Farewell, Michael Young

I think I had convinced myself I was ready for it. For a long time, I didn’t believe it’d actually come to fruition because of the player, the team, the situation, the contract, and the no-trade rights. Even as the rumors were leaked that the Rangers and Phillies were in discussions of a trade, I still thought it was the typical Winter Meetings noise. But then the trade was announced, and all that was left was for Young to waive his 10-and-5 rights, and it would be complete.
Still, after three years of trade demands, one season of a painfully bad fit, and 48 hours of a trade being in place, when the official news came that Michael Young Is Not A Texas Ranger, I didn’t feel ready for it.

To me, and to many, there has never really been a time when Michael Young wasn’t a Texas Ranger. For more than half of the baseball-conscience years of my life, he has been a big part of the team I have spent my entire life following. For almost all of his 12 seasons in Texas, he was my favorite Ranger. And now it’s hard to completely wrap my head around him being a Philadelphia Phillie.

The realization that I am only cheering for laundry was hammered home once again. I’m not focused on how Young is going to do in Philadelphia, but instead on what this move means for Texas. It’s strange that even after a dozen years of supporting Young, my loyalty to him is snapped. I wish him the best, and I think he will find success in 2013, but I won’t be rooting for the #10 with “Phillies” on the front of his jersey, even though I was one of his biggest fans when the jersey read “Texas”.

As far as the actual transaction goes, it appears to be a good deal for both sides. The Rangers save $6 million in 2013 on a player who provided negative value in 2012, and as a 1B/DH was a threat to repeat that fate. Texas also picks up two relievers, one of which may fill a hole in a currently sparse bullpen, and the other will be another live arm to put on the pile on the farm. The Phillies, to their credit, get a third baseman for $6 million who could be in line for a rebound year. In 2012, the most games played at 3B for Philadelphia came from 36-year old Placido Polanco. Whatever your thoughts are on Young, that’s a clear upgrade for the Phillies.

The departure of Young leaves a vacuum to be filled in the Rangers lineup. While he shouldn’t have been given the playing time to register 651 plate appearances in 2012, those are still 651 plate appearances that will go to someone else in 2013. The leading candidate in the clubhouse to step in would be Mike Olt, provided he isn’t traded this offseason. One has to wonder if this also makes it even more likely that the Rangers roster holds both Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar next season, with Ian Kinsler getting scattered playing time in the outfield, at second base, at first base, and at DH.

In the clubhouse, Young’s extraction has an impact to the dynamic of the room. Whether Young’s brand of leadership in 2012 helped or hurt the team is debatable, but no matter the outsider’s view on it, the players do nothing but espouse his value as the team leader. A new team leader, or leaders, will emerge. My desire to see Elvis Andrus extended, or re-signed to a long-term contract beyond 2014 is only increased by this move, because of this paradigm shift. I would love for the vacated role of “leader” to be turned over to Elvis with all of his charisma and charm and swagger. Andrus may naturally assume that position with or without a new contract anyway, just based on his personality. Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Joe Nathan will also certainly be key figures in this transition. The Rangers clubhouse atmosphere is going to be fine, maybe better than ever, but it will be interesting to see the direction it goes.

While this trade may end up being the best thing for the 2013 Rangers, it is also a sad ending to the Michael Young era in Texas.

It’s sad because the Rangers never won a championship with Young, especially after coming so close in 2011. I don’t think I would say Young “deserved” a ring more than any other player, but he suffered along with all of us through some of the franchise’s lowest years, and it would have been a special moment for him to celebrate along with us in its ultimate triumph. His journey would have reflected our own. But now our paths have diverged. If the Rangers ever do reach the pinnacle of claiming a World Series trophy, I’m not sure I’ll think of Michael Young. Maybe I will, but I doubt it. That is a strange thought, and a pity.

It’s also sad because this isn’t how it should have ended. When Michael Young signed his contract extension in March of 2007, it was supposed to effectively make him a Ranger for life. That contract was to take Young through the end of his productive years, and at the end seal him in Texas immortality. Instead, his productive years ended before the contract, and “Mr. Ranger” was sent on his way. This wasn’t a trade as a favor to an aging player to give them one chance at the ring they never got, like Seattle did with Ichiro in 2012. This was a trade that was made because an aging player essentially overstayed his welcome. He was eating too much of the food in the fridge, and had to be packed up.

It’s also sad because this was a trade that shouldn’t have been needed to be made. We’ve talked in this space several times about how Young could still be a productive player, in a limited role. But it is clear that the Rangers front office didn’t believe that Young would serve in a limited role in 2013. If he was on Ron Washington’s roster, he was going to be in Ron Washington’s lineup, every day. That’s partially due to the kind of manager Washington is, and also due to Young’s apparent immovable position as the face of the franchise. Either way it seems that benching Young, or reducing his role, was out of the question.

If the reason that Young was traded was because of this kind of riff between manager and executive, does trading him heal that divide, or does it only relieve a symptom? Ron Washington’s job may not be at risk now, but this trade signifies there may be some disunity or distrust between the dugout and the front office. If the front office continues to need to make moves to get around the type of manager that Washington is, how much longer before a new type of manager is needed?

The fates of Washington and Young had a unique bond throughout all of 2012. Washington himself said “I’m a big believer in Michael Young. And if the ship sinks, I’ll still be on it.” It sank, and now Young has been shipped out of town. Their fates have been decoupled, and it had to be done inorganically. This trade is a proclamation that in 2013 the Rangers won’t do the same thing they did in 2012 and expect different results. Next season will be about adapting and succeeding in a new environment, because no other option will remain.

There isn’t one single Michael Young memory that I latch on to as the definitive moment of his career in a Texas Rangers uniform. There is the 2010 ALDS home run in Tampa Bay, the single in Miami that made him the all-time franchise leader in hits, the dozens of fist pumps, and moments of jubilee during walk-off celebrations. But what I’ll remember most about Young’s time in Texas is the overall body of work. Young brought a consistency and professionalism to the club that was unmatched in his time with the team.

He isn’t the greatest Ranger ever. He was never even the best Rangers player in any single season of his career here. But he was special to me, and to many fans of this club. It was time for his tenure with the club to end, but I will miss Michael Young, Texas Ranger.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM

Peter Ellwood

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