Mets Sign Chris Young (OF) to One Year, $7.2 Million Deal; But Why?

In a vacuum, I am torn on this Chris Young deal.  For the Mets, I don’t like it.

As has been reported elsewhere (ok, nearly everywhere, as the Mets blogosphere has exploded in the last five years or so), the Mets came to terms with outfielder Chris Young on a one year, $7.2 million dollar contract on Friday.

As a Mets fan and blogger, being able to live-blog my reactions to signings and trades is both liberating and depressing.  Unlike the typical Monday Morning Quarterback, over the last half-decade I have, rather than second-guessing the team’s decisions, have been able to give my predictions and reactions in real time.  For the most part, when I have disagreed with the franchise, I’ve been right and the Mets have been wrong.  This is equal parts vindicating and depressing.

The reason that I mention this is because I was reading about the Chris Young deal and I saw the following list posted by a commenter over at Baseball Think Factory:

Fewest PA/WAR among centerfielders, 2010-2013, with 1000+ plate appearances:

Welcome buddy. High five to you too. Credit: wikicommons.

72 Trout
109 McCutcheon
118 C. Gomez
120 Ellsbury
134 Bourjos
135 A. Jackson
141 Victorino
149 Crisp
151 Bourn
153 Granderson
165 C. Young
188 Pagan
188 Byrd
192 A. Jones

“Fewest plate appearances per win above replacement” is about as esoteric of a stat as you’ll see me use here, but bear with me.  Basically, this list is saying that for regular center fielders, you might be surprised to learn that Chris Young has been the 11th best over the last three seasons.  Much of this value comes from 2011, his best season, and much of it is based on defense.  But there it is, nonetheless, in black and white.

Third on that list is Carlos Gomez, former Met.  Remember when everyone thought he was going to be bad forever?  Well, although nobody could have predicted the power-spike, I did write this about him prior to the 2010 season [FN1]:

Last year Gomez was able to do a lot of very, very positive things. First, he was able to increase his walk rate from 4.1% to 6.3%, while his isolated power held steady at over .100… he was able to hit more line drives (from 17.4% to 19.2%) while decreasing his fly ball percentage…He also decreased the number of pitches he swung at outside the strike zone from 36% to 30% while keeping all of his other swing and contact numbers almost identically the same.

In addition, he remained an excellent defensive centerfielder. He had an UZR/150 of +16 in his first year in Minnesota… He is a great, great defender.

If Gomez, who is still young, can make an incremental improvement in his walk rate, and have neutral luck, he can have a huge bounce-back season at the plate. Even if he doesn’t, his sterling defense makes him a very valuable player… I think Gomez can hit .275 and get on base around .340… Look for Gomez to make a big contribution to the Brewers this year, both offensively and defensively. If he plays every day, he can score 100 runs and steal 40 bases, and be in the running for a Gold Glove.

I was a couple of years early, but Gomez has blossomed into an ABSOLUTE MONSTER.  Last year Gomez hit .284/.338/.506, with 24 home runs and 40 steals.  For his career, his UZR/150 in center field is 17.3 — which makes him the elite center fielder in the game (of full timers, respect to Peter Bourjos and others).  Here’s the important takeaway from this though: the glove can be worth it.  Even when Gomez was hitting .225, he posted positive WAR values every single season; he even posted 1.9 WAR in a season where he put up a .275 on-base percentage.

All of this brings us back to Chris Young.

My immediate reaction to the deal was probably similar to many Mets fans: we only have $25 to $30 million to spend, and we’re spending almost a third of that on CHRIS YOUNG, a guy who hit .200 last season, played only 100 games, and struck out a quarter of the time??  Between that and his age (30), there is not much here to love.

