Things change quickly in July. As the month began, Phillies fans and not a few bloggers were asking themselves which veterans to trade, and how much we could get for them. Two weeks later, after winning nine of 13 games before the all-star break to even their record at 48-48, the needle has moved from "sell" towards "buy," and the question suddenly is who might be available to shore up a team still facing real issues. But one name remains at the center of speculation: veteran infielder Michael Young.
This makes even more sense than you might think. There’s power in a name, and to baseball executives, "Michael Young" means a seven-time all-star with more than 2,300 hits, enjoying a solid bounceback season in 2013 after a very rough last year with the Rangers.
But you can’t buy, trade for or play MY’s career—just the guy wearing his uniform today. And the truth is, that player is almost perfectly replicated, and indeed slightly improved upon, by another guy already on the roster: utility infielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Kevin Frandsen. Take a look:
Young (362 plate appearances): .288/.344/.414, 110 OPS+, .328 BABIP, .126 ISO
Frandsen (119 plate appearances): .297/.390/.446, 130 OPS+, .306 BABIP, .149 ISO
They’re both contact guys with decent pop and improved but unspectacular walk rates. Both bat from the right side. Frandsen has been more than serviceable against righties (.771 OPS) while torching lefthanders (.930). Young actually has been a bit better against same-siders, with a .784 OPS vs. RHP and a .724 facing lefties, though a weirdly low BABIP against them (.243) explains a lot of that.
Defensively, both offer versatility over quality. Young has played third base and first base this year, and has seen time at second base and shortstop as recently as last season. Frandsen has played first, second and third this year, and has some experience in the outfield corners. Neither is exactly Gold Glove material, though the numbers suggest Frandsen is less of a liability: Fangraphs lists Frandsen at -1.0 Fielding Runs Above Average, Young at -8.6.
Add it all up, and you can’t help but conclude that when you toss the pedigree aside, career bench guy Kevin Frandsen is probably a better player than Texas franchise icon Michael Young right now. Even better, there’s reason to think the Phillies would be fine at the position even if Frandsen were to get hurt or suddenly devolve into Juan Castro. They’ve got two credible options at triple-A: Freddy Galvis probably was sent down to get regular at-bats against the possibility of an everyday infield gig opening up in Philadelphia, and 23 year old Cody Asche looks ready for a big-league audition after three months of all-star play in the International League.
Now, just because we might see this doesn't mean that Ruben Amaro will. In fact, the latest rumor is that teams inquiring on Young have been told he's not available. Amaro might well be swayed by the fact that Young is hitting around .330 since returning to the team after a brief leave at the start of June. He might not want to further disrupt a lineup now missing Ben Revere as well as Ryan Howard, or even risk the perception that he's open to breaking up his veteran team and whatever changes to the clubhouse dynamic might ensue. After all, we know what he believes about the back of a player's baseball card.
I've generally been, if not a defender, at least probably less convinced of Amaro's total incompetence than most people who spend irresponsible amounts of time thinking and writing about the Phillies. But how he handles this situation will tell us a lot about his makeup as a GM. Of all the players other teams have asked after, Young is the one guy who is a virtual certainty not to be in the Phillies' plans after 2013. They can cash him for value now, bidding the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and other contenders against each other for a ready bullpen arm to push for a playoff spot, or a prospect toward the middle of a team's top ten list who might be able to help next year and beyond. Or they can watch him head back to the American League without any compensation when the season ends.
Unless you think Young is going to hit .330 for the rest of the year, this is not a tough call. Buyer, seller, whatever: Young should be the one guy Amaro is committed to moving before the deadline.