So, I woke up this morning and the Mets did something. That was new. They signed free-agent outfielder Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.2 million. It’s a little weird, but let’s talk this through before we react.
Young struggled through a down year with the Oakland A’s last year, hitting at just a .200 clip, striking out a ton, and playing kinda crappy defense. FanGraphs had his 2013 UZR at 0.2 with negative-six defensive runs saved. Guh.
His lowest single-season batting average was, as you’d imagine, a product of his lowest single-season BABIP. That mark was a sad .237—but it’s easy to see why when you take a look at some batted-ball numbers. Young’s infield fly ball percentage was nearly five percentage points higher than in 2012, and that makes sense considering the ballpark he played in. Using my super-advanced Photoshop skills, here’s a comparison of infield pastures between O.co Coliseum—or whatever the hell you wanna call it—and Citi Field.
So yeah, you can predict that Young probably won’t pop out as much.
On the down side, he struck out a ton last season, K-ing in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances. That was bad. Between the strikeouts and pop flies, Young’s on-base clip was .280, which goes against pretty much everything Sandy Alderson wants.
That OBP being significantly higher than his .200 AVG is pretty encouraging though, again alluding back to the projected drop off in infield flies. As long as Young manages to strike out a little less often in 2014, it’d be reasonable to except that BABIP to creep back towards his .274 career average. If the Mets can get, say, a .245/.330/.430-type line from Young at the bottom of their order, that’s a lot better than the scraps they’d be running out in right field without him.
The Mets obviously have a need for both corner outfield spots, and Young fills one. You’d presume they’ll try and build the outfield with Juan Lagares planted in center. Lagares posted a crazy 28 DRS last season in just over 900 innings, roughly 400 and 300 less than outfield leaders Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gomez. Young will probably be slotted into right, according to Adam Rubin. Prior to last season, Young has no MLB experience at either corner, but played 26 games in right and 24 in left for the A’s. At the moment, Eric Young Jr. (this will probably get confusing) is penciled in starting in left.
The $7.2 million salary is questionable, but it’s not a long-term handicap, expiring after this season. It seems like an overpay, but at a certain point, if everybody is getting overpaid, maybe that’s just the way of the market in 2013. With Matt Harvey down until 2015, that’s what the Mets are building towards. Young has the potential to be a solid starter in right, and if not, his career .262 average against lefties—compared to .225 against right-handers—makes him a platoon candidate, with Matt den Dekker as a possible partner.
With the glove, Young won’t need to be spectacular with Lagares able to cover plenty of ground, but the Mets will hope for an improvement from 2013, when he finished 264th out of 299 qualified outfielders in runs saved.
The value is questionable, but Alderson needed a corner outfielder, and wasn’t going to get anyone else of worth on a one-year pact. The deal makes for a good trial run for the 30-year-old Young, who’ll need to prove that he can be worth significant free-agent consideration next year. If it works out, it’s a win for both sides. The Mets will get 2014 outfield help and Young will garner a multi-year deal from somebody next winter (maybe somebody like the Knicks, since he’s represented by CAA). If the deal blows up in Sandy’s face? Oh well. That $7 million is off the books immediately and they try again next winter.
With one corner down, Alderson still needs a power-hitting bat to line up in left, which will more than likely—hopefully?—be acquired via trade. The Mets have Daniel Murphy and one of the Ike Davis/Lucas Duda pu pu platoon to dangle as major-league bats, along with one of Jon Niese or Jenrry Mejia, and a glut of prospect arms. If Murphy is dealt, EY Jr. or Wilmer Flores could presumably slide in at second base full time, and the remaining of Davis or Duda (or possibly even Josh Satin?) would take the first base job.
Meanwhile, the team still has no suitable shortstop anywhere in the system, which is, err, less than ideal. New York is still looking to add a starter or two, also, so keep an eye on guys like Phil Hughes and Bronson Arroyo as potential Mets in the coming weeks—I’d personally prefer the former.
Sandy has his work cut out for him, especially with the pitiful budget he’s being allocated this winter, but the Young addition is a decent move to get the ball rolling.