Why there are still reasons to applaud Delmon Young in Tampa Bay

He was a bust as a No. 1 pick in 2003, but the Rays have turned Young into a lasting influence through a series of trades.
The Rays traded Delmon Young in 2007, but the former No. 1 overall draft pick is still playing off for Tampa Bay in ways unforeseen when he was declared one of baseball's biggest busts. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
The Rays traded Delmon Young in 2007, but the former No. 1 overall draft pick is still playing off for Tampa Bay in ways unforeseen when he was declared one of baseball's biggest busts. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Published February 18

PORT CHARLOTTE — He was finished as a Major Leaguer by the time he was 29.

A petulant, one-dimensional player who, by almost any objective measure, was among the worst No. 1 picks in the history of the draft.

And yet, 16 years later, he is still paying dividends in Tampa Bay.

He is Delmon Young, the pick that keeps on giving.

Think of him as the Yin and Yang of baseball around here. The perfect example of what the Devil Rays once were, and what the Rays have since become.

As a player himself, Young was a colossal disappointment. Chosen No. 1 by the previous ownership regime, he was a defensive liability in the outfield, a ridiculously impatient hitter and he lugged his surly personality around like a source of pride.

And yet, his DNA lurks in valuable ways even on today’s Tampa Bay roster. One trade that begat another and another and another.

Here is the short version:

Following a somewhat promising rookie season, and with a new front office in charge, Young was traded to Minnesota for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. Three years later, Garza was traded for Chris Archer. And seven years after that, Archer was dealt for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz.

Get it? Two key members of the 2008 American League champion Rays (Garza and Bartlett), a two-time All-Star (Archer), and now a member of the starting rotation (Glasnow), a potential starting rightfielder (Meadows) and another pitching prospect (Baz).

And that doesn’t include other spare parts acquired as descendants of the Young trade, including Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, Brandon Guyer, Cesar Ramos, Adam Russell and Brandon Gomes.

“That’s a really good example of utilizing trades to try to stay competitive over a long stretch of time,’’ said senior VP of baseball operations Erik Neander. “You can see it all over our roster. Off the top of my head, (Mike) Zunino was Mallex Smith through (Drew) Smyly which was David Price, and it brought Willy (Adames) here too. Yandy Diaz is Jake Bauers who was Wil Myers who was James Shields. It’s pretty wild.

“The Delmon trade highlights it in a good way, but there are plenty of others that would not highlight it nearly as well. And we’re okay with that. We’re comfortable knowing not every move is going to pan out. You have to be comfortable to make as many trades as we do, and you have to be prepared to miss sometimes.’’

It’s not as if the Rays concocted a dozen-year spreadsheet for the Young trade when it was completed in the winter of 2007. Each trade has to be viewed within the competitive cycle at the time, taking into account the talent, the payroll and the players on the horizon in the farm system.

The one unusual aspect of the Young trade is that he was still a young player, and would have been under the team’s control for another five years. The Rays are more apt to deal players as they get closer to arbitration and free agency, while gaining younger players in return.

“I don’t think that trade was finding fault with Delmon as much as it was taking the collection of talent we had and turning it into a much more functional baseball team,’’ said senior VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom. “With what Garza was able to bring to the rotation, with Bartlett stabilizing the infield and being the centerpiece of the revamped defense, it fit what we were trying to accomplish.’’

So how did the Young trade work in terms of numbers?

Based on calculations by Fangraphs.com, Young’s 10-year big league career produced a WAR of -1.5. That means he was worth 1.5 wins less than a typical replacement player over the course of his career.

During their time in Tampa Bay, Garza (8.0), Bartlett (8.2), Archer (17.8), Fuld (1.8) and Guyer (3.9) had a combined WAR of nearly 40. And that doesn’t include what Meadows, Glasnow and Baz might produce.

Young, now 33, was on the comeback trail last year in Mexico, putting up decent numbers for Pericos de Puebla and winning a home run hitting contest against some current big leaguers in Venezuela over the winter.

So maybe there is still some life in Young’s bat.

But, even if there isn’t, you can still find his influence on Tampa Bay’s roster.

Read more:

[ Yandy Diaz muscles his way into Rays camp ]

[ Who and what is missing from Rays camp ]

Contact John Romano at [email protected] Follow @romano_tbtimes