Next Mets Free Agent Target: Jeff D’Amico

This offseason has been trying, to say the least, for most Mets fans. Yes, I get the whole idea of rebuilding, the constrained budget, the need for MLB to take over the organization, and that 2011 is a throwaway season. But it’s still disappointing to see that the “big” acquisitions of the winter are D.J. Carrasco, Ronny Paulino, Boof Bonser, and Chin-lung Hu. Seriously?

But there’s still another month to six weeks of potential activity before spring training opens; meaning, there could still be some “big” free agent signing coming up. Unfortunately, “big” means a cheap bullpen arm (Manny Delcarmen? Randy Flores?), a fourth outfielder (Fred Lewis? Delwyn Young?), and/or a high-risk, low-reward starting pitcher coming off injury (Jeff Francis? Chris Young?).

Wait … did I get that term confused? Isn’t it supposed to be “LOW-risk, high-reward” ?

Yeah, but when you’re talking about Chris Young and Jeff Francis, it’s the other way around.

Since November, the rumors have been swirling among the Mets beat writers and blogosphere that Young and Francis are on Sandy Alderson’s radar, and one of them will wind up wearing a blue and orange cap at a press conference before Valentine’s Day. Big woopty-doo, I say. Considering that Alderson’s budget is down to a mere $4 or $5M (maybe less), I don’t see how it is a “low risk” to blow most of it on a pitcher over 30 who a) is recovering from shoulder surgery; and b) was never really that awesome before the surgery.

Young had a nice three-year run from 2005-2007, where he established himself as a “sleeper” who would be surprisingly effective in the middle or back-end of a playoff team’s rotation. In 7 MLB seasons, he’s been double-digits in wins twice, with 12 victories his career high. Wins often have more to do with the team you play for than your personal performance, but consider that he’s never pitched as many as 180 innings in a season, despite making 30+ starts three times. In other words, he’s a 5-inning pitcher, whose win totals were at least somewhat affected by his inability to hang around long enough to get a win.

At 6’10″, with his brief string of success, lack of velocity, and chronic injury issues, Chris Young reminds me of Jeff D’Amico — who was supposed to be one of the keys to the Mets’ 2002 trade that also returned Jeromy Burnitz to Flushing. D’Amico was three inches shorter, but his height and similarly awful mechanics lent to back and arm problems. He had two impressive years, though, that, combined with his height, made scouts salivate — and caused GMs to continually take chances on him.

Francis is two inches shorter than D’Amico and five inches shorter than Young but the history and skill set are similar. Despite his height, he’s not a hard-thrower (like D’Amico and Young), and he reached the 200-inning mark only once in his career — in 2007, right before a drastic downward spiral in performance that culminated in shoulder surgery. Francis did reach 17 wins once, but if you are of the opinion that Chris Young never won more than a dozen because his team wasn’t great, then you must also believe that Francis won 17 because his team WAS great (right?). Though, Francis did hang around in games longer than Young, averaging about 6 innings per start (to Young’s 5 1/3). And Francis pitched in a hitter’s park (Coors Launchpad) while Young enjoyed hurling in a pitcher’s park upon arriving in San Diego. Further, Francis has a more interesting repertoire; he changes speeds better than Young and generally stays in a lower part of the strike zone. But, he gives up far more hits … though he walks fewer batters.

What it comes down to is this: Chris Young looked like he was on the verge of “breaking out” when he was 26-27 years old and throwing in the mid-90s. He’s now over 30 and barely able to top out in the low-90s on a good day — and doesn’t change speeds well. Further, his fastball tends to be straight and high. You can figure out what happens next. Francis, on the other hand, never really relied on velocity but he’s lost a few MPH on what he did have, and is now a softer-tossing, crafty lefthander who pitches to contact and walks too many batters to make that formula work; basically, a poor man’s Jamie Moyer. If either of these men can stay 100% healthy through 2011, the Mets might have a decent back-end starter — but that’s a big “if”. Is that worth spending most of the budget? Does it sound “low-risk, high-reward” to you? Or the other way around?

Ironically, it sounds like the kind of “hopes and wishes” strategy used by Mets GMs in the past … those who gambled on pitchers who were damaged goods but showed flashes of potential. Guys like Freddy Garcia, Kelvim Escobar, Jose Lima, and, yes, Jeff D’Amico.

The free-agent pool for starting pitchers is pretty slim; the only arms that seem not to be risky are the ones attached to the underwhelming Kevin Millwood, Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen, Jeff Suppan, and Brian Burres. So one can understand why the Mets might target Young and Francis (though, why no love for Jeremy Bonderman, or Brad Penny?). I guess the idea is to hope and pray that Young or Francis have a hot first half, and become trade bait in July (or Type A / B free agents next winter). But all I see is Jeff D’Amico.

10-11 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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