Rangers Review: Shortstop

Prior to the season, Michael Young signed a 5 year contract extension for $80 million, and it didn’t take him long to realize that was a mistake.  It will take longer for the Rangers to realize it though.  Young spent half the season complaining about losing, saying he didn’t like it, didn’t like rebuilding and he didn’t want to have to go through it.  We’ve heard all that before, of course, when Alex Rodriguez left.  Michael Young, good friend of A-Rod, is apparently using the same tactic to try and get out of Texas.  At least A-Rod had the good graces to wait a couple of years after signing his contract before getting out, and Michael Young doesn’t even have the excuse of not knowing what it was like here in Texas when he signed the deal.  On the field, Young played short almost every day, and continued his highly predictable career trends in hitting.  He improved and improved until his age 27 year, then he started falling off.  Now 30, the slide has begun, and by the end of the new contract, he will probably not be worth half of it, if he’s even still playing.

Michael Young summary:  Had 200 hits for the fifth year in a row, which was one of the few highlights of the year for the Rangers.  Unfortunately, after a terrible April, he made a comment that “I’ll get my hits”, which implied that he didn’t care about the rest of the team’s performance, and he was playing for himself.  That may be true.  I like Michael Young, always have, my kid loves him, but the noises he is making tells me he’s not going to be a Ranger for very long.  Curiously enough he missed the last couple of days of the season (right after getting hit #200) with an “injury”, and the quotes were that they didn’t want him to be rehabbing it all winter.  Why not, what else would he be doing?  It’s not like he has games to miss in December.  At least that way he’d be working on his health, which would be a good thing.  Very curious set of circumstances all round.  He got his 200 hits, but it was an empty 200, with almost no power (at one point he went two months without a home run, and ended up with 9), in fact very reminiscent of Ichiro, the other current guy getting 200 every year.  His OPS+ of 103 put him right at league average for the year, and his trend is down, so the Rangers may end up paying a huge chunk of money for someone giving them little or no production.  Sound familiar?  You know you have problems with a player when the general manager has to go meet with him and assure him the team will be playing to win.

Others:  Ramon Vazquez, Matt Kata and Jerry Hairston all got a little time at short.  Vazquez surprisingly got 110 innings there, that’s more than Young usually seems to miss.  In fact Young “only” played 156 games, his lowest total since 2002.

Minors:  There are some good shortstops in the system, and like third base, they’re concentrated in the middle minors, with the top level containing filler and the bottom containing nothing much yet.  This actually bodes well for the Rangers, if they can bring a couple of strong prospects through at the same time.  Drew Meyer and Dave Matranga had the bulk of the time at short at AAA.  Neither is a prospect, Matranga, now 30, is one of those guys who hang around forever, waiting for someone to go down so they can get a shot at the majors.  Meyer was the big gamble for Grady Fuson when he was drafting a few years ago, it’s safe to say it was a gamble that didn’t pay off.  In Frisco Casey Benjamin played every day, was below average with the bat and is actually older than Meyer.  At High-A Bakersfield, Matt Smith was hitting well below average when he was replaced by Elvis Andrus, who came over in the Teixeira trade and immediately vaulted to the top of the Rangers prospect pile.  Andrus was four or five years younger than the people he was playing with, and still hit pretty well.  Down in Clinton, Marcus Lemon, also playing with people a couple of years older, got most of the time and hit decently, but needs to learn how to run (12 SB, 14 CS).  In Spokane Andres James didn’t hit worth a lick, and neither did his backup, Davis Stoneburner, who I only mention because of his name, and the possibility that the Yankees might be interested in him because of it (George being who he is).  And in rookie league Arizona, Jacob Kaase didn’t make much of an impression.  It’s also worth mentioning Joaquin Arias, who would be the AAA guy this year but missed most of the year due to injury.

2008:  Young will start the year at short, barring a winter of discontent like we had when A-Rod left.  With another year of struggle next year, and the team two or three years away from contending, he may demand a trade, and then the question will be who will take him, and how much cash the Rangers will have to throw in because of the millstone contract.  My bet is that he will be the full-time shortstop all year in 2008.  I wouldn’t bet on 200 hits though.

2009 and beyond:  This is where things get interesting.  If he’s gone after 2008, what is there to replace him?  Elvis Andrus won’t be ready until 2010, at the earliest.  Some of the higher level guys (Joaquin Arias, if he can come back from injury) would probably get a shot, but they are simply filler, rather than longer-term prospects.  If Young leaves, expect to see a low level free agent brought in to keep the spot warm for Andrus.  Ironically, even after Young signed the seven year contract, this position may be one of the more unstable ones in the next few years.

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