Reese Kaplan -- Duda's Pain Hurts the Ballclub

With the news of Lucas Duda’s back troubles being far worse than the Mets had feared, the startling lack of power hitting in the minor leagues reared its ugly head as the team scrambled to look at in-house options to fill the void.  Right now Eric Campbell, he of the Mendoza-line batting average and two RBIs, is the man of the moment.  Like Kirk Nieuwenhuis before him, fans have seen Campbell get exposed with too much playing time. 

Reports are out saying that Wilmer Flores could return as soon as Friday.  While he’s obviously not Terry Collins’ favorite player, you’d have to think offensively he has more potential than Eric Campbell.  What you sacrifice in OBP you’ll get back in HRs and RBIs. 

Newcomer Ty Kelly was a bit of an oddball choice for promotion given that he’s not a first baseman, but an infielder/outfielder.  My assumption is that his switch hitting bat was more desirable to the club than another righty in TJ Rivera.  After all, once Duda hit the DL it left Alejandro De Aza as the sole lefty on the bench. 

Assistant GM John Ricco has already stated that the internal options are not necessarily long term solutions and that means a look outside the organization is necessary.  Players who might be available fall into a few different categories.  Let’s first look at the ones with bad contracts:

Ryan Howard has become something of the poster child for sunk costs.  After being a feared hitter for the earlier part of his career, his last few seasons have been lackluster at best.  The descent began in 2012 with 14 HRs, 56 RBIs in about half a season’s worth of ABs – not bad – but only a .219 batting average.  He followed that up with an 11 HR, 43 RBI, .266 season in 315 ABs in 2013.  In 2014 he did provide 23 HRs and 95 RBIs but fanned 190 times and hit just .223.  Last year was more of the same with a 23/77/.229 slash line.  This year he’s got 8 HRs and 18 RBIs to go along with an ugly .156 average.  At age 36 he may be done and perhaps could be picked up at minimum wage once the Phillies swallow hard and release him.  No one wants anything to do with his $25 million salary or $10 million buyout for next year.

Prince Fielder has not been the player the Rangers envisioned when they acquired him from Detroit back after the 2013 season.  2014 was a lost cause due to injury, but he rebounded nicely in 2015 with 23 HRs, 98 RBIs and a .305 average.  This year, however, he’s off to a dreadful start with just 2 HRs, 23 RBIs and a .202 average – not the kind of numbers you expect from a player earning $24 million per year (well, $18 million with $6 million per season paid by Detroit).  Unfortunately he’s set to earn this same salary in 2017 through 2020.  Since conditioning has never been his strong suit, the club that acquires him is assuming an awful lot of risk. 

Albert Pujols was once the most feared slugger in baseball, but ever since making his way out to Anaheim he’s not been the same player.  Last year he found that power stroke once again, clubbing 40 HRs and driving in 95, but it was at the expense of a .244 average from this career .310 hitter.  This year he’s delivering runs – 9 HRs and 30 RBIs – but the average is down even further to .228.  He’s due $25 million this year and gets a $1 million raise each year through 2021.  He’d provide power but unless the Angels kicked in about 35 to 40 percent of that salary I can’t see it happening. 

Joe Mauer is an icon in Minnesota but turning into a bit of an albatross.  He’s earning $23 million per year to deliver 4 HRs and 55 RBIs in 2014 while hitting .277, then followed that up with 10/66/.265 in 2015.  This year he’s got 3 HRs, 12 RBIs and hitting .271.  There’s no way I’d want to touch that contract which runs for two more full years at that same salary. 

One outside of the box idea that’s been floated around is to coax Adam LaRoche out of retirement for the rest of this season.  He’s 36 and may want to have one last hurrah at a reduced price though his ending salary in Chicago was $12 million.  The final year was not a good one for LaRoche who was a Met killer in his Washington days, 12/44/.207, but as recently as 2014 he provided a Duda-esque 26/92/.259.  Of course, you’d have to make room for his kid in the clubhouse, too.

There are the guys who play 1st and have power but sometimes struggle with the Mendoza line.  This group would include Chris Carter, Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis and players of that ilk.  I think that replacing Duda’s power would be good, but the team is already hitting the long ball.  What they need instead are some guys who can get on base regularly ahead of Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker and Michael Conforto. 

My personal preference would be the seldom-used Hyun Soo Kim of the Baltimore Orioles who, off his dreadful spring, has not gotten much playing time.  His numbers in Korea (taken with a grain or full silo of salt) were outstanding.  In his last year he hit .326 with 28 HRs and 121 RBIs.  More impressive than the power numbers, however, is the fact he struck out just 63 times all year while drawing over 100 walks.  He’s a career .318 hitter and would provide the left handed power missing with Duda’s departure.  Music to Fred Wilpon’s ears is the fact he’s on a $2.8 million contract this year and $4.2 million next year.  He can also shift to the outfield if/when Duda returns.   He’s just 28 years old, too. 

An older player who gets on base and plays solid defense is now-minor-leagure James Loney who was released by the Rays and picked up by the Padres.  For my hometown El Paso Chihuahuas he's doing quite well, hitting .333 with a .368 OBP while delivering 2 HRs and 23 RBIs.  He's not a power hitter and never will be, but he could be a table setter for the Mets' RBI guys.  He'd only cost minimum wage and whatever the Padres would want in return.  

Another approach would be to land someone who can play both catcher and 1st base as a hedge against not only Duda’s injury but also Travis d’Arnaud’s health.  Guys like Brian McCann, Mike Napoli and John Jaso come to mind.  (Buster Posey, does, too, but the Giants have not taken any severe blows to the head lately that I’m aware of). 

The best of the bunch to consider here would be the Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy.  He's not a slugger (career high once of 18 HRs) but he is a .280 hitter who doesn't strike out much and can play both positions of need.  His contract is not bad at $4 million this year and  a $5.25 million option next year.  The buyout is just $250K if they choose to go in another direction.  The Brewers may harbor some lingering resentment towards the Mets after last year's Carlos Gomez fiasco, but a trade with Kevin Plawecki and a pitcher such as Sean Gilmartin could get that done.  There's also the subject of last year's trade -- Zack Wheeler -- who is closer to a productive return than he was at that time.  Personally, I'd be reluctant to do that as Gomez was a defensive whiz with power and speed whereas Lucroy is a solid but unspectacular hitter and adequate at best defensively.

So how would you address the Duda issue?


Ernest Dove said...

I wouldn't mind seeing James Loney play every day from now till all star break and see what happens.
I know nothing of his demise and banishment to the minors despite always hitting for average.
I know some random person online mentioned an opinion that his defense has regressed so maybe that plus lack of power explains something.

After that my option is Lucroy at 1B OR catcher and then once again try playing Wilmer every day at 1B and see what happens there.

Reese Kaplan said...

I have no issues with Lucroy but my first option remains Kim. He is not proven which, to this manager, means everything given his strong preference for veterans over rookies. Still, a 10 year track record of making contact and not striking out is nothing to sneeze at even in the Korean league. Maybe his power doesn't translate but look at Kang on Pittsburgh who started off slowly last year and finished very strongly.

Anonymous said...

Kim is an interesting option. I am one who wouldn't necessarily be against looking at Conforto there just given that that gets us a gold glove CF on the field as a bonus (yes, I know, there are excellent reasons to leave well enough alone with the kid, but still.)

If we're going to get Loney, I'd actually rather put Wilmer there for a month or two and see what happens through the trade deadline.

Thomas Brennan said...

Agree, Adam.

Thomas Brennan said...

Agree, Adam.

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