Much fuss has been raised over Ron Gardenhire’s recent admission that he’d prefer to open the 2009 season with Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer as his starting outfield alignment, leaving Delmon Young out in the dark. Many view this as the manager overplaying his hand, potentially upsetting a historically volatile player, and lowering Bill Smith’s leverage when it comes to trading the 23-year-old outfielder (which, to some, seems like a foregone conclusion at this point).
First of all, Opening Day is still four months away. A lot can change over that time, and the notion that Gardenhire’s stated preference during an informal Q & A session in Fargo sets in stone Young’s role on the bench seems awfully misguided.
It could be that Gardenhire truly has lost taste for Young and has no problem letting this negative sentiment be known to the public. But there are a couple other possibilities that are being overlooked here.
One is that this was a calculated move to play up the value of Michael Cuddyer, who has battled injuries over the past two years and whose contract is much more of a liability than Young's. If other teams get the sense that Cuddyer is of more value to the Twins and that the manager has lost faith in Young, doesn’t Cuddy immediately become the more valuable trade piece?
Another possibility is that we are simply seeing an example of a manager trying to light a fire under an under-performing player. Early last season, Gardenhire wrote Young’s name into the lineup on a daily basis and the coaching staff continually sang the outfielder’s praises to the press. In Young’s 2007 season in Tampa Bay, he literally played every game. In neither of those seasons did Young have any prolonged periods of excellent play, or any tangible signs of significant improvement. There is little evidence that working to increase Young’s confidence leads to improved production, perhaps because confidence was never an issue for him in the first place.
So, if the coaching staff believes that Young’s problems are at least partially mental or due to a lack of motivation, perhaps a change in approach is necessary. Perhaps the very public reports of Young being on the trading block and now the manager’s public assertion that Young is not viewed as one of the team’s top three outfield options are deliberate moves intended to challenge Young to live up to his potential. According to La Velle E. Neal III, Young already “has hit the gym big-time this offseason and has lost weight.” It is entirely possible that this is a response to the way the Twins have presented him during this offseason so far.
If you follow Young’s career from high school to minor leagues to major leagues to present, you see a pretty clear and steady trend. He is on a path, and if he stays the course, he is on his way to a very unremarkable career as a mediocre corner outfielder with attitude problems. Something needs to change, and perhaps all these trade rumors and this public “diss” from his manager are calculated maneuvers aimed at that exact goal.