Sometime during a stroll through Melbourne, Australia I saw a headline pop up about the Mets signing Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer? I opined that once Colorado surprisingly made him a qualifying offer the Mets would be out of the running. After all, they were not ones to blatantly sacrifice first round draft picks as they tried to ascend once again to relevancy. That story had to be wrong!
I had to wait a few more days to get more news as the ship was charging 79 cents per minute (that’s over $47 per hour) for Internet access. While I wanted to know more, I didn’t want to know that badly. However, once we docked in Port Lincoln I took my trusty tablet over to the public library which was surprisingly open on a Sunday and got back among the digital living.
Not only had they signed Cuddyer, but gave him two years for about $21 million. A lot of thoughts immediately flooded my head regarding this decision. First of all, the $15.3 QO from Colorado was parlayed into an addition $6 million for that second year. Did Cuddyer sell himself short?
The second thought was it seemed like a fair price – about $10.5 million per year to get a guy who would serve as a bridge to the only couple of offensive outfielder prospects in the system – Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. That’s only slightly more than you’re paying Daniel Murphy for his services this year and slightly less than you’re paying Bartolo Colon.
The third thought was how he solved the right handed power problem and right handed backup to Lucas Duda at first base when a tough lefty was on the mound. Then there was the much ballyhooed friendship with David Wright which could be a factor in trying to get the Captain into the right mindset to produce like he once did with his pal there in the lineup with him. All of these things seemed positive.
Unfortunately, cynicism and pessimism are part of my DNA. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about whether or not this decision was a good one.
Flash back to 2013. The Mets had given a chance to a seemingly washed up Marlon Byrd who was pretty much out of baseball after declining performance and a PED suspension derailed his career. He had signed a minor league deal in spring training, made the club and against all odds became the primary offensive force in the lineup. At age 35 he was flipped to the Pirates for Vic Black and Dilson Herrera where his offensive comeback didn’t miss a beat, though he didn’t catapult the Bucs to the post season success they had envisioned.
When the season ended you had a player who would turn 36 during the 2014 season and he was available on the free agent market. He’d already proven he was capable of handling the pressures of New York and responded with a 2013 season hitting .285/21/71 for the Mets and .295/24/88 overall. He was healthy all year long, having played in 147 games. All it would take to sign him was money – no sacrifice of a draft pick. He eventually went to the Phillies as part of a 2-year deal for a grand total of $16 million with a vesting option of another $8 million if he got 550 ABs in 2015 or 1100 ABs combined in 2014/2015. If not, then it was a team option.
How did he do? He finished 2014 with a .264/25/85 slash line. The batting average was down a little but the steady performance across 154 games suggested health was never an issue.
Now back to Mr. Cuddyer. The Mets gave up a 1st round draft pick and paid nearly as much for 2 years of service from him as they would have for 3 years from Byrd had the option vested. More importantly, Cuddyer is coming off a 49 game season following a 130 game campaign, and a 101 game debut for the Rockies in 2012. Although he’s the same age, his ability to stay on the field is definitely a valid question. Unlike Byrd who seemingly is becoming better and more durable as he ages, Cuddyer has been terrific but only when he’s occasionally been available to play.
I’m not thinking Cuddyer was necessarily a bad signing. I would call it sub-optimal. Furthermore, making this deal so early in the process before clearing payroll will make it doubly difficult later to obtain an equitable return for Bartolo Colon, Daniel Murphy, Jon NIese or Dillon Gee now that the entire baseball world knows the Mets have shot their financial wad prematurely.
As the team is current constructed there will be some adventurous days up the middle with Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy trying to turn the double play, but if they get the rebound seasons from David Wright and Curtis Granderson along with the continued maturation of Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares as well as the returns of Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell makes me think the team is good enough to contend. After all, the KC Royals made it all the way to the World Series last year on a team whose best hitter – Alex Gordon – posted just a .266/19/74 season.