Revisiting the decision to sign Chris Young

News hit Monday that Chris Young “essentially” has the same shoulder injury that Johan Santana suffered. This means his 2011 season is likely over. Everyone knew that Young was a huge injury risk but we certainly hoped he would throw more than 24 IP before he was shut down for the season.

The Mets’ financial situation forced them to shop in the bargain basement rack of free agent pitchers. Their best bet was to sign a risk-reward guy. Young certainly fit the high-risk part of the equation. He had combined for just 96 IP the past two years and had never thrown more than 179.1 IP in any season in his career.

At the time of the signing, I wondered just how much of a high-reward guy Young actually was. I did not think that the reward he was likely to give was worth the risk that he carried. Young’s results in Spring Training and in his four games with the Mets showed that the reward was greater than I had anticipated. Perhaps better than any other similarly-priced free agent available. But likely the risk was even greater, too.

I’ll let others talk about how the Mets replace Young going forward. I want to look back at the decision to sign Young and look at the alternatives that may have been available to Sandy Alderson and the Mets.

It appears there were a dozen free agent pitchers in the bargain basement section this offseason that the Mets might have picked instead of Young. Here are the pitchers, what they signed for and their IP and ERA both last year and this year to date. Most of these pitchers also had bonuses in their contracts. So did Young. All dollar figures are in millions

Name Contract 2010 IP 2010 ERA 2011 IP 2011 ERA
Dave Bush 1 year/$1 174.1 4.54 16.1 2.20
Bruce Chen 1 year/$2 140.1 4.17 42.2 3.59
Kevin Correia 2 years/$8 145.0 5.40 46.1 2.91
Jeff Francis 1 year/$2 104.1 5.00 46.0 5.09
Freddy Garcia 1 year/$1.5 157.0 4.64 25.0 2.88
Jon Garland 1 year/$5 200.0 3.47 32.0 3.66
Vicente Padilla 1 year /$2 95.0 4.07 7.0 2.57
Brad Penny 1 year/$3 55.2 3.23 49.0 4.78
Jeremy Bonderman Unsigned 171.0 5.53
Doug Davis Minor League 38.1 7.51 6.2 0.00
Kevin Millwood Unsigned 190.2 5.10
Jeff Suppan Minor League 70.1 3.84 32.1 5.29

So, how should we rate Sandy Alderson on his decision to sign Young? I think the Mets needed a pitcher to get through the All-Star break, or the expected return for Santana. Young did not profile as an especially good choice to last. Nine pitchers on the above list threw 100 or more innings last year and another threw 95.

As mentioned earlier, Young threw 96 IP the past two years combined, with only 20 of those coming last year. All 12 of the pitches listed above threw more innings last year than Young and all 12 had topped Young’s career-best in innings, too.

But while we established the risk involved in signing Young, we have not talked much about the reward side of the equation. Surely Young jumps ahead of some of the names listed above simply due to his greater upside. But how much reward did the Mets need? Would they have been better off with a player likely to be a bit below league average but likely to give them innings?

Considering that the Mets were taking on another pitcher rebounding from injury in Chris Capuano, I believe Alderson should have gone for a safer pick here. In the preseason I mentioned Bonderman and Francis as guys that would fit this bill. Bush would have been a reasonable choice, too. If those pitchers did not offer enough upside for your tastes, Penny had more of that and had less risk than Young.

No one should be surprised that Young failed to deliver needed innings for the Mets. Alderson swung for the fences with this move and came up predictably empty. The Mets’ new general manager has made a bunch of positive moves for the club but we cannot pretend that this was not an avoidable mistake. When evaluating this move, we simply cannot be swayed by the three strong outings he gave the club and wonder what might have been had he stayed healthy.

Simply, there was little evidence to suggest that he would stay on the field.

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