On Sunday, the Yankees officially re-signed outfielder Chris Young to an incentive-laden contract with a base salary of $2.5M. He’ll be the team’s fourth outfielder, behind the trio of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. Young had something resembling a renaissance with the Yankees in 2014, after joining the club midseason when the Mets cut him loose. It seems like that impressed the Yankees enough to bring him back on a major league deal.
Now 31 years-old, the right-handed swinging Young has struggled to regain his form displayed earlier in his career with Arizona. He posted back-to-back 4 fWAR seasons in 2010 and 2011, with 47 home runs, 50 steals, a 106 wRC+, and above average defense. He’s been a shell of that player in the three seasons since, with the exception of his 79 plate appearance stint with the Yankees in which his offensive performance was good for a 146 wRC+. Certainly, his play in pinstripes can be chalked up to a small sample size and arbitrary endpoints, but Young points to Kevin Long aiding his turnaround.
I don’t necessarily buy Young’s opinion given the short period of time with the team, and Steamer’s projection concurs. It foresees a 97 wRC+, with 13 home runs in 393 trips to the plate. That’s certainly better than what he did for the Mets, but a far cry from his performance with the Yankees in 2014, let alone his heyday with the Diamondbacks. Still, that doesn’t mean this was a bad signing — assuming he isn’t forced into regular duty. As I wrote last week, I’d be happy to have him back as outfield depth. However, if Young does approach 400 plate appearances, as Steamer foresees, that means one of the starting outfielders would miss significant time on the disabled list. A prime candidate for injury would be Beltran, whose age and health woes make it easy to envision a scenario where Young gets thrust into extended playing time.
In a vacuum, this move is fine. Young makes for a solid back-up at this stage of his career. Yet, it’s Beltran that concerns me about Young eventually getting exposed. I’d like to be optimistic given Young’s comments about his work with Long, but I’m also trying to be realistic. It’s been a long time since he’s been a productive regular player, and it’s plausible that he’ll be forced into such a role at some stage of 2015.
Steamer projection via Fangraphs