It's no secret that the Detroit Tigers need reinforcements in left field if they expect to get back to the top of the American League Central Division in 2016. After Yoenis Cespedes was traded away at the non-waiver deadline in July, the Tigers got virtually no production at all from left field. To make matters worse, there really aren't any options in the minor leagues that could fill the position in a full-time or platoon role.
General manager Al Avila has voiced support for incumbent left fielder Tyler Collins, but also told reporters on Tuesday that the Tigers are looking to add an outfielder. Ideally, this player would be a full-time left fielder and right-handed, though there are only a handful of those on the free agent market.
Enter Chris Young. The former Diamondbacks center fielder has bounced around between three teams over the last three seasons, playing mostly in left field during that span. After a steady decline from 2012 and on, he had a nice bounce-back season last year with the Yankees. While he wouldn't be a flashy free agent acquisition, Young could potentially provide stability in left field, and also won't break the bank.
Who is he?
Young is a 32-year old right-handed hitting corner outfielder that has played for four teams during his 10-year career. He enjoyed success with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, where he posted back-to-back four-plus win seasons. Back then, he was known as a slick fielding center fielder who had some solid sock in his bat.
While he's never been known for having a high batting average or on-base-percentage, he used to have a knack for hitting the long ball. In 2007, his first full major league season, Young socked 32 home runs. However, due to his putrid on-base-percentage of .295, he was only worth 87 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). He played 100 or more games on six occasions in Arizona, and hit 20 home runs in five of those seasons.
However, after his 2011 season where he posted a career high 4.7 fWAR, Young's numbers started in a downward spiral. He managed to produce 2.5 fWAR in 2012, and then only managed 0.6 in 2013 with the Oakland Athletics. In 107 games with the A's, he hit 14 home runs with only a .280 OBP, while being worth -6 defensive runs saved in the outfield. In 2014, he split time between the Mets and the Yankees, where his numbers again took a step backwards. In total, he was worth 0.4 fWAR, but actually performed much better with the Yankees at the end of the season, where he was worth 1.0 fWAR in only 23 games.
After a decent showing in the Bronx, the Yankees brought Young back on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. While his season wasn't anything to write home about, he managed to bounce back for 1.2 fWAR while playing in 140 games. He posted his first season with over 100 wRC+ since 2011, totaling 109 with the Yankees. He hit 14 home runs, and got on base at a clip of .320. While his defense wasn't great, he did settle in for +3 DRS in nearly 400 innings in left field.
Why should we care?
Young is cheap, bats right-handed, and can play everyday. If the Tigers were to sign him, he would more than likely be their everyday left fielder, and they would only have to pay him a fraction of the price that other starting outfielders make. Young is also better than any option the Tigers currently have in their farm system. Steven Moya is still much too raw to be ready to play at the major league level, and Tyler Collins simply hasn't shown that he has the ability to be anything more than a fourth outfielder.
While Young probably not the 20-plus home run threat he was in his prime, he still has the ability to hit for extra bases, as evidenced by his .201 ISO last year. For his career, he hits a fly ball over 48-percent of the time he puts the bat on the ball. That's considerably higher than the league average of 35-percent. In a roomy outfield like Comerica Park, Young's fly balls have the potential to drop in the gaps for more extra bases.
Why should we stay away?
A problem with signing Young is that he doesn't give the Tigers a player with a high ceiling, but he could potentially be someone with a low floor. His glove in left field has the potential to be productive, but baserunners will be able to take an extra base more often due to his weak arm. Also, while he played in 140 games last season, he still only had 356 plate appearances, so his "everyday player" tag comes with an asterisk.
Young isn't a reliable on-base guy, and the Tigers could use another hitter at the bottom of the order to set the table for the top of the lineup. His value at the plate comes in his extra base hit power, and if the majority of the fly balls he hits are tracked down in Comerica's spacious outfield, that value will be all but gone. Another red flag is Young's increasing rate at which he swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. According to Fangraph's PITCHf/x data, he swung at a career high 26.6-percent of pitches outside of the zone, a trend that could allow pitchers to throw him less strikes as they key in on his tendency.
Will he end up in Detroit?
There's a decent chance of the Tigers taking a flyer on Young simply because he'll come cheap despite coming off a bounce back year. The majority of the offseason money will be spent on the many holes in the pitching staff, and there's no doubt that Al Avila will be looking for deals when shoring up other positions such as left field. Young's play wouldn't be key to the Tigers' success, but the marginal upgrade he provides over their in-house options could prove valuable down the stretch. If nothing else, he could provide cheap stability in left field.