Best wishes to Chris Young, who is now a Met.
Readers of this blog know that I admire Young for how he competed for the Padres. In that regard, I think his experiences as a basketball star for Princeton translated to baseball. Young didn't fluster easily. He was every bit as prepared as, say, Peyton Manning. He adapted well to the game's dynamics. The former Ivy Leaguer is both book smart AND people smart. Someday, I think he'll be a good sports executive.
When I think of Young's Padres tenure, I think first of his victory over the Cardinals in the 2006 playoffs. I've also written many times -- too many times -- that it's still the Padres' only postseason victory since Sterling Hitchcock beat the Braves to clinch the 1998 NLCS in Atlanta. Young's scoreless performance against Albert Pujols and friends whetted the appetite for more October tests that have yet to come. Coping with a balky back, Young didn't have full velocity when he beat the Cardinals, but he had deception and guts. And, he had Bruce Bochy, whose timely pep talk supplied Young with a much-needed boost that night in St. Louis. Manager's visits to the mound probably are over-rated by the media, generally speaking. But a few months ago while Bochy was directing the Giants so impressively, Young singled out Bochy for that one.
I also think Young was a very good teammate. Mat Latos told me more than once that Young was an invaluable mentor to him. Several times when I chatted with Young, the Tattoed One lingered nearby to hear what Young had to say. The two were clubhouse neighbors. Young spoke to Latos about how to channel his competitiveness. In that area, the two are pretty similar. Actually, they're probably more similar in that area than commonly perceived, Young's just much better at managing his inner lava. Actually, he was much better at it. Latos evolved quite a bit in that area this past year.
Young also talked to Latos about how to deceive hitters by moving the ball up and down. Both pitchers are tall right-handers who throw over-the-top and use a four-seam fastball as their foundation pitch. Add it all up, and I have little doubt that Young was an ideal mentor for Latos.
Young's departure now closes a chapter in Padres history. Call it the Gonzo-C.Y. chapter. Both Adrian Gonzalez and Young came to the Padres in the blockbuster trade with the Rangers at the start of 2006, and now they've left the Padres in the same offseason. Aside from becoming friends, Gonzalez and Young became very good producers for the Padres--quickly. Obviously the trade with the Rangers was a ridiculously lopsided deal. And the trade has the potential to further benefit the Padres if the former Red Sox prospects acquired for Gonzalez return value to San Diego. Yet now that Gonzalez and Young are gone, I can't help but think that the Padres missed an opportunity while they were here. I'm thinking back to a comment that Sandy Alderson made to me entering the 2008 season. I do not have the article or my notes handy, so the wording here may not be exact, but this is the gist of what Alderson said: "It's great that we traded for Adrian and Chris, but now we need to capitalize on it." In other words, it's great to "win" a trade, but it's even better to win PLAYOFF games. Well, that didn't happen. At least not after 2006. And Young's injuries were part of it. For all of his diligence, Young has suffered a spate of injuries that made him overpaid as his multi-year contract played out.
That the Padres didn't capitalize on the trade as Alderson had hoped can't be blamed on lack of trying. The 2007 Padres were a very gritty bunch. In the end, they were eliminated in a 163rd game by a Rockies team that had gone on an epic run just to create that game. Know this about the 2007 Padres: The players and the front office were convinced that if the Padres had reached the postseason with their pitching set up, they would've won the National League pennant. I wasn't quite that confident of their chances, but I saw their logic. The National League was not a strong league. The Diamondbacks had won the NL West despite giving up more runs than they scored. The Phillies were talented but at the front end of their run as the NL's lone super-power. The Rockies weren't a great team and would get swept in the World Series.
The front office bet heavily on the Padres the following season and I know Alderson was less than ecstatic about it. He talked almost enviously in the spring of 2008 about how the A's had accelerated their youth movement. The Padres concluded that they had to make another run for October. They budgeted a payroll of $70 million or more for 2008. It didn't work out. The same front office that had made several good moves from 2005-07 had a bad offseason in 2007-08. The front office would rebound, but Young and Gonzalez never did get back to the postseason.
One other thing. When Young entered free agency this year, I read that Young was representing himself in negotiations. Young cleared that up today when I asked him about it in an e-mail. Here is his response:
"While I was involved in most aspects of the process, my attorney, Jon Fetterolf, represented me in this process. He is in the same firm as my previous attorney, Lon Babby, who is now the president of the Phoenix Suns. I am smart enough to leave the negotiating to people with great experience and instead dedicate my off season to becoming a better pitcher."