The Tigers acquired outfielder Delmon Young from the Twins on Monday to displace a has-been for a maybe-never-will-be.
Detroit seems to value Young -- who's batting just .266 with a .305 on-base percentage, .357 slugging percentage and four home runs -- as an improvement over their wares in the corner outfield, especially former star Magglio Ordoñez. The expected offensive production from the corner-outfield positions typically is only exceeded by that of first basemen, yet has been below-average for the Tigers who, should they make the playoffs, have an offense that lags far behind likely playoff foes Boston, New York and Texas.
While Detroit has a slugging dynamo at first base in Miguel Cabrera, its lineup has lacked consistency from its other premium offensive positions. Brennan Boesch has hit for average and power while splitting time between left- and rightfield, but Ordoñez and a steady stream of platoon players (Ryan Raburn, Andy Dirks, et al.) have failed to make a meaningful contribution. So enthused is the club about the pick-up that Young is debuting as its No. 3 hitter on Monday night (coincidentally against his old team).
And, really, from the Tigers' perspective this trade is about upgrading from Ordoñez, who at 37 has finally seen his once-outstanding offensive skills erode -- he's batting .223 and his .295 slugging percentage is seventh-worst among big-league hitters with at least 275 plate appearances -- to Young, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who in his five full seasons has oscillated between major disappointment and young talent showing signs of emerging.
For Detroit it's worth rolling the dice on Young, who at all times seems on the verge of breaking out and made only need a change of scenery or advice from a new hitting coach to succeed. The worst-case scenario is that Young is no better offensively, and even then he'd still represent a defensive improvement over Ordoñez.
That Minnesota, a franchise with a strong reputation for developing talent, was willing to make a rare intra-division trade involving a 25-year-old player brimming with raw tools signals that the Twins no longer think Young will develop into the superstar-caliber player one expects from a top draft pick or, in their case, from a player they traded starter Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay to acquire after the 2007 season.
Monday's move was precipitated by Young's underwhelming season. He is on the brink of a final year of arbitration and faced a very real possibility of being non-tendered by the Twins, who decided they'd rather dump him to a contender within the American League Central than face the prospect of paying him anything close to his $5.4 million salary from this season.
The Twins' payroll budget has grown considerably since moving into Target Field last year so trading Young is a strong indicator of their lack of faith in his future. It's also a sign that the organization is too concerned that he'll repeat his poor performance this year in 2012 rather than return to the form he showed in 2010 when he had a .298/.333/.493 batting line with 21 home runs and 112 RBIs and finished 10th in AL MVP voting.
Young, who has made two trips to the disabled list this season, is more worth the gamble to the Tigers than the Twins, as the former leads the AL Central while the latter wallows unexpectedly in fourth place and faces an important offseason in which OF Jason Kubel, IF/OF Michael Cuddyer, DH Jim Thome and closer Matt Capps are all free agents. Saving a few bucks on the remainder of Young's 2011 salary and receiving Class A pitcher Cole Nelson, a 10th-round pick last year, and a player to be named later makes it worthwhile for Minnesota.
It may be surprising to see division opponents collaborating on a deal, but ultimately it made sense for both the Twins and Tigesr to get past the rivalry and do what is best for each of them.