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Friday, January 7, 2011
Will DH ultimately bore Michael Young?

By Jeff Caplan

Since it became evident that the Texas Rangers were hot on the free-agent trail of nifty-fielding third baseman Adrian Beltre, and that to make it happen Michael Young would have to agree to move to designated hitter with a fielding role described as a "super" utility player, the thoughts of Lance Berkman kept popping up.

Berkman, a career National League outfielder and first baseman with the Houston Astros, agreed to be traded last season to the New York Yankees. He knew he wouldn't play first base for the Yanks. That is property of Mark Teixeira. Berkman went to the Bronx Bombers to serve solely as DH and perhaps a game here or there at first.

When New York came to town late in the regular season, Berkman -- who is 34, the same age as Young -- talked about what it's like to hit and then not trot out to your position.

"At the time, I had never not played every day and I didn’t realize how much I appreciate being out there and playing defense," Berkman said. "That’s one of the byproducts of this trade is it’s made me realize I love to play defense and play it every day. I knew I liked defense, but to me the game is so much easier from a rhythm standpoint, from a timing standpoint when you know you’re going to be in there and when you get to go out there and play the field."

Pretty strong words.

Ultimately, will DH bore Michael Young? He is in excellent physical condition and could easily be a starting infielder, especially at second base, on most, if not every major-league squad. That's not a disapproval of this trade. Beltre is an absolute upgrade at third base, a position Young had not mastered since his more there two seasons ago. There were times during the postseason when balls that scooted by him had to make the front office wince -- and obviously it did.

The question is whether Young will thrive at the plate as a DH, or could an inconsistent routine on a daily basis in terms of playing in the field and at multiple positions mess with this rhythm, if not his head? Will he grow weary of sitting on the bench for long stretches to the point that it becomes a major aggravation?

Berkman had to do it for less than half a season. It bothered him so much that he vowed to leave the American League. He signed a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals where he will return to playing the outfield.

It won't be an easy transition for Young. Yes, the club has made assurances that he'll get plenty of time in the field by resting others throughout a long, hot summer. Still, barring a significant injury, Young will see nowhere near the time he's accustomed to as a regular player, and he will bounce around from third, short, second and possibly even first.

And how many games can Young realistically expect to play in the field?

Second baseman Ian Kinsler, 28, is the most injury-prone of the infielders. In his five seasons, he's played more than 130 games once and never more than 144. Kinsler played 103 last season.

Beltre is 31 and had injury issues in 2009, playing 111 games. Otherwise, he's been durable. From 2002-06, he played in at least 156 games. In 2007 he played 149, and in 2008, 143.

Young, who has already been switched from "infielder" to "designated hitter" on the Rangers' roster on the team's website, is the epitome of the everyday player. Since 2002, Young has played in at least 155 of 162 games. The only time he didn't was 2009 when he suffered a late-season injury and played in 135 games.

Add it all up and Young, as disciplined and focused as any player in the league, will have to find ways to occupy his mind during plenty of pine time next season. On Wednesday, he said he was prepared to do just that. Berkman couldn't put up with it. Young, who is adamant about staying with the club, will have to find a way to stay sharp -- and satisfied.