Can Signing Pitchers Not Named Cliff Lee Still Help the Mets?

With Johan Santana being out at least half the season, Mets fans are collectively wondering how the Sandy Alderson regime will approach filling Santana’s shoes (or cleats). The obvious answer, at least in New York, is to go out and sign the biggest and best name—that being Cliff Lee. While Lee would certainly give the Mets rotation a much-needed boost, unfortunately, adding Lee doesn’t make much sense from a dollars and years perspective.

On that note, it’s common knowledge that the Mets have been burned by far too many long-term deals (see: Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, etc…), so pursuing one-year, low-risk/high-reward contracts could be a prudent approach—particularly for filling out the rotation. With that line of thinking, if Cliff Lee doesn’t fit the bill, who does?

My votes go to both Chris R. Young and Jeff Francis. From 2004 to 2008, Chris R. Young was considered an emerging ace pitcher in the majors. Standing at a towering 6′ 10″, Young posted a 3.72 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 42 Wins, and 588 K’s in 655.6 IP for the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres. His one problem, however, has been staying healthy. Between 2008 and 2010, Young only pitched 198.3 innings, and looked like toast in 2009 (5.22 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 5:4 K/BB ratio). Even though most people have written him off, Young did throw 20 under-the-radar, quality innings late in 2010 for the Padres (0.90 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 15 K’s, 11 BB’s, and 2 Wins). Those innings aren’t enough to net him a Ben Sheets-esq contract, but a one-year, $2-3 million offer (with incentives) could be justifiable and wise.

In addition to Young, Jeff Francis too has dealt with a plethora of injuries—most notably, shoulder surgery in early 2009. Unlike Tommy John surgery, which has become baseball’s version of “getting your tonsils out,” shoulder surgery is a bigger, more daunting animal to overcome. Despite this, the left-handed Francis bounced back after missing the entire 2009 to post a 5.00 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and a 3:1 K/BB ratio in 104.3 IP for the Colorado Rockies. Certainly not the most awe-inspiring numbers, but keep in mind that with each successful year removed from shoulder surgery, Francis is more likely to regain form. Since the Rockies declined Francis’ $7 million option, that figure should serve as a boundary for potential suitors. He might command more than Young will, but a one-year contract at around $3-6 million should be sufficient.

While neither Young nor Francis are ace pitchers, adding them to the likes of Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, and Mike Pelfrey, will give the Mets a chance to win games with each start—an asset the Mets have been devoid of for far too long. As great as it would be to see Cliff Lee trot out to the mound every fifth day in 2011, on that same token, I’m not sure I would say the same thing come 2016.

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Tags: Ben Berkon Chris R. Young Chris Young Cliff Lee High Reward Jeff Francis Low Risk Mets New York New York Mets Pitchers Rotation Sandy Alderson Savvy Thifty

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