Tigers unconditionally release Young

Tigers unconditionally release Young

DETROIT -- A three-hour, nine-minute rain delay left seemingly no end to the Tigers' afternoon on Wednesday. By the time it was over, however, so was Dmitri Young's five-year tenure with the club.

Minutes after Detroit's 5-4 loss to Seattle, the Tigers announced that they had unconditionally released Young, who had started in the game at designated hitter before being lifted in the eighth inning. It was about as sudden an end as possible for the Tiger with the second-longest continuous tenure with the club.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski announced the move, which both he and manager Jim Leyland emphasized was based on Young's performance.

"He's been struggling," Dombrowski said. "I mean, you can see he's been struggling for an extended period at this point. We tried to get him out of it from a performance perspective, but it just hasn't happened."

Added Leyland: "We just didn't think the performance was up to snuff. Period."

Nevertheless, the sudden, surprising nature of the move suggested that the Tigers came to the move in a hurry.

Young went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Wednesday's game before being lifted for pinch-hitter Kevin Hooper in the eighth with two runners on, including the potential tying run. Wednesday's performance left him in a 3-for-23 slump. However, he owned a .292 average with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 33 games since rejoining the team in July.

The Tigers could have made a move before the game. They had to create space on the 40-man roster to activate pitcher Mike Maroth from the 60-day disabled list, which they did by designating for assignment the contract of right-handed pitcher Chris Spurling, who had spent most of the season at Triple-A Toledo save for two brief stints with Detroit. Further, the Tigers chose to unconditionally release Young.

From a performance standpoint, the switch-hitting Young had not been in the lineup against left-handed starting pitchers since his return. He had sat the previous two games in favor of Marcus Thames.

Leyland explained after the game that he inserted Hooper for Young to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, putting the tying run in scoring position for the middle of Detroit's batting order. Hooper did his job, then Craig Monroe doubled in both runs two batters later. The lengthy rain delay followed.

Whether anything happened during that time that would've prompted Young's release, or whether anything had been building before Wednesday, wasn't immediately evident. One team source said that Young spent the rain delay resting in the clubhouse, something players often do. Leyland later said that there was no conflict between him and his player.

"I had a wonderful relationship with Dmitri Young from Day 1," Leyland said. "If anybody is looking for a personal conflict of any kind between Dmitri Young and I, there was none."

Young declined to comment after the game. He's in the final guaranteed season of a five-year contract that he signed soon after the Tigers acquired him from the Reds before the 2002 season. The contract pays him $8 million this year, with a mutual option for $7 million in 2007 that will obviously not be picked up.

Young rejoined the team in late July after spending more than two months on the disabled list for both a right quadriceps injury and personal matters. He pleaded no contest to a domestic violence stemming from an April incident at a suburban Detroit hotel with a then-girlfriend. Upon his return, Young confirmed that he spent 30 days at a rehabilitation facility to undergo treatment for alcoholism and depression.

Young rejoined the club under scrutiny, but his early performance seemingly set those concerns aside. He went 11-for-30 with three home runs and nine RBIs in nine July games upon his return.

Teammates reacted with surprise at the move. Shortstop Carlos Guillen indicated he didn't know of the decision until he was told by reporters. Others learned when Young returned to the clubhouse after a postgame meeting in the manager's office.

"He went in and said he got his release, and then said, 'Go win this thing,' and went around and gave everybody a hug," said first baseman Sean Casey, a longtime friend of Young's from their time as teammates in Cincinnati.

Some players received the news with confusion.

"I heard it was performance based," Curtis Granderson said. "At the same time, he did play well when he came back. Recently not as great, but at the same time, he could finish up well. There's a lot left to play in this month. For him to be let go for that, it's definitely a tough loss for us."

The news came as a surprise to Casey.

"I guess you never expect something like that," he said, "but I've seen it before. I think a lot of people were shocked. Dmitri is a great guy, one of the best guys I've played with. He's going to do well in whatever he does.

"I think he's piecing things back together. Sometimes, there's blessing in disguise. He's got to take this move and really go forward with it, and whatever happens, just keep his life going."

Todd Jones said that there was no clubhouse conflict.

"There wasn't any trouble," Jones said. "You guys keep digging. This man's been through a lot. This man's been through rehab. This man's been 95 or 100 days sober. If he gets released, that's all part of [the game]. But don't kick him when he's down. He's a fighter. He's a winner. We're going to miss him. But we're in a position where we've got to go."

Jones was equally philosophical about the move.

"Yeah, I think guys were a little caught off-guard about it. But this is a tough league, and every day in the Major Leagues is precious. You have to perform. Certainly, his career's not over or anything like that. He's a human being, he's a nice guy and I enjoyed being with him. But I've been released, guys have been released. You've got to do what you've got to do."

What the Tigers do from here is another matter. The team did not announce a corresponding roster move. Though Thames can fill the void at DH by playing more regularly, the release drops a left-handed bat from the roster. Leyland said he could also use Guillen at DH this weekend at Minnesota to ease his return from a strained right hamstring.

"I've got plenty of guys who'd like to play and want to play," Leyland said. "Hopefully, they'll produce."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.