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Mets Trade Primer: Outfielder Eric Young Jr.

What's another outfielder among friends?


While all the talk yesterday was, justifiably, about the Metropolitans' Harvey-and-Wheeler-fueled Braves beatdown, today we can move on to trade talk. And instead of mid-season speculation about superstars fringy guys moving to away from Citi Field, we actually have a real-life baseball trade to talk about!

After more than a year and a half of dancing around it, yesterday the Mets finally acquired outfielder Eric Young Jr. from the Colorado Rockies. Going back to Colorado in the deal is Collin McHugh. Young was designated for assignment by the Rockies about a week ago, so it's not a surprise he was moved.

So here's the goods on Young: he's a switch-hitting 28-year-old outfielder—who has more than a little experience at second base but has been a disaster there—whose main weapon is his speed.

His bat is, uh, let's see, how can I put this delicately? It's not his strong suit. In 855 major league plate appearances over the course of parts of five seasons he's posted a .261/.329/.342 triple-slash line. That should tell you a few things: no power, and not a very impressive batting average. Using Fangraphs' wRC+ metric, he scores a 74 for his career, which means that he's been roughly 25 percent worse than league average with the stick.

It would be one thing if Young was a phenomenal defensive outfielder, but despite his speed, he's not. Surfing around Purple Row, I get the impression that he's got, as one commenter put it "a minus bat, minus glove, and minus arm." He's not a real safe bet to play center field, but he can in a pinch. He doesn't have a great arm for right field. But he probably won't look like Lucas Duda out there, and that's an improvement.

But man, does this cat have wheels. In 2011 and 2012, Young was worth nearly a full win above replacement level just based on his baserunning alone, according to Fangraphs' metrics. Since 2011 he's stolen 49 bases despite very limited playing time, was caught only 10 times. That's a reasonable percentage. He adds, dare I say, elite value on the basepaths, whether it's going from first to third, going from second to home, or stealing bases.

Finally, I'll bring your attention to his 2012 season. While his 2013 has been, in short, not very good (.242/.290/.352 triple-slash), his 2012 was actually quite excellent. Despite only getting 196 plate appearances, Young posted a triple-slash line of .316/.377/.448. Instead of being a poor offensive player, he was actually an above-average offensive player, one with a very solid on-base percentage and slugging percentage that veered away from "embarassing" and was headed for "respectable". If capable of repeating what he did in 2012, Young is a starting-caliber outfielder ... it's just a shame he hasn't done that in nearly the same number of plate appearances this season.

And that brings us to his role with the Mets. If he's not going to play second base—and he shouldn't—he's going to have to compete with a zillion other guys for playing time in the Mets' outfield. He's not a pure center fielder, like Juan Lagares, but he may not be a worse option defensively in the middle. He doesn't offer a substantive platoon advantage, though he does hit righties slightly better than lefties, so maybe he could be an option on days when Marlon Byrd or Andrew Brown needs a break.

Do I expect Young to play everyday for the Mets? Heck no. I'd be shocked if he gets more than a few spot starts in center or left, while primarily operating as a defensive replacement / pinch-runner. If he impresses in those spots when he actually gets a chance to either run or hit, then maybe he could wiggle his way into a few days of playing time. Or perhaps if Marlon Byrd sees himself dealt at the deadline, Young might squeeze into a few more starts. But with the host of higher-upside and younger players in the Mets outfield, he'll likely be only counted on to use his singular skill.

And don't get me wrong, this is a skill that the Mets did not have before adding Young to the team. I'd say he's immediately the fastest player on the team, and something that can have a targeted use late in games. He's a fine bench option.

I suppose we should also consider what the Mets lost in the deal, which is several more years of Collin McHugh. McHugh, who turned 26 years old today, was almost certainly better than the numbers he posted in 28 and 1/3 innings with the Mets between this year and last. Collin had an 8.26 ERA, a 15% strikeout rate, and generally made the team much, much worse whenever he pitched.

In truth, Collin is probably a better pitcher than that. And starting pitching, even at the Triple-A level can be a valuable commodity. But McHugh, despite a pretty good minor-league pedigree, probably wasn't a serious contender for a big-league rotation spot for this team. He probably wasn't even a serious contender for a bullpen role. Even Collin's biggest fans might say that this wasn't a huge price to pay for Young, and finding a role for the birthday boy might be difficult with the emerging young talent in the Mets' system.

Basically, the Mets traded depth from their greatest position of strength—starting pitching—for depth in their greatest position of need: the outfield. I don't expect great things from Eric Young, given that he's a 28-year-old with only one remotely decent season in his career. But I expect average things from Young. And there's a chance he could do good things.

I can live with average and (maybe) good things, when other players on the roster are doing the great stuff.