MLB Notes: Michael Young retires; Chen re-signs

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MLB Notes: Michael Young retires; Chen re-signs

After 14 big-league seasons, seven All-Star Game appearances and two trips to the World Series, former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young has decided to retire.

Young spent 13 seasons with the Rangers and part of 2013 with the Phillies and Dodgers. He was acquired in a trade by the Phillies in December of 2012 and then sent to Los Angeles in a post-deadline deal where he contributed to the Dodgers’ playoff run.

Young was the MVP of the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh where his two-out, two-run triple off Trevor Hoffman won it for the American League. He also won the American League batting title in 2005, hit over .300 in seven seasons and is one of 190 players in the history of the game to retire with a .300 batting average or higher.

In 1,970 regular season games, Young got 2,375 hits, 185 homers and 1,030 RBIs. He reached the 1,000-RBI plateau with the Phillies last summer.

With the Rangers, Young went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 and had four postseason berths — three with Texas and one with the Dodgers.

Selected in the fifth round of the 1997 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Young was part of one of the most lopsided trades in recent history. In a deadline deal in 2000, the Blue Jays sent Young and pitcher Darwin Cubillan to Texas for pitcher Esteban Loaiza.

Young went on to become one of the most popular Rangers in the history of the franchise, while Loaiza went 25-28 with a 4.96 ERA over three seasons in Toronto.

The Rangers issued a statement following the news of Young’s retirement:

“The Texas Rangers want to congratulate Michael Young on his outstanding Major League career. For 12 seasons in a Rangers uniform, he was a standout performer on the field and the consummate role model in the community.

“Michael is a leader, and he demonstrated those skills every day of the season, year in and year out. We are proud to say that Michael Young is this franchise's all-time leader in games, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He excelled at multiple positions and came through in the clutch.

“When Texas advanced to postseason play in 2010 after an 11-year drought, teammates and fans everywhere were especially happy that Michael had reached the playoffs. And he was an integral performer in those Rangers' back-to-back World Series runs.

“The Rangers wish Michael, his wife, Cristina, and sons Mateo, Emilio, and Antonio the very best as they enter a new chapter in their lives. And we want them to know there will always be a place for the Youngs in the Texas Rangers family.”

Chen re-signs with Kansas City
While one short-time Phillie was calling it a career, another was signing on for another season.

Left-handed pitcher Bruce Chen, 36, who spent parts of the 2000 and 2001 seasons with the Phillies, signed a one-year deal worth $4.25 million with the Kansas City Royals.

Chen’s deal pays a base salary of $3.25 million with a $5.5 million mutual option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout. The deal also includes incentives where Chen could earn 125,000 for each start between 16 and 25 in 2014.

Chen has pitched for 10 different teams over 15 seasons, though he has spent the last five pitching for the Royals. In 2013 Chen went 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 34 appearances. He tossed three complete games and won his first five decisions a year ago. In 2012, Chen led the American League with 34 starts.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."