We've got just over a week until pitchers and catchers report, yet a significant part of the M's success last year isn't going to be reporting anywhere. At least not yet. Chris Young, owner of a 3.65 ERA (shhh, ignore the peripherals) over 165 innings last year, hasn't signed anywhere after the Mariners chose to let him walk in free agency. We haven't even heard anything about Young, really. There are seven entries on Young on MLBTR since the offseason began. Four of them are speculative (maybe he could fit here, there), two of them are about the other Chris Young, and one of them is a link to him saying he'd like to come back to Seattle.
Who knows, maybe there has been contact between Young and the Mariners. I can't imagine there's been no contact at all between him and other teams, late-season downturn and 5.02 FIP be damned. There's more than a handful of teams who would have to see what Young did, defying his peripherals, staying healthy, and getting positive results, right? Surely, that translates into a major league deal for somebody.
Still, nothing. It's likely that Young has gotten a bunch of minor league deals, but hasn't seen anything guaranteed. That's pretty harsh for a guy who has demonstrated he knows what he's doing, and is freely willing to sacrifice missing bats for continued weak contact and a bonanza of fly balls. But this late in the game, without a long track record of both his peripheral-breaking success combined with health to stand on, it's become increasingly unlikely that Young will get anything more than a one-year deal at age 35, if he gets one at all.
This is fascinating to me, simply because there's a non-zero chance that Young could produce at a similar level to J.A. Happ in 2015, if they were on the same roster. It's not even remotely a lock -- despite the crazy shaved-rib surgery Young had to supposedly permanently fix his woes, 165 innings was a seven-year high for Young, and he faded down the stretch, allowing a .874 OPS after the All-Star break. That, combined with his repulsive output away from Safeco Field, makes him a dangerous bet if the starts don't align as nicely as they did last year -- and Young started more games on the road than he did at home!
The M's would have to manage Young in a very cautious and specific way to try and match the production he got in 2014, which is why they've probably thanked him for his services and chosen not to leap back in in a year when they intend to win the division. That's understandable. So instead, they traded two years of Michael Saunders for year of J.A. Happ to fill the back end of the rotation.
Happ comes with a $6.7 million price tag, so barring another finger-in-the-net to Hisashi Iwakuma, he's going to bump one of Roenis Elias, Taijuan Walker, or James Paxton to AAA when the year starts. It'd be one thing if Happ was the polar opposite of Young -- durable, reliable, etc. -- but he's not. Happ's career high in innings is 166, lower than Young's -- and his 158 innings in 2014 actually managed to be less than Young put out. Happ bounced into the bullpen for a bit, but so did Young. While Happ's peripherals look better than Young's, the results were worse, albeit in far more punishing ballpark(s). The M's would be lucky to get the kind of year from Happ they got from Young in 2014.
I'm done ripping the Happ for Saunders trade, because it's done and the Mariners have shaped their offseason around it in kind. They've managed to fill Saunders' spot with something more reliable and healthy, and there's a pretty good chance Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith are matching (or beating) the production too. I'm just wondering if there's any point the Mariners think about flipping J.A. Happ and bringing back Chris Young for dirt cheap. Yeah, probably not.
There's simply no room for Young as it stands now. The Mariners will need the upside of Walker and Paxton to bust out of the AL West this year, and realistically, Chris Young's upside is probably last year. J.A. Happ's upside, despite his similarly Safeco-friendly skillset, isn't much higher than what Young managed to perform a year before, unless the Mariners have seen something that indicates he's about to bust loose. After all, the M's did try to trade for Happ at last year's deadline, right at the onset of Young beginning to fade. We know the Mariners got a lot of calls on Happ the second he was traded just in case the M's were interested in flipping him, but they were, presumably, shot down. Plus, the chances of getting anything for Happ that really helps in immediacy are improbable.
It's probably too cute to think the Mariners could shuffle things around now. It's probably smart that they aren't, too. The M's rotation is pretty much set outside of a final spot that involves players with minor league options. It seems like Young is just destined to end up in a ballpark where he can't succeed, and that's a huge bummer. He wants to be here, and I for one very much enjoyed watching him confuse the hell out of batters as they circled back to the dugout after one warning track fly out after another. There's something depressing about seeing his offseason unfold like this, finally putting his career back together and not getting another opportunity to succeed. Not to be once again be put in a situation custom-tailored for him. He'll probably end up as a spring-training injury replacement for some team, and that ERA will probably fly back up the second he is forced to pitch in a neutral ballpark, let alone a bandbox. He's a legit FIP-buster, but he needs the right ballpark, too.
There's value waiting to be squeezed out of a 2015 version of Young, but it probably only exists in Seattle and a select few other ballparks. Putting the analysis aside, I just hope he gets one of those opportunities. The way he attains success is too interesting to go to waste.