In crowded A's outfield, Young must carve his place
Melvin to spread around playing time, but challenges ahead for Oakland's acquisition
PHOENIX -- A spanking new chapter in Chris Young's career began this week as the A's opened camp at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, although his circumstances with the Oakland club right now seem to be far from optimal.
Since 2007, Young by and large had been the starting center fielder for the D-backs. But post the Oct. 20 three-team trade that sent him to Oakland, he finds himself in a crowded outfield mix that includes last year's incumbents: Yoenis Cespedes in left, Coco Crisp in center, Josh Reddick in right and Seth Smith as a backup.
All five are slated for the 25-man Opening Day roster, manager Bob Melvin said on Wednesday, adding that Crisp is the starting center fielder and that Young will be a floater.
"Chris is going to be the most difficult part, and I talked to him a little about it," Melvin said. "He knows there are times when he'll be playing a position he's not used to playing. Chris will rotate around and play all the different spots and DH, and the same thing with Seth."
The situation seems to have left Young perplexed. He told MLB.com on Wednesday that he was surprised by the timing of the trade, coming so soon after the end of the season. He also said that he wasn't very clear about his prospective role after chatting with Melvin this week.
The two men know each other well. Melvin was Arizona's manager until his dismissal early in the 2009 season. Young and Melvin respect each other, so there shouldn't be much room for miscommunication.
Yet, when asked how he felt about being no better than a fourth outfielder before injuries and performance affect those decisions during the season, Young's eyes grew a bit foggy.
"I don't know," he said. "I have no idea whether I fall into that equation. I haven't heard that."
When asked about the conversation with Melvin, Young added:
"Yeah, we spoke, but it wasn't really worded like that. He said that everybody is going to get playing time. So that's just basically where I am right now. How much moving around I'm going to have to do, I'm not sure. You never really know that until Spring Training."
And his role behind Crisp in center field?
"I don't know. I'm just here to play my game," Young said. "During Spring Training, I'm sure I'll figure out a lot more what my role will be. As I go into the season I'm sure I'll know a lot more. But as of now, I'm just showing up prepared to play. I'm not 100 percent sure what my program is going to be at all, though. I really have no clue. I mean, it's a new team. It's a new situation.
"We did have times in Arizona where we had four guys who were very capable of playing the outfield as well. And every situation just plays out differently. By no means am I going to play that out right here, before we even get going yet. We've just reported for Spring Training ready to go. I'm ready to take on any challenge."
Young finds himself in this predicament because the D-backs have made an obvious culture shift, trading away for different reasons the nucleus of a team that helped win division titles in 2007 and '11 in Young, Justin Upton and Stephen Drew.
Young opened the 2012 season on a torrid clip, hitting .410 with five homers and 13 RBIs through April 17, when he hurt his right shoulder slamming into an outfield fence. He missed a month and was never the same, finishing the season with a .231 batting average, 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 101 games. After the injury, he didn't hit another homer until June 27.
With Young down, the D-backs looked at youngsters Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock in center field, along with giving fourth wheel Gerardo Parra more playing time. Upton, as it turned out, also suffered through much of the season with a jammed left thumb he injured in mid-April.
Young said Wednesday that he played most of the 2012 season at much less than 100 percent.
"I had good days and bad days, physically," he said. "When I came back, I think that, strength-wise, I wasn't at a percentage that I would've liked to have been at. But I made the decision to come back early and play through it, and I have no regrets about that. It's part of the game. I've played through injuries before. I felt this was something I could play through, too. It just didn't work out that way."
Still, with all the constant rumors swirling around Upton, who was ultimately traded to the Braves on Jan. 24, Young said he was surprised how quickly he was shipped out. The three-way deal with the A's and Miami netted the D-backs extra infield help in Cliff Pennington from Oakland and bullpen depth in Heath Bell from the Marlins. With Young out of the picture, the outfield was a blank canvas, one that has since been painted with the trade of Upton and the free-agent signing of Cody Ross.
"Yeah, I was a little surprised with the timing of it -- not necessarily the fact that I got traded," said Young, who came to Arizona via a 2005 trade with the White Sox. "I understand the way the game works. I was blessed to be in Arizona for almost seven years. I'm very grateful for that. I understand they have other guys they want to give opportunities to. And sometimes you're the guy who has to go to make that happen."
And with that, Young's acquisition makes the outfield situation for the defending American League West champions that much more congested. It's up to Young and Melvin now to get on the same page and make it all work.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.