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The Delmon Young Quandary

Teams make tough decisions every season. For the Minnesota Twins this year, nearly every player is a conundrum: From moving Joe Mauer from behind the plate to assessing Justin Morneau’s health to deciding whether Francisco Liriano is a rotation mainstay or trade bait, the Twins have had to make important decisions about several solid ballplayers.

Perhaps the most important one that’s left has to do with leftfielder Delmon Young, who was coming off a breakout 2010 but has performed far less significantly this season. At the beginning of the year, Young was expected to tag-team with Michael Cuddyer as the right handed counterparts to Morneau, Mauer and the venerable Jim Thome in a lineup that produced its best year in recent memory. Instead, every one of those players – with the exception of Cuddyer — missed significant time to injury. And now Young doesn’t look like the same player.

Last year, the now 25-year-old cut his strikeouts nearly 10% and bumped his walk rate up to an acceptable level. But this year? Well, he’s regressed to his career whiff rate and dropped below his career walk rate. While Young made strides with his batted-ball rates in 2010 — cutting his number of routine ground balls — those grounders have returned in full force this year. And now he’s mixing those worm-burners with a bevy of popups (13.7%). Needless to say, his 2.7% home-run-rate is hardly appeasing.

Young’s poor play is exacerbated by another issue that’s clouding his future: finances. Young is arbitration-eligible for the final time this offseason.

Young parlayed his 112 RBIs last season into a raise from $2.6 million to $5.375 million. Despite his current struggles, it’d seem likely he’ll be given a slight raise again. But can the Twins afford to keep Young around at a cost upwards of $6 million, despite only one productive season?

Twins’ president Dave St. Peter says the team is financially healthy — but after dealing J.J. Hardy last offseason due in part to his impending salary bump, is it that far-fetched to consider that Young could be tendered, then dealt in the offseason to save money? Perhaps not — but it might be difficult.

Friend of FanGraphs and ESPN1500 Twin Cities host, Phil Mackey, agrees. “Determining Young’s value isn’t easy,” Mackey told me during one of our recent discussions. To him, general managers are trending toward the notion that pitching and solid defense are as equally important as hitting. Because of that, Young’s value might not be that high. Mackey’s point is spot-on. It would seem unlikely that a general manager would spend big money on a corner outfielder with a career triple-slash of .290/.321/.427 and a career UZR of -41.3.

Another thing working against Young is the Twins have a few up-and-comers in the minor leagues who could push for starting jobs in 2012. Financially speaking, the Twins should easily replace Young’s 2011 production with a player who’s making a minimum salary. Ben Revere has already spent significant time atop the Twins lineup, with mixed results, but if the Denard Span trade rumors are any indication, the club thinks Revere is going to be an asset in the near future. Twenty-three-year-old outfielder Joe Benson — and to a lesser extent, Rene Tosoni — could both add interest to the situation. Benson is a more-prized prospect, but Tosoni could be an option to man a corner outfield spot until Benson and Aaron Hicks make their ways to the big club.

Ultimately, with Young’s limited trade value, it seems that the Twins will hold onto him through the offseason and see if he can regain his 2010 form. Perhaps then the team could deal him at the 2012 trading deadline. Failing that, he could garner at least Type-B compensation if he’s offered arbitration.