Kansas City, MO, USA; USA third baseman Mike Olt walks on the field before the start of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
The Rangers called up one of their top prospects, Mike Olt, even though they already have a pretty good third baseman. He'll steal some at-bats from an obvious candidate, though, and everything will change rather quickly.
Michael Young is either the Geddy Lee's voice of baseball, or he's the black licorice of baseball. Either/or. You might have read those first two sentences as a compliment or as something mean-spirited. That's because you have an opinion on Geddy Lee's voice and black licorice. And you'll never change your mind, regardless of what anyone says or writes. Baseball fans have opinions on Michael Young. Strong opinions.
He's a controversial player (in the echo chamber of the Internet, at least) because his perceived value rarely matched the value suggested by his statistics. But strip all of that from your mind. Forget Michael Young as the flashpoint for baseball debates. Just think of Michael Young, Ranger.
You can see why he's popular with Rangers fans. This Young's 13th season with the Rangers. He's amassed 2,169 hits and made seven All-Star teams. He played large roles on two pennant-winning teams for a franchise that had previously won a single playoff game in almost 50 years. There will be Michael Young bobbleheads given away for the next 40 years. When he's old and wrinkly, he'll get standing ovations in Arlington just for showing up and hanging out on the field, waving to the crowd.
He's slumping now, sure, but he's slumped in the past, right? He's still popular. He's still Mr. Ranger. He's still a fan favorite.
But Mike Olt is up. Olt is a 23-year-old prospect, a former first-round pick, and he's been destroying AA this year. The Rangers aren't bringing him up to hang out at the end of the bench and soak everything in. He's coming up to play. Olt is reportedly adept at third base, but the Rangers might have the best defensive third baseman in baseball with Adrian Beltre. They're not moving Beltre. And if you're thinking Olt could move to first, Mitch Moreland is back, and he's been playing well this season. Moreland will lose some at-bats, but he isn't going to be benched.
That leaves a scrum for DH, where Young has been for the last two seasons. Again, Young is a fan favorite, the embodiment of Rangers baseball for the last 13 seasons, which have included the greatest seasons in franchise history. How long will it take for Rangers fans to turn on Young and call for him to be sent to the bench, to be okay with him drifting off to play for another team?
A couple of weeks, maybe. Possibly a month.
That's assuming Olt hits, of course, which he might not. But if Olt starts hitting, in a couple of weeks, Young isn't going to be so controversial. He'll have slipped down the ladder of public perception from "franchise icon" to "hey, thanks for the memories." We know this because of Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks.
Every fan base is different, but fans are generally the same. When Youkilis scuffled in the second half of 2011, it wasn't a huge story. But when he started 2012 miserably, Middlebrooks wallypipped him. And in the span of a month or so, Youkilis went from franchise icon and merchandise mover to a guy who'd be better off with a change of scenery. The change was dramatic and quick. One minute Youkilis was the Red Sox, and the next Middlebrooks was the guy. Thanks for all that stuff you did back there, but it's probably best if you started poking around Craigslist to see if there are some openings that appeal to you.
That isn't to say the Red Sox made a bad move, or that the Rangers would be making a mistake going with Olt over Young. Just that if Olt starts hitting, and if Moreland keeps hitting, the change in perception will happen quickly. Hardcore fans know that Young probably wouldn't keep the job based on talent alone, but the majority of Rangers fans -- the ones who are still waiting for Young to turn it around any day now -- have no idea what's in store for them. When they get a whiff of that new-prospect smell, things will flip rather quickly.
There are a lot of ifs up there. If Olt hits. If Moreland keeps hitting. If Young doesn't break out of his funk. But this has that same kind of feel that Youkilis/Middlebrooks did, except Young is older and even less likely to return to his previous form. It'll be weird to see a consensus on Michael Young. But with Olt coming up, that day is getting closer and closer, and it'll blow your mind how quickly it's accepted.