However, many have argued that there is plenty to like.  Prior to 2013, Young posted 2.5 WAR in 2012 (+11 defense) and 4.5 WAR in 2011 (+18 defense).  Even though much of that value was indeed tied up in his defense, which is not something you want to bank on with a 30 year old player, he hit enough to bring back positive value as well.  If Young can regain some of his defensive prowess — even an above-average, not spectacular season with the glove — we could be looking at a 2-win player with even a moderate bounce back with the bat.

The current market for a 2-win player is somewhere around $10 million per season, and many predicted that Chris Young would net a contract somewhere around double the size of what he got from the Mets (2 years, 8MM per).  So, Brian, what’s not to like?

Notwithstanding the above analysis, I just don’t get it.  From a business perspective, Chris Young for only one year and a significant portion of our offseason budget doesn’t fit into the bigger picture.

Put aside, for a moment, the talk of WAR and marginal wins and even simple things like batting average.  Where are the Mets right now?  They’re not winning anything.  Are they trying to catch lighting-in-a-bottle like Marlon Byrd, who they can hopefully trade at the deadline for a useful piece?  Are they trying to pick up the best bargain possible so that they can save face in the 2014 season rather than being a laughingstock?  Where are the Mets on the success cycle?

If the Mets think that Chris Young is a viable bounceback candidate, they should have taken the risk and signed him for two years, not one, even if the dollar amount is higher (Think he would have gone for 2/14? Yes, that’s steeper, but the second year is only $6.5 and it would guarantee him almost twice as much). Alternatively, if the Mets think that Chris Young is unlikely to bounce back, why spend such a significant portion of the budget on him (or sign him in the first place) when there are cheaper alternatives in-house?

Finally, if the Mets think he is somewhere in the middle, with a wide range of potential outcomes, what is the efficacy of signing him for one year?  What is the point of displacing Juan Lagares, a superior defender to Young who is 6 years his junior?  If Young rebounds, he’s gone, or very expensive, in 2015, just like LaTroy Hawkins or Marlon Byrd or any other guy who has re-established his value while with a flagging franchise.

In Sandy We Trust

This signing smacks, like many Mets moves, of desperation.  Of aspiration to mediocrity.  Chris Young is likely to be a fine player next year — a fine player that will nudge the Mets meaninglessly toward 80 or 82 wins and make no impact on the next winning Mets team.

I’m not suggesting that the Mets should not make improvements to put a better quality product on the field.  I just wonder, openly, if the money wouldn’t be better invested in a player who could make a longer commitment, or if the money could be saved and put into a couple bigger-ticket items that we know will contribute in the future rather than be one-and-done.

Before people tell me to get out of my mother’s basement (hey, it’s comfortable here! (seriously, I’m not in my mother’s basement)) I’m a real Mets fan who wants to watch the team win and doesn’t play baseball on a spreadsheet.  Nonetheless, I have always been willing to sacrifice a meaningless win now for a potential pennant contender later.  I welcome Chris Young, but why?

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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City.  Brian grew up near Shea Stadium and never understood why Edgardo Alfonzo wasn’t more famous during the Mets’ 1999-2000 run.

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[FN1] In the same offseason, I advocated for the Mets to sign Edwin Encarnacion, who had just been non-tendered.  In the interest of fairness, in the same article, I said the Mets should buy low on Taylor Buchholz (who eventually, I believe, battled with depression and retired), Lastings Milledge (who has been great in Japan), and Ryan Rowland-Smith (who wasted all of 2011 in what appears to have been a failed attempt at conversion to starter, but was excellent in Triple-A last year).

In my favorite prediction moment, I flipped out about the Mets’ signing of Jason Bay for about a month, while other Mets fans and bloggers thought it was okay.  I called it, among other things, a “colossal mistake”:

This is it – the beginning of the end for Minaya. This is EXACTLY the kind of move that ends a tenure as a GM. That, while receiving lukewarm approval from the fanbase and newspapers today, will be a complete and utter disaster by the end of the contract.

Naaaaaaailed it.  A follow up in 2010 was similarly dire.