.429, good for a 103 OPS+; if you remove that one insane stretch in mid-2010, that line drops to .275/.313/.404. He was about an average hitter, or a worse-than-average one who happened to have 51 great games. His overall line is probably okay for a second or third baseman, and would be downright good for a slick-fielding shortstop. For a bat-first (or bat-only) corner outfielder, though, it's unacceptable. Worse, he fell off that pace over his last year-plus in Detroit, putting up a 92 OPS+ that equals what Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker have done over the past two seasons.
And that's his strong suit! Delmon is also absolutely dreadful to watch on the bases, indecisive and increasingly immobile, prone to colossal mistakes. The real added value of your brand new Delmon Young, though, is in the field. And I mean, it is hilarious. The numbers are not kind to Delmon's defense - he has averaged nearly 10 runs per season below average with the glove by either Total Zone or DRS, a bit worse than that by UZR, and to watch him play is to know that those numbers can't even come close to capturing the damage Delmon does in the outfield. He stumbles about in the general direction of the path of the ball, but with a certain degree of random variation built in. Confusion clouds his face as he sticks his glove up awkwardly at the last second and often, astoundingly, manages to catch the ball. It is quite fun to watch -- if you're not stuck having to root for him. As fans of a team without a designated hitter that plans to play him in right field rather than the generally less-demanding left field, you're really in a position to get the most out of Young's unique contributions in this area.
Young does have large career splits. He has hit a very passable .824 OPS against left-handed pitchers, but only .708 against righties.This theoretically makes him useful as a pinch-hitter or platoon player (preferably for a team with a DH). Even in his awful 2012, Young managed an .833 OPS against lefties. Splits are wildly unpredictable from year to year, but it seems clear that he can hit left-handed pitching, a bit. And that's all.
Now, at just $750,000, your Delmon Young comes at a very reasonable price. If nothing else, it means the team isn't married to him, and if (when) he proves inadequate or they get the sudden urge to stop torpedoing whatever value Domonic Brown has left, we can assume they'll have little hesitation about demoting him to pinch-hitter, or even releasing him.
It's still money, though -- money that goes toward something that figures to benefit the Phillies very, very little, and to hurt them very, very much if (as they say) they're really going to put him in right every day. More than that, it's a roster spot. You only get 25 of those, and even if the Phillies wise up and get him out of the lineup, they're wasting one of their 25 on a player of very limited ability and defensive flexibility. There are guys who can do what Delmon does better, and there are guys who can do a lot more things than Delmon does, for about the same investment.
It's a very small deal, but that doesn't preclude it from being a bad one, even a very bad one, if they go through with playing Delmon every day. Unfortunately, your new Delmon Young comes with many exciting and infuriating features, but no returns will be accepted.