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.

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.
  1. Joe Z December 30, 2010 at 7:21 am
    I do see your point. This is a well written article with a solid premise. The true high risk, high reward guy is Ben Sheets. I guess the hope in the end is that if either Jeff Francis or Chris Young end up on the Mets, its that the price comes down enough to push it to “low enough risk”.
    • Tasan December 30, 2010 at 10:27 pm
      Anything related to Scot Boras is High RISK, YANKEE REWARD.
  2. Tim December 30, 2010 at 10:59 am
    Good article. It seems like the thought of having a decent, back end starter going through arm or shoulder rehab and molding him into a solid pitcher seems to make GM’s drool. If the mets are going to go after someone with high risk/ low reward, Justin Duchscherer might have a higher reward.
    • Tasan December 30, 2010 at 10:23 pm
      How is Justin Duchscherer …high risk?
      • Tim January 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm
        I thought he just went through shoulder sugery….
  3. Stu B December 30, 2010 at 11:01 am
    The guy I’d like to see is Millwood. He pitched decently at times with the Orioles and Rangers the last 2 years (3.67 ERA in 2009) and, like many pitchers, would benefit from a move to the NL and Citi Field. Plus, he presumably is healthy.
    • Tasan December 30, 2010 at 10:30 pm
      If they wanted Millwood, they should have gone for him during the season. (although presumably under the Minaya Regime). I still think the Wilpons have pawns in their front office manipulating a majority of the front desk transactions. Don’t think they want Millwood. He’s old too…durability in question when age is in question…and no I dont want to watch another pedro martinez pitcher (who in their prime was very good but with age, is a struggle to watch)
    • Joe Janish December 31, 2010 at 1:23 pm
      I kind of like Millwood too, and have liked him for a long time. My only concern is that he looked really awful the last time I saw him, which was against the Mets this past June; he looked like a shell of his former self and seemed to be really straining himself just to get the ball to the plate. Maybe it was just a bad night; he did manage to pitch 7+ innings 9 times last year, and made 31 starts, which is what the Mets need — someone at the end of the rotation to eat up innings and stay off the DL.
  4. gary s. December 30, 2010 at 11:52 am
    Boy oh boy, there are going to be a lot of empty seats at citifield next year.Despite what Alderson has said, look for the mets to be big players in signing FA’s for the 2012 season to get some fannies back in the seats,They are going to lose a lot of attendence with this austerity plan in 2011.
    • Tasan December 30, 2010 at 10:26 pm
      agree… you are one smart dude…

      not ever FA class of 2012 will be very high. I say the trading front and drafting will need to take precedence. MLBtraderumors did an article on 2012 (or 2011?)FA class…not so good…lets develop

      • Joe Janish December 30, 2010 at 10:40 pm
        MLBTR did a report on the 2012-2013 offseason, which is still two years away and not very helpful since there are many players who will sign extensions before then.

        As for “developing”, there isn’t much to develop that will be ready within a year or two; this is a 4-6 year project at minimum.

  5. Gavin December 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm
    Considering that he only cost $3million with incentives, Webb would have been a good option. Honestly, I’d rather spend the money elsewhere and use the likes of Gee and Misch in the rotation rather than blowing the majority of our money on pitchers like Francis and Young who are both injury prone and are not much of an upgrade on what we already have.
  6. NormE December 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm
    Joe,
    Perhaps you could address this issue by comparing the options of Jeff Francis v. Pat Misch (soft throwing lefties)
    and Chris Young v. Dillon Gee (non-flame throwing righties).
    If you opt for Misch and Gee, perhaps the money saved could be used to upgrade elsewhere.
    • Joe Janish December 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm
      Norm, that’s a good idea. I honestly don’t see that much of a difference between Misch/Francis and Gee/Young, or however one would compare the four. In fact the more I look at Misch, the more I think he could be a very effective and efficient option for a #4 or #5 starter. As for Gee, the numbers are not quite as encouraging, but my heart and gut say he could be at least as good as Brian Bannister was with KC — which is not tremendous but good enough to fill in the back of the rotation for a year or two.
  7. Tasan December 30, 2010 at 10:21 pm
    so you’re blaming Alderson for not having money? Mets are in the “addition by subtraction” state of the union now. If you switched sports and looked at the knicks, this is the same situation. You purge your payroll of bloated useless salaries and you rebuild using homegrown talent and strategic signings.

    Are you blaming the free agent crop? cuz pretty much everyone not cliff lee or carl crawford sucks.

    I think the main problem is pessimistic faux-journalism…so-called blogs filled with bloggers who pose impatient random critiques. You can call sports whatever you like but the bottom line is that its a business. Business what you say?!? Business? Say you what? Business you what say? Yes Business is competitive. And basically you can’t be competitive without the $$$….which the mets are throwing at benchwarmers right now.

    Matt Cerrone sucks.

    and he’s a tool.

    • Joe Janish December 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm
      Not really; I’m blaming the Mets for pretending to be big spenders in a big market but then falling short of outspending their mistakes, as the Yankees and Red Sox do regularly.

      The Knicks are not a valid comparison because they operate under the restriction of an inane salary cap. If not for the cap, the Knicks would EASILY have been able to outspend their stupid decisions.

      There is no problem with “pessimistic faux-journalism” — it is something that is out there and can be read or ignored by choice. The beauty of the internet is that it offers the ability for anyone and everyone to state their opinion; whether or not people pay attention to that opinion, and agree/disagree, is completely optional — as is the choice to voice one’s agreement or disagreement. This is a MAJOR change in the dynamic of media compared to the days of 7 TV channels and a handful of newspapers that spoke “at” the media receiver and whose messages were easily controlled by The Almighty Dollar.

      BTW why do you keep mentioning Matt Cerrone here? He doesn’t write for MetsToday.

      • Tasan January 4, 2011 at 8:32 pm
        the mlb luxury tax is more or less a salary cap considering only a handful of teams (big market mind you) cross that threshold…

        the knicks did try to outspend their mistakes and it ended up in a crippling decade of uncompetitive teams.

        matt cerrone gives mets fans a bad name. plus he censors his audience…he’s a b****

  8. John January 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm
    I would like to see Gee get a serious shot. I know he doesn’t have the “tools” that a scout would like to see, but he keeps winning. On nights when his team scores 6 runs he gives up 5. When his team scores 4 runs he gives up 3.
    It seems he has the one thing you can’t measure….heart.
    I know that often that just isn’t enough. But I sure would like to find out.