The New York Mets signed free agent Chuck James to a Minor League contract on Thursday as GM Sandy Alderson continued to acquire low-risk, low-ceiling arms for his beleaguered bullpen.
With cash a little hard to come by in Queens these days, Alderson is doing all he can to put together a New York team on a decidedly non-New York budget.
Whenever you're throwing just a couple hundred thousand dollars at a player, the expectations are always going to be low. Unfortunately, that's all the Mets can do at this point as they try to scrape by from one year to the next.
Here's a look at what, if anything, you can expect from Chuck James in 2012.
Where He's Coming From
James was picked up by the Mets after being released by the Minnesota Twins back in November. He posted a 6.10 ERA and no record in eight relief appearances across two two spells with the Twins this season.
James spent the other five-and-a-half months of the year at Triple-A Rochester in the International League. He was 3-2 with a 2.30 ERA in 38 outings for the Red Wings.
James has been a non-factor over the last three years at the big-league level. He hasn't been a full-timer since '07, and prior to in May with Minnesota, he had not thrown a pitch in the Majors since July 2008.
James underwent surgery to repair a tear in his rotator cuff toward the end of that '08 season, and he missed all of 2009 through rehab.
He pitched across two levels out of the bullpen between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2010, going a combined 10-1 with a 2.32 mark and striking out 69 batters over 66 innings.
James is a warm body expected to compete for a spot on the Major League roster this spring. He's cheap and he has added value in the fact that he could be used in relief or as a spot-starter.
When James first came into the league nine years ago, he profiled as a strikeout pitcher who could eat innings. The Mets could use both of these traits. As a starter, he will be expected to give the back end of the rotation some rest; as a reliever he will have a very defined situation role against left-handers.
The fact that he's a left-hander also helps. Neither Daniel Herrera nor Robert Carson are particularly impressive, and the Mets need some left-handed help. That 2010 team might still give you nightmares, but Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi were a lot better than Tim Byrdak and Pat Misch.
Well, the cons are pretty obvious. James is 30 years old, he has a surgically-repaired throwing arm and he's logged just 10.1 big league innings in three years.
What to Expect
Even if James makes the team out of spring training, expectations need to be muted.
He'll probably live in that 4.50-5.00 ERA range whether he is used exclusively out of the bullpen or not, but there's every chance that a couple bad outings will send him shooting over the 6.00 mark.
The Mets have little depth in the rotation, and while I think he'd put up better numbers in a lefty-lefty matchup role, one of the main reasons for taking a flier on him this winter was the allure of maybe being able to squeeze some innings out of him. If he isn't tasked with just getting one or two batters here or there, expect to see him in long relief and mop-up roles.
If he doesn't break camp with the team, nobody really cares what happens to him in Buffalo. He's been in the minors for the last couple years with mixed success, but the Mets don't need an injured 30-year-old taking up space on the farm.
James is only relevant to Mets fans if he travels north with the team out of spring training, and even then he's still a pretty insignificant cog in a desperately lacking machine.
Can James surprise people by staying healthy and finding a niche, as Takahashi did two years ago? It's possible, I just wouldn't think it's likely. I think 50 innings with four or five starts is infinitely more probable that 120-plus innings and a 10-win season. It makes you appreciate Takahashi just that little bit more.